It is time for us to all stay woke

Oct 26, 2018, 07:15 IST | Rosalyn D'mello

#MeToo seems to have triggered more than ugly memories, it has banded women together, engendered a determination to end patriarchy

It is time for us to all stay woke
Unsurprisingly, the very act of reaching out to women, assuring them of my non-judgmental, listening ear, offered me access to their solidarity. Pic/Getty images

Rosalyn D'melloMy 16-year-old niece pointed out to me over the last few days that the word 'triggered' that many of us women have been using in the wake of #MeTooIndia is inherently violent, given its easy association with ammunition. I have since been searching for another terminology that could best embody the feeling of how being exposed to someone else's trauma can almost spontaneously and subconsciously evoke your own memories of vulnerability.

Many of us have been struggling with incidents that we had relegated to our unconscious; moments of helplessness, of feeling overwhelmed, overpowered, undone. Could we have acted differently? Could we have been more vociferous with our dissent? Why did we feel like we had to navigate certain power dynamics for the sake of our livelihoods? Have we really been so jaded by the systems of due process that we no longer had faith in the solidarity of the sisterhood? Or had patriarchy been so complicit in compromising the ethics of this gender-based community, enforcing a lack of cohesiveness?

Because I found it impossible to disengage, because I felt it wasn't right to sit this one out despite my own emotional fragility, because I knew the demands being made of my generosity were fully legitimate, I had to involve myself in the movement, even if it was at risk to my own mental health. Unsurprisingly, the very act of reaching out to women, assuring them of my non-judgmental, listening ear, offered me access to their solidarity. "Women have been lifting each other up," Mona had told me when the spate of allegations by women against their aggressors had begun to overflow. She was not exaggerating.

While there have been many traitors within the movement, women who have chosen not to introspect their own reactions and responses, there have been so many women who have just been reaching out to each other, sustaining each other's spirit. I have witnessed first hand, women holding each other as they sob on account of their painful remembrances, women who had made careers out of helping victims of child abuse now confront their own demons, abusive ghosts from their individual pasts that made them feel dehumanised, small, that filled them with self-doubt.

One woman spoke of how she had allowed herself to put on weight because she was convinced it would make her less obviously beautiful and thus protect her from the predatory male gaze. One spoke of how she has had to live with the knowledge of someone's assault without being able to do anything, because it was not her story to tell. The last few weeks have been trying, to say the least, and I still maintain it is no mean feat that many of us have managed to be functional. One journalist I know who'd been collating survivor stories for her report had to herself seek counselling with a professional therapist in order to cope.

A cisgender male friend, a lawyer that I'd been consulting, messaged me privately a few days ago to ask me why I was feeling "emotionally fragile". I told him it was impossible to feel anything other than that, considering the sheer scale of the collective trauma that most of us had been individually nursing for so many years.

While on the one hand the #MeToo movement has offered us a platform to unconditionally speak about our experiences of harassment, assault and abuse, on the other, it has exposed the enormity of it as well as its spectrum, sometimes at the cost of us negating the impact of our own trauma because somebody else's story seems so much worse, so much more alarming. We're all struggling to cope with the fact that we're unable to find a single woman among us who has not experienced gender-based violence and discrimination. We always knew there was something monumental to the proportion, but we'd never imagined it as an epidemic.

My friend Bhuvana, an economist by training, had been thinking about it purely in terms of numbers; the amount of time per week, for instance, that women lose because they are processing sexual violence inflicted upon them, in both insidious and more sinister forms. Multiply that by the number of weeks in a year, and the number of years in the average lifespan and you could arrive at a figure that measures average productivity loss. It is alarming how we had no choice but to normalise our trauma in order to be functional. Where do we go from here?

"It's so silly that it took so long to see," another artist friend messaged two days ago. "Feels like waking up from a long sleep, full of nightmares that you dismissed as dreams," I responded. "Yeah," she said. "Now you're woke," I told her. "Tell her 'Stay woke'", my niece chimed in when I was relating our conversation. I still haven't found an appropriate substitute for 'trigger', but I'm prioritising my search for it. Vocabulary is everything when you're seeking to empower yourself, and especially if the end goal is the annihilation of patriarchy.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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