What constitutes #MeToo? Everything.
Stealthing, biting, rough sex, coercive sex, negging, gaslighting, grooming: if you haven't already, learn about these terms. Because if it's happened to you, you have every right to say #MeToo
On October 10, freelance content creator and actor Shrutee Choudhary spoke out against the co-founder of Terribly Tiny Tales, Chintan Ruparel, and accused him of biting during sex, so hard that she was bruised all over ("My arm had a bruise the size of a face"), negging, gaslighting and grooming.
Here's the glossary for that: negging, the practice of making insulting comments to someone you find attractive in order to make them take an interest in you; gaslighting, manipulating someone into doubting their own sanity; and grooming, drawing a victim into a sexual relation and maintaining that relationship in secrecy. There's also stealthing, removing a condom during sex without the consent of the partner; and sexual coercion, being worn down by someone who repeatedly asks for sex.
This isn't rape, or molestation or bad touch. These practices aren't even illegal. This is something much more nuanced: it's consent changing its mind.
Yes can turn into no
Scherezade Siobhan, 34, a practising psychologist for the last 14 years, says, "When we're talking about coercion, it's not so much about sex, it's about power. Someone has power over me and decides to exert it at that moment. Why are these grey areas? Because consent is a spectrum. It's not binary. Consent can be given at the beginning of a sexual act and be withdrawn mid-way. Consent can be tampered with when someone is not necessarily physically coercing you, but mentally or psychologically coercing you." Paromita Vohra, mid-day columnist, who has heard hundreds of stories like this via her project, Agents of Ishq, says, "I would say that their [the women's] consent is not active. There's an uneasy feeling, which they themselves can't pinpoint, but which is making them feel disrespected, unhappy or incomplete."
Choudhary, who went through exactly this with Ruparel, says, "When it happened [in 2017], I was deeply uncomfortable. I have met men who have a way of talking to you like you're inferior, and rude if you're not willing to have sex with them. Without even doing anything physical, they make you feel guilty for not putting out. When the first anonymous account came out [several women have spoken against Ruparel], I wasn't surprised. It was so eerily similar to what I had gone through. I was like, 'Wait. Is that assault?' With psychological forms of manipulation - which I had no idea about, I had to educate myself about gaslighting, negging, grooming, all these terms - none of them [were aware of it]. So, they had normalised it, thought that it was probably all in their head. We've been living with shame and guilt, because we think we did something wrong."
Scherezade Siobhan, Practising Psychologist
Don't decide for us
When Choudhary's account, and other similar stories came out, many in the online community decided this wasn't #MeToo. "There were people saying that this was a misuse of the movement because consent was involved," says Choudhary. "People don't understand that consent can be withdrawn at any point. It's not a contract. At any moment, if I'm uncomfortable, I can say no. We don't know what they are [the perpetrators] capable of until it happens. Is it bad that we realised it halfway and speak about it?"
Independent journalist Rituparna Chatterjee, who runs #MeTooIndia's Twitter handle, says, "There was this debate on, 'Yaar, everything can't be #MeToo.' I was very clear that #MeToo does not belong to any set norms of resistance. It's a digital resistance. Who will gatekeep #MeToo? Can you even gatekeep somebody else's experience? If an experience has made you uncomfortable, has put you in harm's way, has made you question your own sanity, and put you through mental, physical and emotional trauma, then it is #MeToo. There's a very wide spectrum here. It would be a great disservice to disparage someone or dismiss someone's trauma, and say that this is not #MeToo."
Siobhan harks back to the history of the movement. "If you look at the original movement, which was started by Tarana Burke [the US activist who started #MeToo in 2006], the idea was to talk about it openly so that there could be - these are her words - 'radicalised marked healing.' Which means that we would not judge the stories that would come out. We would create an environment where people could share their stories. Why do we have to immediately discard what they're saying? Why does it have to be that only if you were pinned down and penetrated, you were assaulted? It's an unfortunate reality that for someone to be believed, they have to be brutally violated. #MeToo is a scale. On the one end, you have something that's obviously black-and-white, which is rape, and on the other end, things like going on a bad date, where someone doesn't respect your boundaries. But, it does count, because it's a scale of behaviour."
Share the responsibility
The conversation, going forward, truly needs to change. At the very least, #MeToo in India has opened up the dialogue. "Gaslighting and stealthing were terms you would read about in opinion pieces," says Chatterjee. "Right now, look at the number of men who are introduced to these terms for the first time." Siobhan adds, "I have men, who have been accused, who have come in for therapy. Most heterosexual men don't live with the fear of violation. Men don't go through life like that. This [#MeToo] is making them realise that there's a possibility that, 'I've made an entire group of people uncomfortable, because I chose not to pay attention.' [I think men are] becoming more mindful, which is a good thing."
Sneha Janaki Ramesh, 27, a counselling psychologist, offers some solutions. "The conversation needs to move from basic consent to enthusiastic consent. When you're in a sexual activity, you need to communicate with your partner, despite the heat of the moment. That's a healthy practice, whether it's a one-off, a dating relationship or a marriage. You need to check whether it's going well with them."
Like everything in life, the responsibility has to be shared by both genders. As Vohra says, "Nobody is taught sexual manners. Consent is part of good manners. Women should be well-acquainted with their own sexual desires. A big part of sexual agency is sex education, and a big part of sex education is knowing what you like in sex. Women have the freedom to say no, but they are somehow feeling they don't have that freedom." That needs to change. Men need to listen, and women need to make them listen. The power, at the end of the day and well into the night, is in both hands, and needs to be exercised, every single time.
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