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Blog - Pakistan
Saturday Nov 11 2017

How my conservative friends reacted to #Metoo

When it first began on Oct. 30 as a hashtag, #Metoo, my initial reaction was to dismiss it. This was nothing more than another social media trend, I thought then, that would lead to a very important issue being trivialized or worse hijacked for marketing products. Eventually, it would end up on an upmarket T-shirt. I was wrong. The hashtag and the voices trending it are here to stay.

Within just the first 24 hours of the Harvey Weinstein scandal breaking, the hashtag was posted more than 4.7 million times by users on Facebook alone. But what compelled me to share it as well, was the women posting it. They were strong, empowered and frighteningly tough.

None of us, regardless of class, age or religion can escape sexual harassment and assault.

After posting my own story on social media, I had a few conversations with women from conservative backgrounds. They were happy I shared the hashtag. They wished they could have done so themselves but were afraid of all the freedoms they would stand to lose if/when their families found out. Usually, this freedom involves nothing more than going to work, university, gym, and drama club or out shopping with friends. The thinking falls in line with those who blame the length of the skirt for a rape crime. Like Bollywood actress Tisca Chopra who believes that such “women are just as much to blame because they put themselves in those vulnerable positions.”

#Metoo has begun a debate. It has allowed women to finally shout out that there is no nuance, no signing up, no partial consent and that harassment and assault are wrong in any and all situations.

It has opened the door on a conversation that may potentially never shut down again. The general reaction to ‘coming out’ about 'assault' for most women remains either losing their freedom of movement through the actions of well-meaning but misguided family members or losing their jobs or social positions. But the power of empathy, in this case, is strong; if nearly all of us have experienced it then it can no longer be our fault. This time when we speak, we speak out as one voice, and it’s a loud voice.

However, though the trend is a step in the right direction, it is just one step. Let us recall that even the majority of Weinstein’s accusers did not come out before his Company dropped him. The women who pointed fingers at the current US President have been effectively silenced. Evidence appears to point to the fact that men in power, while they are in power, have little to fear.

- Mirza teaches sociology and politics in Lahore.