Beyond hashtags

February 07,2018

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The most widely discussed subject over the past few months has been the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment ‘scandal’ – and that too for all the right reasons. This is a matter that should have been discussed a long time ago.

Whenever sexual harassment was spoken about in the past, it used to be treated as a practice that occurred in the lowest segments of society rather than something that was engaged in by the more ‘respectable’ upper strata of society. After all, why would the rich men of our society engage in such behaviour when they had everything at their disposal? Well, this is the very reason why men in power are able to get away with all forms of misconduct.

Women who had suffered at the hands of the media mogul stepped forward with their allegations one after the other. The claims were made by both lesser-known female actors such as Rose McGowan to A-listers like Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, Salma Hayek and, more recently, Uma Thurman.

Unfortunately, there is still a great deal of victim-blaming that takes place throughout the world. A male (no surprises) commentator in The Guardian went to the extent of suggesting that these women chose to become actors –a field that requires them to “showcase [themselves]”.

The point here is about consent. When a woman chooses to become an actor, she does not consent to anyone taking advantage of her in the process. If she chooses to become an actor on her own terms instead of catering to the demands of certain powerful men, then any attempt to subject her to such forms of exploitation constitutes a lack of consent. This brings us to the question of why sexual harassment is still a topic that haunts our societies every now and then.

It’s shocking to see the extent of predatory behaviour that has only recently been unearthed as part of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. Such behaviour is not just prevalent within Hollywood but is also rampant in many other sections of society too. How can we forget the shocking remarks about women made by US President Donald Trump in certain leaked voice recordings?

In the UK, Theresa May’s cabinet has had to witness an embarrassing reshuffle owing to the dismissal of two of her key government ministers. Damian Green, one of the ministers, was dismissed after inappropriate content was found on his parliamentary computer. Michael Fallon, the defence secretary, is the other minister who has been accused of harassing his fellow female MPs.

These revelations have surfaced in all parts of the world and have empowered people to speak out against the status quo. In Pakistan, the revulsion felt against misogynists and their abusive behaviour came to light after the rape and murder of seven-year-old Zainab Ansari. The overwhelming disgust felt across society over this unfortunate incident has led to a shift in emphasis from victim-blaming to tackling the culprits who are responsible for such crimes. Public figures have also voiced their own experiences of child abuse. But this is just the beginning.

In a country like Pakistan, there is much more that people need to learn – as last year’s debacle involving Ayesha Gulalai suggests. Although the lawmaker levelled allegations against a person who is considered to be an iconic figure in our country, it does not mean that she should be sidelined. We must not make jokes about her on social media or to launch a series of attacks on her character.

It is time we challenged the ‘unchallengeable’. The Weinstein scandal has provided an impetus for everyone to challenge male privilege. If we fail to learn anything from this situation, it will be nothing more than a missed opportunity.

The writer is an advocate of the high court.

Email: qadirmuneebgmail. com


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