Before I start sharing my story, let me ask you a question. Are you ready to unpack and address your confusions about sexual harassment and the #MeToo movement? This was the question that I asked my brother as well. Gladly, he agreed. And yes, it was more difficult than it sounds in the title.
It started when he aggressively asked me while watching a recent interview that has been doing the rounds everywhere why I wasn’t tired of the #MeToo movement yet.
I raised an eyebrow and looked at him. For a moment I stared at his uninformed newly-transformed-adult face. I asked him what he meant by that, and he posed a question that he was confused about.
He said; “I don’t know how the allegations of sexual harassment can be proven in court since there is usually no proof.” His question was very basic and innocent. I decided to take this opportunity to indulge in a difficult conversation with him.
Now, I asked him the question that I asked you guys in the beginning, and he agreed to unpack this confusion. He told me that he doesn’t understand, how can a woman prove that she has been harassed because there are barely any witnesses or camera footage, for that matter? Instead of answering, I asked him what he believes to be true. He responded by saying that he believes it is very difficult and risky because “larki ki izzat ka mamla hai”. People will say that she is seeking attention. If she doesn’t have any proof then she should not come forward with the report.
I understood his confusion and posed another question; do you think girls should stay silent after being harassed?
He responded by saying that there should be proof – otherwise, any woman can come forward to report harassment, even if it hasn’t taken place. Therefore, I further asked him why a girl would bring up the issue of sexual harassment when she knows that she doesn’t have proof and she will receive backlash? He remained silent with confusion.
In order to move further into the conversation, I asked him to take a step back and think about what happens when a girl brings the issue of harassment out in the open.
He said, “People ask for proof.” I asked him to think about what happens when there is no proof, to which he stated that people claim she’s defaming the alleged harasser. After this small dialogue, I introduced him with the phenomena of victim blaming that sets the precedent for other victims to stay quiet and scared due to the backlash. His face expressions changed, but I knew that he was still confused. I decided that I won’t try to convince him or give him an answer. I rather asked him questions to help him figure it out by himself.
After taking a pause, he said; “You can understand this because you are a girl and if this issue is to be taken to the court, then the judge should also be a female who can understand the victim”. I further asked him why he thinks men cannot empathize with women and the judge should not be a male?
He said; “It is easier for a woman to accept and understand the agony of another woman.” I asked a follow-up question – whether he’d believe if I, myself, have been harassed multiple times while going to the market, or that I’ve been molested in my childhood.
My brother stared at me in shock and replied; “Of course, you are my sister, I will believe you.” I further asked that if a woman speaks up, should the family members alone only believe her, to which my brother struggled to find a reply. I explained how, if a victim confides in people after the incident, those people can be used as witnesses, with the reference to Policy for Sexual Harassment by PEEF.
After this chunk of our conversation, I shared a few stories from Hollywood where women came up with their sexual harassment stories and big names like Harvey Weinstein suffered. In addition to this, we also discussed the origin and ups and downs of the #MeToo movement all around the world.
Another theme that emerged from our conversation was the lack of empathy due to pervasive misogyny in our society.
He understood that the deep infection of sexual harassment and misogyny in workplaces and communities across Pakistan has erupted into a national conversation—one appallingly overdue. Moreover, he also acknowledged that he has not been taught from an early age about the importance of listening to and appreciating his peers of different genders, as a matter of decency and humanity.
This is why there is an inherent lack of empathy across the board. Maybe, exercises in which he is asked to simply listen while others explain what it’s like can help develop empathy for victims of sexual harassment.
After this discussion, he became calm and relaxed. However, we realized that it is a very complex and difficult conversation, indeed. I am not sure if the conversation had a conclusion, but at least my younger brother has another frame of reference. Now it is going to be his choice whether he chooses to believe the victim or blame them.
At least he knows that he needs to dig deeper than asking for “proof”. This conversation gave us more closure as siblings and I felt like I crossed a barrier of discomfort. We will be more open in the future in terms of discussing controversial topics. I also admire his patience and his curiosity to open up about his confusion and challenge his preconceived notions. This is the first step towards educating men, and this can eventually lead to the success of movements like #MeToo across the globe.
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Cover image via dawn.com