Man, Woman #MeToo: Discovery's new documentary analyses patriarchy and its various ramifications in Indian society

Suryasarathi Bhattacharya

Dec 02, 2019 11:07:37 IST

Last year, the long-awaited wave of #MeToo swept India, with women across the board calling out men who had, in some capacity, exploited, harassed or assaulted them.

The proliferation of the #MeToo movement was a testament to certain traits: A) There were many men who had harassed women both in the workplace or elsewhere but got away with it. B) Women found solidarity and courage among themselves to take on their predators head-on. C) Education, family background, and the socio-economic positioning are no factors when looking at the kind of men that are most likely to engage in acts of sexual harassment. D) Patriarchy is enabled in society not just by men, but also by women.

Discovery Channel's latest documentary, Man, Woman #MeToo delves into the origins of patriarchy in the country, and analyses various manifestations of the same in society, in light of India's #MeToo movement. It features psychiatrists, gender studies experts, lawyers, police personnel, and other specialists who explain the reasons — including the societal structure, social conditioning behind the inherent male privilege, and the effects of this sense of entitlement on society on the whole — through real-life examples and case studies.

 Man, Woman #MeToo: Discoverys new documentary analyses patriarchy and its various ramifications in Indian society

Still from the film.

"The #MeToo movement brought forefront men's power over women and their abuse of that power in public spaces," Uma Chakravarti, says Delhi University's former history professor, somewhere early in the film. The film hooks on to it till the end, and manages to convey a lot. That is one of the reasons why it sticks on to you for a long time, even after it is finished.

It is a powerful film, no doubt, but also an important one given the days we are living in today. The topics it deals with are nothing new or unknown. Rapes, dowry, child marriage, acid attacks, and honour killings are all considered evil in the eyes of society, yet the rate of these crimes does not seem to lower. Why? Where are we going wrong? Is there even a solution?

Man, Woman #MeToo comes into the picture just there. It looks into the psyche of not the perpetrators of these crimes but also everyday people like us who feel worried and disappointed in the current state of society. This comes as a rather refreshing take on the whole problem. While most of us — the educated, liberal, sound, and socially aware youth of the country — would invariably refuse or even take offence when asked if we are enablers of patriarchy, we would not be that vociferous with our opinions on being asked questions like, "Have we ever asked someone to man up?", "Do we enjoy songs with misogynistic lyrics?", "Have we ever used the term 'working father' as much as using 'working mother'?", or "Have we ever used abuses that sexualise or demean women?" Even while reading these questions in our head, we will realise consciously or unconsciously, we do enable patriarchy.

This then brings to light the fact that patriarchy, pretty innocuously, has seeped into the texture of society in a way we do not even realise. The film, thus, looks at history to find where it all began in the first place and the inference of this process comes across as a rather interesting journey. Archaeological findings, dated back to 7,000 years ago, pointed in those days, women were considered equal or rather revered because they would hunt along with men, produce, and gather food, and at the same time, produce children. But over the years, the very power of a woman to reproduce was used as a weapon to disempower her, as the notions of chastity, fertility, bloodline, legitimacy, and ownership came along.

Still from the film.

Still from the film.

To explain this entire phenomenon Man, Woman #MeToo employs animation as a tool, which works at various levels. It enables an easy comprehension of an otherwise complex matter, and thus, one is likely to understand it better. Plus, as images anyway are stronger mediums of expression and communication, the concept stays in mind longer. A film like this could have easily become a heavy watch for its diverse range of protagonists, compelling stories, and disturbing statistics. But, the animation and infographics provide breathing space to the narrative.

Also, it raises the question of whether patriarchy affects only women. Certainly not. Man, Woman #MeToo also brings forth how a patriarchal society exerts pressure on men to behave a certain way or act in a certain manner, which, in turn, acts as a fuel to the notion of male entitlement. And this conditioning begins from an early age. The film conducts experiments on a bunch of young school students, who are asked questions pertaining to "should a man do this vs should a woman do that," and their responses clearly reflect the above mentioned patriarchal conditioning. This segment tends to add a little shock value as well because one would not expect these children to have such strong opinions on gender rules. This is also the moment one begins connecting the dots. From their childhood, adolescence, and finally into adulthood, they are fed these nascent ideas — factored within their familial surroundings, neighbourhood, and educational institutes to workplaces. These get strengthened and become strong opinions. The chasm between men and women gets widened, and these opinions more often than not come to justify that isolation.

Hence, it is no wonder sexual ogling has become a pandemic in our country, as senior advocate Naina Kapur rightly observes in the film. "We have taken it for granted, and said that's how the things are. Just adjust to it," she says. A 2016 survey conducted by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) suggests in a span of an hour, one case of stalking is reported, three cases of sexual harassment, and almost five cases of rape are registered. It is so rampant our society has become rather numb to it, which has led to a culture, where men not only normalise it but also derive enjoyment and entertainment out of that.

That is one of the major reasons why the idea of consent sounds so obscure to most Indian men. A "no" from a woman defies their entire notion of intimacy, as created by their preferred sources of infotainment — pornography, misogynistic films, and songs. For some, the consent of a woman does not even exist. The #MeToo stories are a testament to that. Be it sending unsolicited pictures of one's genitalia, making unwanted advancements physically or verbally, or abusing one's power to proposition someone at the workplace — the #MeToo movement unravelled various instances how many Indian men would not just understand consent is a two-way process, and can also be revoked.

Read — #MeToo in India: A list of allegations as reported on social media, and followed up by Firstpost

As stated before, the fact so many women spoke up during the #MeToo movement was a clear indication India's legal redressal system failed them. The film also looks at the whole history behind the formation of laws dealing with sexual harassment in India, and how dysfunctional and biased they were (and even are, till date) towards men.

Man, Woman #MeToo, apart from categorically showing these problems, also offers solutions with real-life experiments and models. "Change can only happen through evolution and revolution. A lot of gender sensitisation has to happen right at the early phases of life through activities, which are carried out in both schools and families," Harish Shetty, psychiatrist, points out. The film also shows progressive initiatives, such as the First Mom's Club and The Blue Ribbon Movement's Gender Lab Boys Programme.

"Equality is not enough. It is the base principle. Will you grant woman autonomy? Will you grant her the agency to be the arbiter of her own destiny, of her own actions, of her own choices? That's the challenge," concludes Uma Chakravarti.

Check out a promo here

Watch the trailer of Man, Woman #MeToo here

Produced by VICE Studios, Man Woman #MeToo premiered on 29 November at 9 pm on Discovery Channel and Discovery Channel HD.

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Updated Date: Dec 02, 2019 11:57:08 IST