As #MeToo gains momentum, let's look at how people view feminism and male privilege in urban India

Pro-tip: If you want to make a room full of strangers uncomfortable, tell them you're a journalist. If you want to make them even more nervous and shifty, tell them you're a feminist.

Last week, when the news of the sheer number of accusations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein emerged, Slate put out a tweet saying, "It's been a rough week for men." I remember laughing when I read it and thinking, "It's been a rough millennium for women." Evidence for this came in the form of the spread of the #MeToo campaign on social media.

 As #MeToo gains momentum, lets look at how people view feminism and male privilege in urban India

Representational image. Reuters

Unless you live under a rock or your timeline is devoid of women, it is likely that you have come across multiple stories of women who have written about being harassed, molested, eve-teased and raped. The hashtag caught on like wildfire; overnight, it seemed as though thousands of women had opened up about these negative experiences, and some men had too. But as is true of any social media campaign or debate involving gender, some people ridiculed and criticised the #Metoo campaign as well as feminism and people who fight for women's rights — some of them were men, some were women.

Men are important stakeholders in preventing abuse against women, but oftentimes, they do not participate in conversations about it. I invited men to engage with me and tell me why they thought feminism was flawed or wrong.

"Why are feminists so angry?"

While some of the #MeToo posts were confessionary and saddening in nature, many were filled with anger. Some used the campaign to vent out how they have been ill-treated all through life, and many of them responded to sexist comments with even more anger.

More than one person talked to me about how these messages, written in uppercase, wishing death upon the whole male gender and constant lashing out wasn't helping the movement. They felt that these women would be more effective if they were objective, if they engaged with these sexist people using logic and if they tried understanding "the other perspective". It was as though these people couldn't grasp the sheer magnitude of the problem or understand why women, who suffer the effects of misogyny and rape culture each day, would be angry.

Privilege and prejudice

Soon after #MeToo began trending, meme pages were filled with posts created about how the campaign was being used by women to grab attention and how women were using it only because it was "cool" to do so. One man tweeted saying that he found it "funny how some of the ugliest women are claiming to have been daily eve teased and molested". He further went on to say that his wife had never been harassed or molested.

I shared this tweet on my own timeline and called it an example of male privilege at its finest. Not only is his wife privileged enough to have never been in a situation where she was harassed, but so is he, because he clearly thinks that harassment is not a widespread problem that affects all women, irrespective of how they look. His male privilege has sheltered him from experiencing and knowing this.

"Feminists just want to see the world burn"

Soon after I wrote this, one man shared my post and said that my understanding of privilege was flawed. "As an example of privilege, when a woman is found guilty in court, lawyers often ask the judge to award the sentence taking into fact that the accused is a woman so as to get a reduced sentence. That's privilege," he wrote.

He said that this man was "just another a**hole on the Internet, and that gender has nothing to do with it. He added I shouldn't have made an assumption about all men based on what one man had said. He said that he had been called ugly by one woman, but that he had not blamed the whole female gender for it.

He accused me of starting a "gender war".

The wars we fight

As a college student, I remember reading about the different Waves of feminism to understand its progress as a movement. The objectives changed from the First Wave to the Second, and with the passing of decades, the scope of the movement and the people represented by it (starting with only white women, and then including women of colour and the LGBTQI community) only increased. I remember thinking that what makes this movement so important is that it gives so many people the space to express themselves and be protected.

One man opined that women are losing the plot, that they are no longer fighting for the "things that matter". He said that he respected the feminists of the First Wave and Second, but that he didn't think "today's feminists" were doing anything relevant. He also criticised western feminists for not fighting for the causes of women in the Middle East.

For this man, slut shaming, unrealistic standards of beauty thrust upon women, mansplaining and other problems which may be considered "urbane" are not problematic at all. The "real issues" are more "serious" in nature, such as child marriage, dowry and the denial of educational opportunities.

"But what about men?"

A strange consequence of discussions about sexual abuse against someone is that oftentimes people respond with the question "But what about men who are raped or abused?" as though the two were somehow related. There seems to be a belief that a discussion about abuse perpetrated against women is somehow a negation of the abuse that men suffer. People think that abuse against men is not only under-reported and less talked about, but also categorically ignored by people who are advocates of women empowerment.

But this strain of thought isn't limited to the assumption that feminism isn't inclusive of men's issues; it also focuses on how women are the cause of men's problems, such as fake rape cases. Oftentimes, these people say that women are wrong for painting men in a poor light, because even women perpetrate crimes against men.

"Women are Nazis, feminism is cancer"

One man pointed out that men don't have a bone to pick with all feminists, just the ones who are "radical" or "fake". He said that the issue is with women who want to create a society where women are dominant, and women who hate on and crucify all men because of the actions of some. #NotAllMen, such critics say, highlighting that the faults of some men should not make women say, "Men are trash".

Feminism is also looked at as alienating by many women who feel that it is creating a rift between the two genders. One woman felt that feminism was making both genders compete against each other and that soon, the focus on women would lead to a world where men are impoverished. "They [men] can't whine about it the way feminists do, because well, they're expected to 'man up'," she wrote. She asked women to look at "the bigger picture" and work towards building a gender-equal world rather than "pulling the other gender down".

She advocated the need to become "equalists" rather than feminists, a view held by many people who feel that feminism does not fight for men. "Feminism has overstayed it's welcome and it needs to leave," she wrote.

Updated Date: Oct 23, 2017 10:15:31 IST