MeToo morality: Between using voice and losing it

Faeza Dawood

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“So, what do you think?” asked my friend over lunch. She was referring to the MeToo accusation on Twitter, by a female Pakistani singer.

“A defamation lawsuit was filed by the accused (also a singer) and she’s finally sent a legal reply to it – after weeks of speculation. Let the court decide”, was my prompt reply.

She nudged me further. “But, what do YOU think...?”

“There’s no smoke without fire. But...accusation of workplace sexual harassment is slightly more complicated than what meets the eye,” I was reluctant to give a firm opinion.

Why more complicated?

To understand, let us fathom a few basics, and acknowledge some realities.

The degree of sexual harassment may vary, but it definitely exists. It is real. It is sick. And it leaves many survivors with permanent scars.

No victim chooses it. But afterward, “silence” is a choice they make. Right or wrong – the victims make that choice!

Perhaps it is easier for victims to remain silent than to speak-up, as they won’t be judged.

Nobody will question their credibility. No question asked and no answers needed. They can deal with their pain privately and try to move on.

Victims choose silence as a shield because they feel harassment laws won’t give them emotional or financial cover.

It is THIS silence, which emboldens perpetrators who don’t recognize “consent” to begin with. It is THIS silence, which purges suffering women into the pits of perpetual guilt.

Victims choose silence as a shield because they feel harassment laws won’t give them emotional or financial cover

Faeza Dawood

Breaking silence

Breaking this “silence” is what the #MeToo movement is all about.

Tarana Burke launched the actual movement almost a decade ago in 2006, for women who had suffered in “silence” for too long. However, a year ago Alyssa Milano’s #MeToo tweet became a relaunching pad. TIME 2017 rightly labeled both as “Silence Breakers.”

When women started sharing their #MeToo moments, accusations of workplace harassment started pouring in from Hollywood too.

Actresses and models who were once too scared or intimidated, broke their silence. Dozens of women accused a powerful American film producer of sexual assault over three decades.

He was expelled from several professional associations and faces criminal investigation in six cases. The ‘Weinstein effect’ has snowballed, throwing many powerful men in the media industry off their positions.

Seeds for this were probably sowed when Cosby’s one-time friend Constand filed a civil suit against him in 2005. She accused him of drugging and raping her.

There were no criminal charges at the time and they reached a settlement. In 2015, Constand was asked to re-testify as almost 60 women accused Cosby of sexual assault over four decades. Her case had the incriminating evidence.

In Sept 2018, 81-year old Cosby was sentenced to 3-10 years in state prison. He will be cited as a sex offender upon release.

“America’s Dad” imprisoned for sexual offense is the first courtroom victory for #MeToo. The image of a handcuffed Cosby is a warning for powerful men who exploit their positions.

After Hollywood, the trickle-down effect is now jolting Bollywood. Recently, top actors refused to work with an actor and a producer accused of misconduct. The accused have had to withdraw from film projects to clear their names first.

Every woman that speaks, fuels the movement. Every man that stands up for her, strengthens it. Every single voice counts

Faeza Dawood

Public opinion

Public interest is natural in accusations involving celebrities or known faces. Courts eventually decide, but timing of the accusations goes a long way in framing public opinion. If an actress accuses a colleague of sexual misconduct; context is crucial.

She may have chosen “silence” in the past, vowing never to work with the perpetrator again. But if she finally finds the courage to speak, there is little reason to disbelieve her.

However, if she accuses a present colleague but continues working with him, it leaves room for doubt. Especially if they are perceived as good friends. Timing comes into play as stakes are higher in the media industry, where Fame and Power are aphrodisiacs.

This type of accusation is damaging to the #MeToo movement. It festers doubts about genuine harassment claims by working women. Particularly, those women who need the job to make ends meet.

Traditional, patriarchal structures have fairly emboldened sexual harassment. But a single voice can shake the system.

When Dr. Ford accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault in high school, Republicans termed the timing as “Democrat Politics”. It took only one man, Republican Sen. Flake, to challenge the status quo in the US Senate Committee and secure a limited FBI investigation into his background. Kavanaugh eventually took oath as Judge of US Supreme Court, but it wasn’t a smooth ride.

Every woman that speaks, fuels the movement. Every man that stands up for her, strengthens it. Every single voice counts.

As a professional, I realized in the beginning of my career that voice is my own. We all have it and we must use it. As women, we are gifted with innate abilities to sense danger and predators.

More often than not “we know” how respectful a man is, simply by the way he looks at us or talks to us. We must use that instinct to protect ourselves at all cost.

Sometimes it may cost you the job.

Lose it, but keep the voice.

Faeza Dawood is a broadcast journalist with a decade of experience covering news, making documentaries and anchoring at prominent Pakistani news channels. Pakistani by origin, and born and raised in Dubai, Faeza was a key member of the launch team of one of Pakistan’s first news channels. She watches Pakistani politics closely through her program, Focus with Faeza, and has covered four national elections, conducting interviews with heads of government and leading politicians. She also likes sharing her work experience as guest lecturer. Faeza’s in-camera interviews/reports are streamed on her website, www.focuswithfaeza.com and her twitter handle is @FaezaDawood.