By now, you have surely heard about the #MeToo movement. Two days ago, the actress Alyssa Milano used her Twitter account to encourage women who had been sexually harassed or assaulted to tweet the words #MeToo. In just two days, hundreds of thousands of women (and the number is still growing) have taken to social media to share their personal #MeToo story.
When I first saw a #MeToo post from a friend on Facebook, I thought cynically, “yes – you, and everybody else that grew up in India.” There. I said it. Hurts, but it is the truth. Growing up in Madras (now Chennai) and taking public transportation to school was literally setting yourself up for some version of sexual harassment or assault. My sister, V and I did that for several years during our pre-teen and early teen years. Some days we were lucky and unscathed. On other days, not so much. And our situation was nothing unique. Indeed, it was par for the course on PTC buses. Even middle-aged aunties (ahem, that would be me now) didn’t feel safe. I remember a teacher in my (all girls) school advising us to carry tools from our geometry boxes (remember those?) – a sharp compass or a divider – to use against groping hands on crowded buses. I remember thinking it was a terrific idea, while at the same time being terrified at the thought of inflicting such hurt, even in self-defense. As we got older and into our mid-teens, V and I started biking to school instead of taking the bus (no prizes for guessing why).
So. There were this bunch of faceless, nameless creeps from my childhood, who took advantage of crowds to indulge their baser instincts. But my #MeToo is reserved for one specific creep. An educator, whose picture still adorns the website of the Department of Chemical Engineering at my alma mater. Dr. V. He taught multiple classes and a lab, so we spent a lot of time on his radar the last couple of years of college. Looking back, I can honestly say that I cannot recall one single time that this professor ever spoke to me looking at my face. That lecherous ogle and leering half-smile. All the time. His ogling eyes always directed somewhere between my neck and belly button. Man, what a f%*king pervert! I never thought to bring this up at home, or with my friends in college. Half the time I wasn’t even sure of what he was doing (surely, a professor wouldn’t, right?!). But I know that his behavior wasn’t entirely unnoticed by others. A (female) classmate of mine, M, who was quite observant (but barely more articulate than me) suddenly made a random statement while we were sitting around after lunch one day. “Dr. V is a very bad man”, she said. “Why?” someone asked idly, not particularly curious about the answer. “Ask K”, was all M said. I looked up at M, startled, but didn’t respond. The person that asked “why” was no longer listening so the matter dropped. But I was stunned to realize that M had noticed too. It wasn’t all in my head.
Looking back at this time and recalling Dr. V’s behavior has rankled me numerous times over the years. I remember ranting for hours to N when I saw that Dr. V was promoted to Head of the Department. I wish I could go back (and perhaps I should since his a$$ is still firmly planted in my alma mater), and ask him what the f&^k he thought he was doing, staring at girls young enough to be his daughters, in the role of educator no less – in a country where the hierarchy is supposed to be Mata, Pita, Guru, Deivam (Mother, Father, Teacher, God).
So, yes. #MeToo.
To all those creeps in India that perform lecherous acts in crowded buses and cat-call from street corners (or wherever else you perch your sorry behinds these days), to Dr. V in his cushy office (hope you have cleaned up at least a little bit in the 23 years since I graduated), and to every other jerk in every part of the world who doesn’t know what it is to respect women and womanhood, JUST STOP IT.
Enough. Is. Enough.