Ashoka’s #MeToo – Why Call Out Culture isn’t Enough
By Akanksha Mishra (ug22)
Content Warning – The following article has mentions of sexual harassment and rape culture
The infamous Boys Locker Room incident and subsequent conversations at Ashoka and beyond spurred a kind of #MeToo movement, bringing to light the misogyny and patriarchy that permeates every inch of our society. This discussion also saw people ‘calling out’ their harassers to hold them accountable for their actions. Publicly ‘calling out’ a person’s actions or comments is undoubtedly a brave act, a demand for justice and accountability. It is an accessible method that extends solidarity to other victims and encourages them to share their own experiences.
However, sexual harassment is a multifaceted issue. ‘Call out’ culture by itself, is insufficient measure that cannot adequately alleviate the ramifications of sexual harassment or attack the root problem, rape culture.
For the average Ashokan, the conversations on sexual harassment were a jolt back to the reality that our university’s method of handling sexual harassment was inadequate. It debunked the myth that education and privilege alone may prevent sexual harassment. It acknowledged that the problem coexists with other social factors, with many calling for structural changes beyond the existence of a CASH cell and a solitary CASH workshop in Orientation Week. ‘Calling out’ clashes with this acknowledgement of the larger systemic problem of rape culture since it addresses the problem of sexual harassment as one emanating solely from the actions of perpetrators, not one influenced by a host of entrenched socio-cultural beliefs. While victims themselves have no obligation to dismantle such beliefs, an over-reliance on calling out will never be able to tackle the root issues and create lasting safety and change.
A public call-out may be empowering for the victims and prevents perpetrators from receiving the social capital they thrive on. However, for others who partake in shaming the offender, it serves as a tokenistic measure to point fingers at others while shirking off any responsibility to combat the greater, systemic problem.
A responsive and reformatory approach to dealing with sexual assault addresses the societal causes of the problem and works towards a safer environment for all. The onus of reformation must rest on social institutions and legal systems, not on individuals. Calling out and publicly shaming leads to the social alienation of the accused, which could serve as a fitting punishment. However, a measure that shames the offenders ends up tainting them, thereby also tainting every avenue of change available to them. Calling out functions as but a short-term measure of justice that leaves much to be desired.
The defamatory nature of a public call-out leaves it up to the person who has been called out to choose to take responsibility or deny the accusation by trying to justify their actions. In some cases, it turns into a long-drawn-out spat that takes an unfair toll on the victims, with its public nature leaving the case ‘open to contention.’ The toxicity of public platforms lies in its polarising nature, making it a highly unsuitable platform to engage in discussions about sexual assault and harassment.
Lacking a reformatory intent, a public call-out essentially serves as a signal to other vulnerable people to be wary of the harasser and maintain their distance. Although most would take this warning seriously, it shifts the burden of responsibility onto the victim, yet again. The pressure to speak up against someone can be more burdensome than empowering. Furthering the patriarchal trope of victim-blaming, it fails to recognise that the onus of ensuring their safety should never rest on the victim. Call-out culture attempts to combat the larger problem of sexual harassment by ensuring that people are made aware of the existing sexual harassers in our society and take active steps to avoid falling prey to them. A more beneficial method would be to ensure the reformation and rehabilitation of sexual harassers. Justice should not merely be punishment, it should be a redressal of the victim’s concerns, as well as an admission of guilt and betterment on the offender’s part. The goal should be a society with no sexual harassers, not one with known sexual harassers. The overwhelming recourse to this measure by Ashokans is a direct consequence of the failure of the system to address the concerns of the victims and mete out justice rightfully. However, a reactionary measure such as ‘calling out’ demands a great deal of energy and investment while providing insubstantial amounts of justice. While legal recourse is a privilege available to few in the real world, in a microcosm like Ashoka, structural changes and accessibility in the system are very legitimate demands and can be fulfilled in real-time. The disempowering nature of the CASH system is one of the main reasons that sexual assault cases are not even reported. It indicates a need for a more therapeutic and restorative method, comprising accountability and reformation on behalf of the offenders. The battle against the culture perpetuating sexual harassment is to be fought along multiple lines. It often fails to have a single, perfect solution. The adoption of call out culture as the sole measure to provide a semblance of justice to the victims indicates that social systems have failed them. As a community, we can do much better by bringing about a reformatory and inclusive system of justice. Let’s not fail them, and ourselves, a second time.