In trying to understand what the death of my harasser meant to me, especially in this renewed interest in discussing and debating sexual harassment, I ended up understanding, more clearly, my own reasons for not wanting to make an official complaint. Many of those reasons had to do with my own position as an almost nobody in the management chain; not to mention, that the company I interned with was enabling his predatory behaviour.
File image of Raya Sarkar. Image source: FacebookFile image of Raya Sarkar. Image source: Facebook
When I shared my ordeal with a colleague, she asked me to shift beats and join features with her, where I would be safe. It wasn’t really the answer I was looking for as an 18-year-old would-be journalist. So, not ruffling any feathers to be able to do what you love takes on the shape of a silence you’re not entirely comfortable with.
I wonder if a secret list, such as the ‘Shitty Media Men’ list in the United States, would have helped me? As a warning, it would have helped, but would the secret nature of the list have actually deterred my harasser from harassing me or anyone else? Doesn’t the secrecy implicitly say: “The media world is ugly, filled with possible rapists and sexual harassers, but here’s a list so you can be responsible for your own safety because no one else wants to be responsible for it.” I found out a year later that my sexual harasser apparently had a reputation of being handsy, creepy and gross.
Cut to the list by Raya Sarkar, a master’s student of law at University of California, Davis which mentions at least 60 names (and counting), including several prominent academics, and alleges sexual harassment (the details of the incidents, however, at this point are unclear). This post has gathered great momentum on social media, having been shared at least 700 times with over 1,000 reactions (and growing).
“I consider such ‘collateral damage’ as bearable, at least for the time being. I will, of course, be happy not to belong to such a list at all, but I am also willing to bear my share of the burden of responsibility…”
What do you do as a sexual assault/harassment survivor? When you’re staring at the numerous disadvantages that come with being a survivor of sexual harassment, how do you shape your own politics around it? Do you take on the powers that be – ‘strongly’, ‘bravely’, and ‘loudly’? Do you trust the processes in place to bring you justice? Or do you let your thoughts out on a public platform behind the veil of anonymity? There are never any right answers. And there will always be an argument about the right way to practice feminism and indulge in the right kind of feminist politics.
Above everything, this list is the disruptor that should be sending us all down the path of introspection. Infighting and talking about which feminism is the better feminism serves little to no purpose. Now is the time to think about the institutional processes that brilliant and pathbreaking feminists have fought hard to bring into place and reinvent them, question them, reformulate existing frameworks perhaps.
And before any of us can pen down a thesis on the most morally ethical and institutionally accepted norms of dealing with sexual harassment, perhaps it is time to first ask the right questions. Why do some men and women not wish to be a part of these processes? How do we design processes that don’t fail as often as the ones in place so far have? It can also be assumed that social media “naming and shaming” cannot be censored and if not tomorrow, there will be another list from another field on some other day. How do we then deal with the list? What comes out of it? How do we set about repairing relationships with those feeling alienated by the due process or those who have lost faith in the system?
If publishing this list is wrong, how do we ensure getting across that point without invalidating the experiences of those who did not reap the so-called benefits of the existing due process? How will the due processes acknowledge the existence of these lists in the future? What happens after the media frenzy dies? How can we reimagine the concepts of justice in sexual harassment? Is there a new framework that needs to emerge? Our due-process is lacking, how do we fix it?
The meaningful discussion and engagement with the sordid topic of sexual harassment does not lie in opining about whether supporting the list is right or wrong, it lies in answering or addressing the obvious gaps, cracks and fissures that the existence of the list highlights.