The Titli of #MeToo has reached India with a bang, claiming several wickets. Every day some woman is coming out with new allegations against some celebrity that she was violated years ago or even decades ago. The allegations may be true, may be not. But these may not stand legal scrutiny in the absence of conclusive proof. It does not mean that it should be rubbished as humbug. Everything is not proved in a court of law, often because of inefficient and lax investigation and prosecution. So many criminals are acquitted. It is heartening that the Union minister for women and child development has announced the formation of a committee to investigate these allegations. The job is arduous but it is hoped that the committee will do a thorough investigation and report how the world lies.
These revelations are not new. The casting couch is not a new phenomenon. However, the real challenge before society is its perception about sex and sexuality, which is undergoing a sea change. Allegations of sexual harassment keep tumbling out at an alarming frequency. The sexual revolution of the 1960s in the United States disabused society of the traditional notion of sexuality conferring greater freedom. It brought about a profound societal change. Sex became more socially acceptable and was unshackled from the strict boundaries of marriage. In 1969, there was a marked increase in pre-marital sex, teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. However, there seems to be a volte-face as sexual freedom is garrotted. Any expression of love, much less sexual interest, unless reciprocated, is fraught with the danger of ruining lives.
However, allegations were accepted in case of Brett Kavanaugh, who was appointed a judge of the US Supreme Court after being confirmed by the Senate with one of the narrowest margins in the country’s history. His candidature was challenged as he faced allegations of sexual assault by women. Christine Blasey Ford was the first to accuse him. But the incident dated back to 1982, according to her own admission, when she was 15 and Mr Kavanaugh was 17. It is inscrutable why she kept mum for 36 long years. Anita Hill shot into prominence in 1991 when she accused US Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. She was distrusted because she brought the allegation after a delay of 10 years and also because she had followed Mr Thomas to a second job and continued contacts with him and also gave him a ride to an airport. She clarified that she had met him on two occasions, once to get a job reference. Ms Hill countered that she spoke up as she felt an obligation to inform people about the character of a person being considered for appointment as a judge of the Supreme Court. This sounds logical, but going to someone for a job reference who had assaulted her sexually raises questions about her credibility. However, Wall Street Journal reporters Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson wrote a book after interviewing many women who alleged that Mr Thomas often subjected them to sexually explicit remarks, and concluded that Mr Thomas had lied during his confirmation process. Vinta Nanda also admitted to have gone to AlokNath for a second time even though earlier she was allegedly raped. And then she was raped again. Will any woman go to her rapist again? And then should it be called rape?
No society is sexless or strictly monogamous. Extra-marital relations have been common in every age and community. Galileo Galilei, a pious Roman Catholic, fathered three children out of wedlock. His daughters Virginia and Livia, born in 1600 and 1601 respectively, could not be married off due to their illegitimate birth. So they were forced to embrace religious lives and the convent of San Matteo in Arcetri accepted them and they remained there till death. Francesco Petrarch (14th century), one of the earliest humanists and poet of Renaissance Italy, was a bachelor because the Church did not let him marry, but he had two children with an unknown woman or women. Queen Elizabeth was the illegitimate daughter of Henry VIII. She is said to have physical relations with her ministers and so was infamous. She promised to marry both the French King as well as the Spanish King, but backed out later, saying that she was wedded to England. This enhanced her stature immeasurably and she became hugely popular.
Karl Marx’s most authoritative biographer David McLellan, in his book Karl Marx: His Life and Thought, has written that Marx had an illegitimate son with his maid Helene Demuth, who gave birth to a baby on June 23, 1851. Bernard Shaw suffered immense trauma lifelong by the suspicion that he may not be the son of his declared father, but of his mother’s paramour John Henry George Lee. Lord Curzon remains unpopular with feminists because of his virulent opposition to female suffrage, but he preferred the company of women, and they adored his. Married women were wild for him, and according to reliable accounts, he was a virile and passionate lover. At least one irate husband threatened to name him in a divorce case. Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir had live-in relations. But Sartre had many other affairs and Simone de Beauvoir had a fling with American novelist Nelson Algren, but the association could not last long as she could not stay back in the US.
Such examples are galore. But now complaints of sexual harassment are rising by leaps and bounds. It has gathered momentum after the #MeToo movement which became viral in October 2017 as a hashtag used in the social media to highlight the prevalence of sexual harassment of women at the workplace. It is true that there is no dearth of philanderers and they must be pinned down. However, demonising men in general may not be the best solution to a vexing problem. Many young boys are now consuming huel (human fuel). They avoid nutritious food and are abstemious as they don’t want to be sexually virile. MGTOW (Men Going Their Own Way), a pseudonymous online community of men, has started to caution men against serious romantic relationships with women, especially marriage. Males are being excoriated for sexually abusing women. Guilty men must be punished severely, but will they be subjected to fair trials, or is a complaint enough? Italian actress and director Asia Argento, one of the first to publicly accuse Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault and who became a leading figure in the #MeToo movement, has herself been charged with paying hush money to her accuser Jimmy Bennett, a young actor and rock musician. He alleged that she had sexually assaulted him in a California hotel room years ago when he was only two months past 17, and she was 37. The age of consent in California is 18. He played her son in the movie and was there for the shoot. Argento quietly arranged to pay $380,000 to him.
It is true that many women still cannot muster the courage to complain that they were assaulted sexually. But the possibility of false complaints also cannot be ruled out.