#MeToo was a conversation, but it was also more than that – it was a coming together of women’s voices on various public, social platforms. The digital conversation which took place around this brought out a lot of painful issues to the cultural forefront, primarily around the rampant harassment and abuse of women by powerful men, mainly sexual in nature. This led to more and more women speaking up about their own circumstances of sexual harassment and abuse, which led to a watershed moment where women have put the focus on themselves and experiences of assault which are (too soon) blurred, forgotten or not talked about.
Keeping this as the backdrop, we find that a huge chunk of responses to women coming out with their stories focuses on questions asking women “Why now?” or some variation of the same, as if their experiences were invalid since they stayed silent for so long. This reaction doesn’t take into consideration the various other aspects that come along with sexual assault – the victim blaming, the slut shaming, the toxic culture of silence and shame around sexual crime.
In response to this, through #WhyNow, we made an effort to repudiate widespread stereotypes around sexual harassment and focus on enabling a sensitive, empathetic response to women’s stories of sexual harassment which can be emulated while having such conversations.
I was young at that time. So young that I didn’t really understand sexual assault or for that matter, even my own body. I was back from a friend’s place and it was getting dark. Someone grabbed my breast from behind and disappeared. I cried out loud but even today I’m not sure if the shouting was simply in my mind. Was I able to really scream out loud? I don’t know, and that is the kind of trauma victims and survivors of sexual assault go through. You ask me #WhyNow? Because I have my sisterhood to support me. Because I do not want other women to go through such a horrifying experience. I am sharing my story today — not because it is a made up story and not because I want to get attention. I’m doing it so that there is a loud and clear acknowledgement regarding the rampant acceptance of sexual harassment everywhere and that needs urgent attention. #16days Art by @alex.waltz
When it comes to sharing experiences of sexual harassment, women are often silenced, told to ‘let go’ and the incident is labelled as (men’s) casual behavior. Victims and survivors of sexual assault are often sidelined and blamed for the clothes they wear, the way they talk and the way they laugh. Women are afraid from the victim blaming that ill inevitably come along, they fear being made less-than. They are reviled and most of all, many survivors have internalized that it was their fault when assaulted by the perpetrators. I am sharing my experience of sexual harassment now because I don’t accept that anymore. I feel powerful. All these years, I kept it to myself but not anymore. Because I believed that it is normal to get harassed by men so I should shut up, because I was scared no one would hear me, because I found my strength. #WhyNow #16days Art by @badasscrossstitch
Very often, when women speak up about being sexually harassed, they are asked #WhyNow. I fail to understand the logic behind this question. Why would a woman want to announce to the world that she was sexually harassed hoping to ‘benefit’ from it? What does she have to gain in a society where harassers are empathized with more than survivors? #16days Art by @badasscrossstitch
Sexual assault is often traumatic. Sexual harassment at the workplace, even more so. When power is abused by someone whom you trusted, the sense of betrayal is hard to come to terms with. I didn’t share my story when it happened. I’m doing that now, and I shouldn’t need to justify my reasons. Let’s focus on the abuser instead. #WhyNow #16days Art by @lil_cacti_babe_art
“Maybe you shouldn’t have worn that” “Are you sure?” “He seems like such a great guy!” “Why didn’t you tell us before?” “Why are you talking about that now?” 🚫 Most victims don’t come forward because they fear we won’t believe them. Thus, they feel ashamed and blame themselves for something that wasn’t their fault at all. It is the abuser who needs to be ashamed. Breaking this toxic silence is the first step. #WhyNow #16days Art by @badasscrossstitch . . #time #thesilencebreakers #personoftheyear #timepersonoftheyear #metoo #movement #feminist #sexualharassment
However, the conversation doesn’t just stop here. This is an entry point from which we can explore issues of misinformation and myth around sexual assault, how to raise children who understand the value of consent as well as ways in which we can break the toxic culture of shame that is made to surround the victim. The question at this time shouldn’t be “Why Now?” rather “What Now?”