Reclaiming #NotAllMen for feminism

INDIA-SOCIETY-CRIME-MOLESTATION A man helps a woman leave as police personnel try to manage crowds during New Year's Eve celebrations in Bengaluru | AFP

In the aftermath of the Bengaluru mass molestation incident, Harnidh Kaur (@PedestrianPoet) is reclaiming #NotAllMen to direct the conversation on Twitter back to feminism.

Outrage has been pouring in regarding the cases of molestation in Bengaluru during New Year's Eve, dubbed “mass molestation”. According to reports, women were groped, their clothes pulled at, abused and threatened, and were pushed around by large crowds of men on MG Road at midnight. Eyewitnesses claim that police patrolling the area could do nothing to stop the assault.

Even more shocking were some of the reactions to the incident. Karnataka Home Minister G. Parameshwara remarked that such things “do happen”, while Samajwadi Party leader Abu Azmi blamed women's modernity for being “a blot on our culture”. Questions such as “Why were the women out?” and “Why were they drinking?” were thrown in, along with statements such as “They were dressed indecently” and “It was a drunken mistake”.

On Twitter, women around the country sympathised with those who were assaulted. And as usual, at times like this, certain people claimed that “not all men” were molesters.

Harnidh Kaur (@PedestrianPoet), a poet currently pursuing masters in public policy from St Xavier's, was enraged by the misguided “not all men” phrase that kept popping up in conversations on Twitter, as a sort of justification to wipe their hands off the mass molestation issue. “I was out with friends and came back home to my Twitter timeline absolutely flooded with rationalisations of the assaults!”

What Kaur did in retaliation was to “reclaim” the #NotAllMen discourse. “Tell me what not all men understand, and what they MUST know,” she tweeted, encouraging Twitterers to think about how using such a phrase was, in fact, detrimental to the cause.

“Personally I think feminism is all about reclaiming. Space, image, autonomy, words,” she said, “Women haven't been denied these. They've been actively deprived of them. If I can reclaim the word 'witch' (thanks Hermione!), why can't I reclaim a hashtag that's destroying what I'm fighting for?”

Whenever outrage against such an incident comes up, the first defence thrown into the discussion is that not all men are molesters, rapists or potential sexual offenders. It goes on then: not all men disrespect women, not all men hate feminism, not all men uphold patriarchy.

While these statements may be true—no doubt there—the point is that it's “a diversion”, as Kaur explains. “When you say 'not all men' in the sense it started out as, you're hijacking narrative on the basis of semantics. Instead of focusing on the crisis at hand, you make it a debate about generalisations, thereby putting your ego above the lives of women.” It's a way to shift the focus of the discussion, from what every woman faces nearly every day, to what men pride themselves on. She adds, “It's harmful because it dilutes the discourse. It hampers debate.”

Within hours, Twitterers pitched in with their two cents.

This might be a small blip in the larger scheme of things—a discussion on Twitter is hardly enough to change the way people behave. But slowly, and surely, thanks to people like Kaur, there is a way out of misogyny, by constantly questioning what we accept blindly and unlearning harmful gender stereotyping.

“You can create change only when you change mindsets," Kaur said, "Education in every capacity is the key. It's exhausting. It's largely unfulfilling. But it's important. I don't know if it'll end while we're alive. But some day, these dialogues will be remembered as the grounding of something better."

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