Tag Archives: sexual harassment

Recent Indian Feminism

In her book New Feminisms in South Asian Social Media, Film, and Literature (2017 written with Sonora Jha), Professor Alka Kurian listed recent feminist actions, which she sees as a “radically new kind of feminist politics” inspired by the concept of rights and the tactics of youth-led protests since the Arab Spring of 2011. Mainstream feminism hadn’t focused on sexual harassment (called Eve-teasing), but rather child marriage, abortion of girls, and dowry violence (such as brides burned to death in supposedly accidental kitchen fires). Kurian traces the contemporary willingness to address this issue to the arrival of Western media and increase in the number of independent women professionals during economic liberalization in the 1990s and the resulting backlash from conservatives–including increase in violence against women. Like other recent social movements, there’s emphasis on intersectional issues including caste (rights for Dalits) and religion (equality for Muslims). Kurian sees the concern for the rights of minorities as the Fourth Wave of Indian feminism. She gives examples of recent campaigns that generate increasing support:


2003: Blank Noise Project against Eve-teasing

2009: Pink Chaddi (panties) movement

2011: SlutWalks

2011: Why Loiter Project on women’s right to public spaces

2012: The gang rape of Delhi student incited huge protests and new legislation with harsher punishment of rapists.

2015: Pinjra Tod (Break the Cage) movement against curfews for women in student dorms

2017: Bekhauf Azadi (Freedom Without Fear) March

2017: #MeToo led by younger actresses about Bollywood abuse.

#MeToo Around the World

Women around the world joined #MeToo in to post their stories on social media, including in Egypt, Lebanon, Pakistan and India. French women called their campaign “Expose Your Pig” (#BalanceTonPorc). It became more controversial when actress Catherine Deneuve and 100 other women published a letter in January of 2018 criticizing the movement for being too Puritan and a witch hunt while supporting male flirting and gallantry. Chinese feminist “silence breakers” who tried to organize their own #MeToo movement with petitions demanding investigation into sexual harassment and Internet logos of fists with painted nails were blocked by government censors who deleted petitions and blocked social media use of phrases like “anti-sexual harassment” or “#MeTooChina. They also demanded more women in high office. “We are angry and shocked,” declared activist Zhang Leilei, age 24.[i] Journalist Sophia Huang Xueqin, 30, created a social media platform to report sexual harassment, observing, “We’re not brave enough to stand out as one individual. But together, we can be strong.” One brave individual, Luo Xixi posted an online essay read by more than three million people, describing sexual harassment by her professor at Beihang University. She moved to the US.

Muslim women started #DearSister to express their voices. In Pakistan, the controversial film Verna (2017) tells the story of a teacher who is abducted and raped by the son of a governor. The Central Board of Film Censors banned the film for “maligning state institutions,” but an appellate board lifted the ban due to the #UnbanVerna campaign.

[i] Javier Hernandez and Zoe Mou, “’Me Too,’ Chinese Women Say,” New York Times, January 23, 2018.

The #MeToo Campaign Against Sexual Harassment

The #MeToo campaign started by actor Alyssa Milano in response to revelations about sexual harassment by producer Harvey Weinstein in 2017 generated millions of responses from women reporting sexual assault or harassment. It generated even more hits than #EverydaySexism that started in England[i] with millions of responses from women reporting sexual assault or harassment (more than six million hashtags were posted from October to December).  Women around the world joined in to post their stories on social media, including in Egypt, Lebanon, Pakistan and India. French women called their campaign “Expose Your Pig” (#AlanceTonPorc) Muslim women started #DearSister to express their voices. In Pakistan, the controversial film Verna (2017) tells the story of a teacher who is abducted and raped by the son of a governor. The Central Board of Film Censors banned the film for “maligning state institutions,” but an appellate board lifted the ban due to the #UnbanVerna campaign. (Saving Face about the victim of an acid attack and A Girl in the River, about an attempted honor killing, also addressed violence against Pakistani women.)

Public awareness of sexual harassment was sparked in 1991 when Anita Thomas was seen on TV testifying to the all white male Judiciary Committee about Clarence Thomas, which incited more women to enter politics especially when the committee wouldn’t allow other women to testify against Thomas. Currently about 40% of women say they have experienced unwanted sexual attention or coercion at work, but one study found three-quarters of people who spoke up about harassment faced retaliation. What makes women vulnerable is their low status and lack of power at work: Women are 35% more likely to live in poverty than men. In Scandinavia women have more independence because the “nanny state” provides cradle-to-the-grave security. The #MeToo Twitter campaign again raised public awareness around the world and resulted in some prominent harassers like Harvey Weinstein being fired; articles about him published in October of 2017 resulted in action. The movement also encouraged the 19 women who accuse Trump of harassment to speak out and one of them, Summer Zervos, filed a suit against me for defamation of character for calling her and the other liars.[ii] Some solutions are stronger and more unions, raising boys differently, more women in power, and restricting nondisclosure agreements. The TIME Magazine persons of the year were the “Silence Breakers.”

Over 300 women prominent in the entertainment energy, featuring women of color (i.e., Shonda Rhimes, Eva Longoria, America Ferrera), developed “Time’s Up” announced on January 1, 2018. They secured $13 million in donations to a Legal Defense Fund to help blue-collar women, promote legislation to penalize companies with ongoing harassment, and a push for gender equality in the entertainment industry. Their webpage with resources is https://www.timesupnow.com. They asked women to wear black at the Golden Globes film awards and to talk about the problem rather than who designed their dresses. Leaderless, they organize in working groups in Los Angeles, New York and London. Rhimes explained, “We just reached this conclusion in our heads that, damn it, everything is possible. Why shouldn’t it be?”[iii] Rheese Witherspoon said, “We have been siloed off from each other….We’re now locking arms in solidarity with each other….”

[i] http://mashable.com/2017/10/16/me-too-hashtag-popularity/#O2RzT_A5piqN

[ii] “The 19 Women who Accused President Trump of Sexual Misconduct,” The Atlantic, December 7, 2017.


[iii] Cara Buckley, “Powerful Hollywood Women Unveil Anti-Harassment Action Plan,” New York Times, January 1, 2018.

Campus Rape Too Common

About one in four college women suffer sexual assault or rape, although they may not consider date rape worthy of being reported to campus authorities. This was discussed in I Never Called It Rape (1987) by Robin Warshaw. Sexual harassment is even greater for women graduate students. The Association of American Universities survey of 27 colleges found that 23% of women had experienced unwanted sexual contact accompanied by physical force or the threat of it during their years in university (5% of men reported this), including 31% of the women of the Harvard class of 2015.[i] In an extensive study of American Hookup: the New Culture of Sex on Campus (2017), Lisa Wade found that male athletes have high status on campus and “In the culture of sex that dominates college campuses today, status is what sex is all about.” Scoring with a high status person gives status points. On the other hand, if sexual assault occurs, it’s difficult to confront a high-status athlete or fraternity member, so 80% of such assaults aren’t reported.

[i] Michele Richinick, “1 in 4 Women Experienced Sexual Assault While in College,” Newsweek, September 22, 2015.


Young Women in the Egyptian Revolution of 2011

A study of 11 young women’s personal blogs about the revolution reported that before Jan25, the general mood was frustration and depression about harassment of women, government corruption, street children, etc. The moral shock of Khaled Said’s murder aroused anger, followed by excitement after the Tunisian revolution and the large turnout on the Day of Rage. Deppy wrote on February 6, “Yesterday, I was a girl who stood on the verge of hopelessness, who lost faith in a better tomorrow, who was living like a zombie at one time….Today, I am a girl with a fresh born patriotism, with a full tank of enthusiasm, with a handful of bubbly dreams.” They remarked about helpfulness and the lack of sexual harassment and not wanting to leave the “angels” in the square. They commented on the diversity of ages in the square, including children chanting “Down with Mubarak!” Despite the fact that the bloggers wrote that many women had to fight with their families to participate, threatened with being cut off financially or cursed, many women were in Tahrir. After Mubarak resigned on February 11, people were euphoric and youth directed traffic in the streets. Euphoria changed to confusion and disorientation; Sina wrote, “True, this has been a leaderless revolution, but now, when all people seek answers, we need someone to respond.” Misogyny reappeared as in the virginity checks and attacks on the International Women’s Day march where bystanders shouted that male demonstrations were gay and should wear a veil and that the women were whores, agents of Suzanne Mubarak and the West.

Susana Galan, “’Today I have seen Angels in Shape of Humans,” An Emotional History of the Egyptian Revolution through the Narratives of Female Personal Bloggers,” Journal of International Women’s Studies, Vol. 13, No. 5, October 2012.