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November 22, 2013

Narratives should matter

People don’t speak out about rape, harassment, abuse, and discrimination because they are afraid that it might no longer be their story to tell.

Narratives matter. Who tells the story and how the story is told often changes the outcome of the story. It also says a lot about who is in control of the story and what the person in power wants the public to know. Narratives matter, because the spin given to stories by these people in power and the red herrings in the narrative often result in the public walking away with a different story than what was intended. We have been walking with a few red herrings too.

narratives

Someone on a social networking site had asked a pertinent question– If sexual discrimination and harassment have been prevalent in all professional environments, how is it that no one has spoken about it? The answer is simple. How receptive have we been to people complaining about sexual harassment and discrimination? How much space and freedom of narrative have we give to the victims of sexual harassment? At every conceivable moment in our recent past, people in power– be it politicians, the members of the media, other professional setups and organisations, along with family and friends, have taken over the narrative from the victim and restructured it to suit their point of view and by lines.

The narrative of the victim, along with the space for them to choose the time, place and method to vocalise their story has been hijacked repeatedly. It is as if the public has consented to give their time and attention to these few stories, but have chosen to do so in a way that wouldn’t affect their sensibilities too much. It is rare, and only in a few cases where the victims have complete control over what they want to tell and how much. Even when they do, we go ahead and feel the need to add our own sheaf’s of opinion in– a false name, a background story, the difficulty of doing a job or worst still, rile at the public to scream hoarse, protest and make a loud noise, regardless of how the victim wants to handle the case.

Stalking, sexual harassment, discrimination based on gender, race or class happens at every level and in any environment. Our selective outrages, spinning of stories to fit a political narrative, the obsession with the perpetrator rather than the crime itself, and the need to instigate drama and add graphics to a situation, is revolting. The hijacking of the victim’s narrative in any of the high profile cases, by journalists, politicians and the family is nothing but an extension of the patriarchal nature of our society. The idea that an adult woman needs the protection of a stalking father, or the leaking of emails (by people who think this would help the victim speak out) done with the intention of “looking out for her” all stem from the idea that women need male figures to look out for them. The core of both these cases are about stalking and sexual assault. It is not about who the victim is connected to nor is it about the suspect or the position and power they hold. Only by focusing on the crime, can justice be served precisely and without prejudice.

People don’t speak out about rape, harassment, abuse, and discrimination because they are afraid that it might no longer be their story to tell. They are also afraid of being applauded, given flowery, descriptive names and being hoisted up as an example for their kind, when in reality, all they wanted to do was to report a crime. Sexual harassment has become a norm in this country. People think that it is OK to harass a person irrespective of who the person is. So why should reporting these crimes be such an event? It cannot be reiterated enough, that irrespective of the perpetrators position, power or reputation, the victim should feel comfortable enough to be in charge of the narrative. If and when a case of harassment happens, the victim should be able to choose their own course of action—to step out and report the crime in the manner they are comfortable in, rather than worry about how the story will be spun on media and social networks. The last thing, any person subjected to sexual discrimination or assault, should worry about are the social ramifications of reporting the crime and telling their story.

As aggrieved and appalled as the public is about the fall of a public figure and betrayed as it feels, to narrate a crime as if it were their own story, is incorrect. The only way we can have individuals stepping up and talking about this, along with others being cognisant of the nature of the crime committed, and having the courage to follow the process of law, is when we stop spinning their stories for our own skewed benefits. Cases reported of this nature are grave and should not be converted into fodder for gossip. The story should be the crime and nothing else. Narratives should matter.

Photo: mckaysavage


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