Me too. Trending hashtags may come and go, but there are a few that stay on and rally for a whole new wave of social evolution. Which is exactly what the Me Too hashtag is trying to do. The hashtag is more of a movement which is getting added to thousands (if not millions), of social media accounts the world over. Adding this hashtag to a status update is a simple move to admit to sexual abuse. Women the world over are embracing the Me Too hashtag in a bid to come out with a truth that they may have been ashamed of – a truth that needs to come out, nevertheless.
Me Too is more than a movement that helps women (and men) come out with their truth, with a past where sexual abuse may have left its traumatic footprint. It also seeks to address rape culture in a bid to show just how commonplace sexual abuse has become, and how we must all be more mindful when it comes to two very basic things – awareness and perpetuation. So a Me Too story may not necessarily be about getting sexually abused. It can also be a story where one came dangerously close to experiencing the truths and realities of rape culture, first hand. It can be a story where perpetuation happened, knowingly or unknowingly. So here is my Me Too story, from my upcoming book – Dreams of the Morrow.
The Colonel’s wife, a young lady who had married a man seven years her senior, was excited about the cocktail party she was to attend that night. Not only was she going to attend a party away from the regimented surroundings of the Officer’s Mess, but she was also feeling super confident these days after having overcome a year long battle with a health issue that had left her severely bloated. A new healthy her and 20 kgs lighter, she fondly took out a black cocktail dress – short, crepe, with a trendy cut and a zip casually connecting the sleeves with the boat neck, this one had been hanging in her wardrobe for over five years. Earlier, she had not been able to wear it because wives of Indian army officers did not bare their knees in the Officer’s Mess. And further, as the wife of a senior officer, she had a certain “decorum” and “maternal image” to uphold – even if she was younger than most officers two ranks junior to her husband. Plus, her recent health issues had forbidden her from entertaining even the thought of slipping into a dress from that niche. She loved her sarees, but having grown up wearing short skirts and dresses, she did feel the little girl in her saying, “Me Too,” when she would see the new crop of officer wives trading sarees for gowns and dresses.
This evening’s cocktail party was happening in a restaurant. The setting would be perfect, she thought with much happiness. Her husband was an instructor to a band of student officers who would all be present at this party. She had a small bout of goosebumps when she thought of her image conscious husband’s reaction to her dress. But surely, even he would be appreciative of her back to normal figure, wouldn’t he?
“Are you planning to wear that?”
The gruff tone pierced into her day dreaming and she turned around. He was looking at her with an arched eyebrow and surly mouth. But more disturbing than that, their daughter was watching too. Confused.
She urged herself to lift her chin. And as she did so, her shoulders found a life of their own and she found herself crossing her arms across her chest. Would she stand up for herself, finally? Would she join the ranks of normal women of her generation? Would she keep this rape culture at bay? Me Too, her mind whispered.
“Yes,” she replied.
He was clearly taken aback. He had expected a fight, a lot of questioning – a chance to make himself look like the victim. His wife was throwing herself into the pit of rape culture that he perceived as the very base of the society around himself, and here she was – guilty of willingly making herself susceptible. What was the matter with her?
“Well,” he said, hoping fear of social ostracism would do its job, “then you may not attend the event.”
“Fine,” she said, putting the dress back in her wardrobe, her movement swift and her body language firm, unrelenting.
Fear struck him. She was not scared of him. How would he explain her absence to the junior officers who were supposed to worship him? No, no, no – he must not even think of that eventuality. Maybe he had been a tad bit hasty. Maybe he could try coaxing her instead. He waited for their little daughter to leave the room.
“Look,” he began, placing his hands on her shoulders, “we need to talk. You have to wear those black trousers, as always, and accompany me. After all, do I not take you out clubbing once every few years, where I allow you to slip into a skirt? Did I not buy you trousers so that you do not have to wear sarees and suits at all times?”
Her blood was instantly set on fire and she could not help but feel like she was being abused, violated – in the worst possible way. Me Too, her mind screamed. She casually removed his palms from her shoulders, claiming herself back from his grip. Then, she coolly said, “You are perpetuating rape culture – do you realize that? And more than that, you have dictated what I must put on my body – in front of our child. And that too, in a caveman style tone and choice of words. First, you need to apologize to me in front of her, and then you may go alone. If I will go, I will wear what I want. If you can handle it, fine. If not – go alone.”
He ran from the room and returned with their confused child. Then, he said, “I am so sorry, Baby – so so sorry.”
At this point, the child stopped him and asked, in genuine puzzlement, “But what would happen if Mama were to wear that dress?”
She stalked out of the room, unable to meet the eye of the child. What kind of an example was she setting for this daughter she had borne? She could not wear one dress of her own choosing?
He ran behind her, holding her by the waist, whispering sweet nothings to her, begging her to simply wear the trousers and come along for the party. Two hours passed. He kept pleading. She kept saying no. The clock’s needle was inching dangerously close to the time at which they were supposed to enter the venue as Colonel and the Mrs. Finally, he started to cry – large tears that fell down his face, causing her conscience to do a quick rebound.
Fine, she thought. She took the trousers and got dressed. Me Too, her mind said. Today you have Me Too – ed your life.
The next morning, she was gone. He stood in their now empty room, cupboards laid bare, their doors open. Her clothing, the child’s belongings – everything gone. Only one dress hung inside.