In an Oscar-worthy script, Pharoah Harvey Weinstein, a Hollywood deity famed for his ability to sniff out a brilliant script amidst the dross, has been toppled from his pedestal.

Weinstein preyed on upcoming actresses and employees because he had the clout. A bathrobe, a bottle of oil and a massage were euphemisms for what came next. Those who acquiesced had the world as their oyster. Those who refused his oily advances soon found their career floundering.

But is it only showbiz where those in control harass at will? The viral hashtag #MeToo shows how widespread an epidemic this scourge is. As the stories on sexual harassment tumble out, there are some variants that stay the same whether it is Africa, Europe or South Asia.

Why are women guilty and men assumed to be victims?

When Varnika Kundu was harassed in Chandigarh while driving home from a party, she called the police and filed a case. Smart, right? Uh, no. Instead of the sleazy men facing a backlash, she was asked outright by many in India what she was doing out so late.

Across the border a typical Pakistani male response was a snort: ‘What rubbish! She should not have been out so late!’

‘Why not? Are you blaming her? She was just going home. It was the men who chased her all the way.’

‘Would you drive after midnight? Seriously? She made a mistake. Don’t you know how the men of the subcontinent are? They are like animals!’

Now that is an insult to animals, but it illustrates how it’s always presumed to be the woman’s fault. The victim becomes the accused.

Following are some examples:  

University students chasing you in the halls, clambering on the nearest library desks, staring and sneering until you complain to the librarian who looks away. His look says: Boys will be boys, why are you overreacting?

The professor who calls you to his office to give you the notes you have missed after he’s done with his classes. A class mate’s warning: the professor likes to lock the door before handing over the notes. You leave pronto. Not only does he not give you the notes, you get poor grades and he looks through you. Is it your fault?

At Rawalpindi’s Raja Bazaar, standing on the pavement for an assignment: lewd gazes, catcalls, being pressed and shoved, men gathering until you shrink into your handbag. Your crime? Finally, you take cover in a shop, take shallow breaths and with trembling legs race back to the car. You’re not a quitter but what choice do you have? When you say you couldn’t finish this assignment because of harassment, you are asked by men and women at work: “What were you wearing? Loose shalwar kameez? Full sleeves? Was your head covered?”

You keep nodding. But why do you feel that somehow it’s still your fault?

The predator can wear many garbs. He can be the lab compounder who is extracting your fever-ridden blood, your mother seated only a few rows behind. There is a needle in your vein and he touches you inappropriately. You can’t jerk your arm away and you can’t yell. And he knows it. Why are you the one then feeling filthy and ashamed?

But is it only showbiz where those in control harass at will? The viral hashtag #MeToo shows how widespread an epidemic this scourge is. As the stories on sexual harassment tumble out, there are some variants that stay the same whether it is Africa, Europe or South Asia.

He can be your tasbeeh-rolling boss with a harem of women he has made into stars and he rents the house next to the office for weekend rendezvous. Midas calls you from his private number, hints at your career advancement once you start a relationship with him. You say no but he persists. You back away and then when he sets out to make your life hell, you expose him for the worm he is a la Weinstein.

An outspoken, principled woman is akin to dynamite, so female colleagues splutter: tsk, tsk, so what if you had chatted with him, gone for a long drive, got some presents, met him outside the office? He is a tycoon, yaar! He must be lonely. Why are you getting so hyper, girl?!

And you know what they would have done in your place.

He overstepped his boundaries, destroyed your career, spread lies about you, but still he is the victim.

He can be your friend at a play whose hands wander to your side in the dark. You rebuff him once, twice, thrice. Finally you stash your handbag between his hands and your body. He gives you

the silent treatment. As if it’s not him who’s at fault but you.      

There is no respite.

Which begs the question: when is it the man’s fault?

The columnist is a freelance writer.
She tweets @MaheenUsmani

Published in Dawn, EOS, October 22nd, 2017