Giti Chandra.

”Knowledge is power and collectivity is power”

2021-02-19 | Christin Sandberg padlock


– Everyone who reads this book will see how global this movement is, says Giti Chandra, one of the two editors of an anthology that puts the #MeToo movement in a historical, political, activist and academic context, a springboard to take the work further.

The Routledge Handbook of the Politics of the #MeToo Movement

Edited by Giti Chandra, Irma Erlingsdótter

In the autumn of 2017, the #MeToo movement spread first in the US and soon after all over the world mainly through social media. Thousands of testimonies of sexual harassment and sexual violence were added to one another and together they exposed the structure of violence against women which prevails both in the workplace and in the rest of society.

However, it soon turned out that the hashtag ”Me too” already existed. The Afroamerican, working class activist Tarana Burke had started it already in 2006 in order to support African American girls and women who had been subjected to sexual violence. Me too was about showing that they were not alone in their experiences.

Now, a handbook on #MeToo, The Routledge Handbook of the Politics of the #MeToo Movement, has been published. It is the largest written work produced about the #MeToo movement. Every one from famous academics to graduate and phd-students, lawyers, socio-anthropologists, feminists, survivors, and activists from different parts of the world have contributed to this extensive book.

Angela Davis is the author of one of the first essays and she writes about the violence against women as a pandemic. And she asks the question, why has so much progress been made in other areas, while gender-based violence has been allowed to continue to the same extent?

Davis believes that one of the answers has to do with the tendency to individualize the problem. "Because we tend to focus primarily on individual perpetrators as if they themselves are the beginning and end of this violence, we are seldom asked to reflect on the structural and institutional cause of the violence."

#MeToo makes it more difficult to continue to consider gender-based violence as an individual problem, blaming the victim or talking about the perpetrator as a monster. All testimonies put together make a strong evidence of its structural character.

Part of the movement

Giti Chandra is one of two editors of The Routledge Handbook of the Politics of the #MeToo Movement. She lives in Reykjavik, as does Irma Erlingsdótter, the other editor of the book. They are both affiliated with the University of Iceland. Giti Chandra, who has now been there for five years, has previously taught at universities in New Delhi, India and in New Jersey, USA. She has also written several works of science fiction, and fantasy novels books for young people.

– The handbook is intended to serve as a reference for everyone who wants to work in the area, says Giti Chandra in a video call from Reykjavik.

– If you want to know what #MeToo was and find academic resources, this is the right place to go, she says and adds:

– At the same time we wanted to write an accessible book, because #MeToo is a popular movement and as such it has actually had very little to do with academic essays or publications..

The result is accessible articles, not too theoretical but intended to shed light on many different perspectives on what #MeToo was, including criticism of the movement, how it was received and discredited and how #MeToo should be carried forward.

Although the high price of the hardcover edition of the book at the moment certainly discourages most people from buying their own copy, the editors hope a cheaper paperback version soon will be available. Actually, there is already a cheaper e-book version out there to buy.

– We wanted the book to be part of the movement and we aimed at putting it into a context, because like #MeToo, and as Cynthia Enloe pointed out, like any other book of its kind, it had roots, and did not come from nowhere, but was based on other books and work against sexual violence. The book also serves as a springboard for those who want to take this work further, and see what needs to be done next, says Giti Chandra.

Chandra explains there was also this idea of showing how global #MeToo actually became. And to link what is happening in, for example, Argentina with what is going on in India and Sweden.

What do you, as an editor, think are the most important contributions of the Handbook?

– The essay on women with disabilities. The author Freyja Haraldsdóttir, finds that women with disabilities were excluded, which resulted in her and the organization she is part of backing off and refusing to become an active part of the #MeToo movement. She felt that it was better to be silent than invisible, says Chandra.

– I feel it was very important we put that text right at the center.

There are several essays pointing to the lack of inclusion in the ”#MeToo movement”.

One such critique is about the movement being heteronormative, which led to difficulties for trans- and non-binary people to find their role in the movement.

Breaking the rules

Chandra also highlights the importance of the growing interest in alternative forms of justice and the discussion about restorative and reformative justice, for people who don’t want to go to the court.

– The justice system fails women and other survivors on many front, she says.

Chandra herself has contributed with an essay about anonymity and credibility.

– When the first lists of perpetrators, mainly prominent men in the media and academia, came out in different countries around the world, the contributors were anonymous women. This led to a strong backlash against these women and such lists. Not least among these were an older generation of feminists claiming that they had devoted their lives fighting for women to have access to the legal system and for justice, and that what these younger women were doing through the lists was illegal, irresponsible and gave feminism a bad name.

The credibility of the accusers was also questioned. If the women who named the well-known men are anonymous, why should we believe them? Was the question being asked.

This controversy led to Chandra writing her contribution based on the question: Why does no one believe you when you choose to name the perpetrator without giving your name yourself?

– I think it’s partly about each generation of feminists doing things in new ways and breaking rules. The feminists who are now upset broke the rules of their time, and now we have this kind of guerrilla warfare, because that's what remains when the system does not protect you.

While the older generation of feminists continue to argue that we must make use of the legal system, Chandra says that she herself has been subjected to sexual harassment and then chose not to report because she did not want her life to be about it. At the same time, she has also been part of a number of committees working against sexual harassment and tried to persuade young women to report the perpetrators.

– Although I have promised to help them achieve justice, they have often not trusted me, because they simply lack confidence in the system. Unfortunately, the system that our sisters with blood, sweat and tears struggled to access does not work.

Systemic problem

– In reality, anonymous lists are just a form of public secret that women have been talking about with each other for decades. Not least to help and protect each other, reflects Chandra.

– It’s just that now that it’s spread via social media, you can be sued for defamation. This was one of the ways in which #MeToo was stopped before it had barely started in Australia. The young actress who pointed out an older colleague as the perpetrator was sued for defamation and the system supported the perpetrator. It shows that the legal system can be used to work against the interests of survivors.

But thanks to #MeToo, Chandra still thinks it has become more difficult to pretend that nothing is going on or has happened.

– It is strange that so many men, including feminists, liberals and young men, did not have an idea about the scale on which sexual harassment is happening. While I do not know a single woman who has not been subjected to sexual harassment in some form.

The increased knowledge and awareness, she believes, also makes it more difficult for everything from the police to prosecutors and judges to ignore or not take up a complaint or report.

The #MeToo movement has also shown that this is a systemic problem. It is not about individuals or monsters. In fact, the perpetrators are surrounded by people who enable these crimes to continue in silence.

Angela Davis, in her contribution, writes about violence against women as a pandemic problem. And in order to fight against this pandemic, according to Chandra, the #Metoo movement needs to be much more inclusive.

– If you do not signal inclusion, you will not receive a response from people.

There is also a lot of work to be done in the future when it comes to alternative legal processes and restorative and reformative justice. Another important issue is that of the voice of the survivors.

– Survivors’ voices, and survivors speaking out, still have to find mainstream acceptance. Everyone who tells their story is questioned in a number of different ways. We need to create a greater understanding of what trauma means, says Giti Chandra.

One positive change, as a result of #MeToo, she says, is that during the Covid 19 pandemic, there have been accurate and important questions being asked.

– Already a couple of months into the pandemic, conferences were held on the consequences of the pandemic for women and other vulnerable groups. That is a huge achievement for feminism in general, but also points to the awareness of these issues that the #MeToo movement has brought to the forefront of social consciousness, she says.

Courage is contagious

Of course, more profound social and cultural changes are also needed, but, according to Giti Chandra, these are long-term goals.

– First of all, we must fix law and order in order to make it work, so it protects women who are exposed to violence.

– If it is possible to continue to commit violent crimes with being punished, men will continue to do it and be unwilling to change their behavior, she says.

But she remains hopeful. Not least in terms of how global this movement is. That women here and there geographically at various levels are doing this.

– The movement went from social media and onto the streets, into the courtrooms and families. The fact that it happens to all women everywhere is something I think the book really brings across.

– They say fear is contagious but courage is also contagious and knowledge is power and collectivity and solidarity is power.

Giti Chandra. Bild: Privat


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