Accusations of sexual misconduct against Brett Kavanaugh and Nana Patekar reveal similar patterns.
The past few days have been distressing for women in India, in America, and indeed, the world over. Two more instances of sexual misconduct have come up: Tanushree Dutta accused Nana Patekar (a second time) of sexually inappropriate conduct during a song shoot in 2008, and Christine Blasey Ford appeared for a hearing against US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh for sexual assault.
Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony was held in front of 21 members of the Senate, where she spoke about how Kavanaugh, in line to be a lifetime Supreme Court judge, assaulted her when they were teenagers, and attempted to rape her. Her nervous speech, peppered with composed vulnerability was straightforward. She outlined the events that happened on the night and then spoke painfully about how her trauma from the incident shaped her adult life for 37 years.
Watching Ford speak was triggering and upsetting to a lot of women, myself included. Her description of the fear she felt, the apprehension that she might not get away, the relief at finally managing to get away, the permanent etching of their faces and laughter in her head, all of it were relatable to pretty much every woman watching. Yet, the Senate chose to cross-examine her like she was the accused and not the victim. Most women watching knew what Christine Blasey Ford must have felt.
Ford’s testimony was clear, concise, and reasonable. A research psychologist, Ford went on to explain how memory works when asked how she’s so sure her assaulter was Brett Kavanaugh. By contrast, Kavanaugh’s testimony started off by him shouting and outraging about his image being tarnished (and many mentions of him liking beer). He also refused to directly answer any question put forth to him about subjecting himself to an FBI investigation. It was especially worse when the Republican men shouted out their furious outrage at the treatment of Kavanaugh and then promised to vote for him.
In his yearbook, Kavanaugh had made references to excessive drinking and drugs, and a boastful statement about sexual exploits with another woman. Republicans in America have gotten hold of Ford’s yearbook and are aiming to reduce her testimony by showing that she had been drinking (she had had one beer whereas she claims Kavanaugh was inebriated out of his senses). But whether she had been drinking or not is completely irrelevant to the assault on her. This case is a classic pattern of slut-shaming and questioning the credibility of the women, while protecting the privilege of the powerful man.
All this follows a familiar pattern. The victim — mostly a woman — realises she can finally put aside years of trauma and speak out, and the men accuse her of not speaking out when an incident occurred.
Tanushree Dutta has also been subject to the same questions, but she did speak out in 2008 when she claimed Nana Patekar insisted on adding a particularly lewd routine in a song so that he could touch her inappropriately. Patekar and the film producer allegedly ended up banding with the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and sending thugs after her. Dutta’s film career fizzled away soon, while Patekar’s name and fame grew. And today, after she repeated her statement, he has threatened to send legal notices.
Several Bollywood stars have started speaking out finally in support of Tanushree Dutta, but several also chose to back out of making any meaningful statements, most notably powerful veterans like Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan. Accompanying all of this, of course, is more men coming out of the woodworks eager to protect Nana Patekar’s and Brett Kavanaugh’s career and reputation. This despite the fact that women’s lives or careers were ruined.
While we cry in impatience for the Indian #MeToo to finally arrive, we’re making our own mistakes as well. More often than not, the way we cover these stories despite being as ‘woke’ as we are today, is very problematic. Pretty much every news channel (that I’m aware of) played clips of Tanushree Dutta dancing in an ‘item number’ alongside their debates. Journalist Faye D’Souza delivered an impressive and supportive monologue calling for the investigation of Patekar and said, “We will not allow our women to be commoditised,” while a video of Dutta doing a skimpy dance number played on the side. Videos or clips of Nana Patekar were simply missing.
While choosing to do an ‘item number’ is indeed an actress’ prerogative, projecting racy, lurid images while covering sexual assault inadvertently slut-shames and diminishes the credibility of a woman’s claim considering the general sexist and conservative nature of our society.
Both Nana Patekar’s and Brett Kavanaugh’s stories are still unfolding. A week from now, the former might still be shooting his movies while the latter might be confirmed as a Supreme Court judge. Men in power are not going anywhere and they aren’t willing to give up their power either.
Senator Lindsey Graham said after the Kavanaugh hearing, “I’m a single white male from South Carolina, and I’m told I should just shut up, but I will not shut up.” That sentence perhaps sums up entirely the farcical standards that women are living with.