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#MeToo: A Controversial Social Justice Movement

Women’s testimony has for a long time been given very less recognition in broader social context because of their emotional character and lack of rationality. Considering the historical legacy of how women survivors of rape and sexual harassment have been treated by the courts, activist Tarana Burke came up with the phrase “Me Too” in 2006 intending to help survivors of sexual violence.

Ten years down the line when two journalists for the New York Times, Jodi Kantor and Meghan Twohey composed an article titled "Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for a considerable length of time". However, #MeToo became well known on October 16, 2017, when Alyssa Milano tweeted with the appeal to her supporters to come together using the phrase #MeToo. It had a large number of responses and on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and other social media platforms there was a furor.

Rationale
This uproar brought to the fore narratives surrounding legal interpretations of existing laws and how they have failed in providing justice to the survivors of sexual harassment. In this context it is the time to consider are our existing laws in consonance with social justice.

Objectives
The objective of this paper is to thoroughly analyze and try to answer the following questions:
  • How can a movement collated with a hashtag, not backed by and arguably bypassing the existing legal remedies be successful in ensuring social justice.
  • Why are the conventional legal remedies available, not successful in ensuring social justice to the victims?
  • Why is it important to re-examine the laws and shift our view of legal interpretation from just reading the statute to giving judgments that guarantee social justice?

Methods
The methods shall largely be driven by analyzing the current legal system and is it successful in ensuring social justice as communicated by media outlets, or otherwise academic articles and views of eminent sociologists concerning legal interpretation and social justice. Hence, the narratives shall be used to understand the reactions to the protest.


Discussion and analysis
Social justice among other things means and includes a fair system of law and due process, proper recognition of individual rights, ability to take up opportunities and protection of weaker sections of the society. Earlier ideas of social justice ensured that one gets what he deserved according to his status, moral responsibility, workforce participation, and individual capacity. However today the concept of social justice goes beyond justice according to social status and recognizes the universal human value.

In the nineteenth and twentieth century, the elites who dominated major nations withheld major political rights from a majority of the population, especially women. It was only then when Karl Marx (1818-1883) argued that subjugation, exploitation, and discrimination are the roots of injustice and social justice would prevail only when humans get what they deserved based on basic human value and not concerning their social status and productivity. Thus if a women is sexually harassed and the existing legal remedies are failing to provide her justice then it is certainly against basic human value and is thus a violation of social justice.

If we analyze the recent #MeToo incident we see that legal options available for victims of sexual assault are inviable and for the survivors of sexual harassment it is only marginally helpful. Very few victims go to court to report their cases. The convoluted procedure established by law, which entails a proper method of legal adjudication makes it difficult for claims of sexual assault to prevail. For instance two years ago a group of women — activists, lawyers and teachers — had stated that the #MeToo movement on the Internet was bypassing the law. Another instance of law harassing the victims was when Union Minister MJ Akbar had filed a criminal defamation suit against journalist Priya Ramani who had accused him of sexual harassment.

Thus this can be seen that law is often used to limit the discussion of #MeToo and other forms of consciousness-raising for sexual violence in the public arena. The force of law in certain circumstances is to undermine the objective and benefits of consciousness-raising approaches and thus resulting in continued silencing of victims of sexual violence.

To tackle this there is a need to think beyond, without paying respect to legal strictures. It is about retrenchment of our legal interpretation. Before models of legal discourse are discussed there is a need to revisit the legal interpretation of laws pertaining to sexual violence so that there is no mismatch of legality with consciousness-raising and more accurately no mismatch of law with sexual violence.

We have to understand that a legal interpretation is not just a regular interpretation of the law. The flaws discussed above can only be fixed when judges give social rather than individual judgments when it comes to cases that affect society as a whole. Thus in cases about sexual violence, there is a need for judges to revisit laws. Rather than just reading the statute judges should interpret legal texts with a more skeptical view with the basic objective of ensuring social justice.

However, critics argue that #MeToo is just another form of mob rule which bypassing judicial procedure and is based on vigilantism. They by saying this shift the narrative of #MeToo being a social crime to one based on the individual character of perpetrator and victim. The opposing point to this is that #MeToo provides a form of social justice that gives a platform to share taboo issues and helps breaks the silence surrounding crimes related to sexual violence.

The main criticism of #MeToo trails is that it forgoes and at times even replaces jurisprudence with punitive public shaming. They argue that victims fail to realize that shaming and bad publicity do not address the structural problem of sexual misconduct and as a result, it becomes a process of vendetta and witchcraft accusations. Hence according to them #MeToo should be viewed as a vigilant movement that essentially lynches the accused without a free trial.

If this is the case then the question arises, to how much extent does #MeToo provide legitimate social justice. To address this question we will have to evaluate whether the social justice sought by victims through public shaming replaces jurisprudence and if that’s the case then point addressed above regarding a different form of interpretation of legal rules to ensure social justice manifestly fails.

The answer to this was given by Bronisław Malinowski in his book Crime and custom in a savage society where he recognizes publicity as a vessel in a certain form of law. According to him, civil society is kept in force with the balance of reciprocity and publicity that is inherent in the society. He further states that the postulate of publicity may not be absolutely legal as a social mechanism is also an inherent feature of law.

Thus to sum up #MeToo is certainly not mob rule. Rather than just relying on conventional legal remedies it is using public shaming, stigmatization and political ostracization in this social justice movement to combat widespread sexual violence. This discussion can be concluded by the words of Di Caprio that #MeToo is a form of social justice with a promising start which should go further.

Conclusion

As has been discussed above, due to convoluted legal procedure many few cases are reported in the court. The existing laws are only marginally helpful to survivors of sexual violence. If the enforcement of existing laws is resulting in continued science of the victims then there is a strong need to revisit our methods of interpreting the legal texts. Courts should ensure social justice rather than individual justice.

This does not mean that people should resort to vigilantism and ignore the current judicial procedure. Nor am I saying that the current jurisprudence should be bypassed. However, in this social justice movement, the victims used public shaming as a vessel to ensure that they get justice in the courts. Instead of relying on conventional legal remedies they used public shaming as a tool to ensure that justice is done. Their objective was to ensure that the legacy of courts in ‘ignoring’ a victim’s testimony should not haunt the survivors of sexual violence.

What #MeToo offered to victims was a platform in which victims could address their stories. There story of violence, of survival, of rehabilitation and story of an endless pursuit of justice. Critics might argue that these stories, collated with a hashtag are not verifiable. But this does provide an open-access archive that can tear down the walls of silence for silence is the ‘corroborative’ evidence of violence.

In a world of few or no legal options available to ensure social justice, a platform which provides victims, a power to interrogate archive of pain in the pursuit of social justice is certainly something positive and certainly not be mob rule.

Reference List
Journal Articles
  1. Du Mont, Janice, Karen Lee Miller, and Terri Myhr, The Role of ‘Real Rape’ and ‘Real Victim’ Stereotypes in the Police Reporting Practices of Sexually Assaulted Women. Violence against Women 9: 466–86
  2. Jackson, Debra L. ‘Me Too’: Epistemic Injustice and the Struggle for Recognition, Feminist Philosophy Quarterly 4 (4). Article 7.
  3. Alison Gash and Ryan Harding, #MeToo? Legal Discourse and Everyday Responses to Sexual Violence, Department of Political Science, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403, USA.
  4. William Baude and Stephen E. Sachs, The Law of Interpretation, Harvard Law Review, Vol. 130, No. 4, p. 1079, 2017.
  5. What is Social Justice, National Pro Bono Research Centre Occasional Paper #1 (October 2011).
  6. Stavroula Pipyrou, #MeToo is little more than mob rule // vs // #MeToo is a legitimate form of social justice, University of St Andrews 2018FHAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 8 (3): 415–419.
Online Material
1. Elena Nicolaou, Courtney E. Smith A #MeToo Timeline To Show How Far We’ve Come — & How Far We Need To Go October 5, 2019, available at https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2018/10/212801/me-too-movement-history-timeline-year-weinstein (Last visited on October 14, 2019).

Newspaper Reports
  1. Nikhil Dawar, MeToo: How the movement began, India Today October 16, 2018.
  2. Payal Majumdar Upreti, Law in the time of #MeToo, The Hindu Business Line October 17, 2018.
Books
  1. Bronisław Malinowski, Crime and Custom in Savage Society (1926).
  2. Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 (1964).

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