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
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.
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.
The objective of this paper is to thoroughly analyze and try to answer the
- 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?
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
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
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
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