I decided to produce a graphic short story on the Me Too movement for my 10th grade personal project at school. Me Too is a movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault that started as a hashtag on Twitter in October 2017, with the aim of spreading awareness about sexual harassment in the workplace. I came across this movement on the news when a famous Indian actor was accused of sexually harassing one of his co-workers, and right after that, accusations flooded the news channels. I chose to work on this project because the movement caught my attention and I have long been interested in feminism and its ideas on equality and justice. I wanted to know what kinds of laws had been implemented against sexual harassment in India and so I began researching this critically important issue.
I grew up in a household of women who were 50 years apart and their ideas permeated my own education and knowledge about girls and women and our rights from early on. To begin with, it came as a shock to me that there could be such open and unabashed injustice against women of all generations and from all classes and backgrounds. I wanted to figure out what sort of a legal framework, if any, was in place to protect women and what kinds of laws had been passed against sexual harassment in India. Based on my findings, I wanted to start a conversation with my peers on what sexual harassment is and what we can do if we are sexually harassed.
Shortly after the Me Too movement gained momentum around the world, my mother became part of an “internal complaints committee” for an organization investigating a specific case. An internal complaint requires an external party to help with the investigation. As a result, she was on the phone constantly, trying to figure out the facts. One day I asked her what she was talking about over the phone and she told me what the case was about. From then on, I started asking her a lot of questions, many of which she did not have concrete answers to. In the process, I began to do my own research from the news, looking at how the movement had unfolded around the world.
I read more about the Me Too movement and the cases at the centre of its debate to figure out my project. I decided to create a graphic short story, and later turned it into a webtoon (under the alias Aozu), because many people from my generation, including myself, are into manga and enjoy reading webtoons—there’s a huge fanbase of comic book and graphic novel readers and it is one of the most accessible ways to explain the Me Too movement and what people can do if they're in that situation. People, and more specifically those within my younger generation, understand more through drawings than they do through reading up about an issue. The combination of illustrations and text leaves an immediate impact on the reader because it combines the best of what image and text have to offer.
Later on, I found out that I was going to France for a student exchange program that my school had organised, so I thought it was a good idea to compare the Me Too movement from France and India based on the laws that both countries had set in place to prevent sexual harassment.
While carrying out my project, the first thing I learned was that the Me Too movement was not as well-known among my fellow classmates as I assumed. Around 57% of my classmates knew about the movement and what issues of critical importance were at the centre of its debate; 43% did not. I conducted a survey for the project and sent it to my peers in India and France and one of the comments that made me think was, “if laws can't fix misogyny and the malicious behaviour that women face, only lifting each other up helps”. Generally, laws penalise the perpetrators, but that’s not the case in India because misogyny is so widespread—policemen don’t usually note complaints and the system has failed to develop a proper or refined legal framework for cases of harassment. However, the Me Too movement has had some impact at the elite level as naming and shaming of famous people like politicians, actors or journalists has worked to some extent. The Me Too tweets have also encouraged women who earlier were scared to speak up to actually take the initiative.
The second thing I learned was the difference between how sexual harassment cases are handled in India and France. Comparatively, in France, there is some action taken on sexual harassment complaints, whereas in India, generally, very little action is taken. Through my survey, I came to understand French and Indian society's perspective on #MeToo and #BalanceTonPorc respectively and how much it impacted each society. Lastly, it made me more aware of what is happening around the world regarding sexual harassment and how people handle it.
It is very important for young people to understand what sexual harassment is and what legal procedures to follow, because this generation expects not to be sexually harassed by default. They should know what can count as sexual harassment in law - if they know the legal aspects, they will be able to act if and when they are sexually harassed. They could also help people who are victims of sexual harassment.
When I started this project, I listed several questions and criteria for myself. The first point I set for myself was that the graphic story should clearly showcase the ways in which women can take action against sexual harassment. Secondly, I set the following questions to be answered by the project:
- What options in this context do French women have compared to Indian women?
- Are the laws stronger in France compared to India?
- Do French women speak out more compared to Indian women?
I chose to build my story around four women who are in different professions, in two different countries—France and India—who face sexual harassment and have to deal with it in different ways. I gave each of the four women a different profession, choosing professions in which there are a reasonable number of women: Louise (banking), Helene (modelling), Parvati (journalism), and Antara (law).
I divided my story into two episodes. The first episode introduces four women protagonists and shows which situation of sexual harassment they face. The second episode shows how they deal with it. Three out of the four women name and shame their perpetrators and one of them goes to court. As I mentioned earlier, women in India have little opportunity of taking their perpetrators to court, so I chose to portray them as turning to #MeToo. For the French women, it seemed more realistic for a model to name and shame the perpetrators, as happens in the US where actresses have also preferred to name and shame rather than going to court. Whereas for the banker, it seemed more realistic that she would have filed a complaint with the police.
I had to present my project to all the students at my school, but because it was in the evening, I was exhausted, I cannot remember most of the comments that my peers had for me, but one of the comments I received on Google forms stood out for me: “In the wake of the #MeToo movement, unimaginable change has happened, the whole mindset has changed, men are rethinking their actions in their romantic relationships, workplaces are being adapted to create a safe environment for women workers. All the conversations, exchanges that have occurred on social media, restaurants, workplaces, at homes, over the past few months have incredible hidden value… Knowing the truth and being apologized to gives irreplaceable happiness to a victim, as now she will not have to live with the past.” I hope this was from one of my male respondents because it would make me happy.
View and read the two-episode webtoon series in the link below.