“Harms no one”. I have heard this again and again for too long. There is a temple in Kerala, India, that doesn’t permit menstruating women to enter and I have been told by many if you do not like their customs just don’t go there. How do you reply to non sequiturs, and other straw men? Of course, I am not interested in going there. I realised that years ago when I first heard about a place that treats women in this manner. How do I explain to people how this and other discriminatory customs followed in our public and private lives have so eroded my very structure, my very being that today I am reduced.
Perhaps not to a non-being, because in the hinterlands of my country there are living and breathing people labelled by society as non-beings and treated as such. No doubt my being is seemingly evident before you all. But if you meet me outside these pages, and interact with me you will feel the desire to talk down to me, because you will detect my unbeing and intuit that I am reduced.
“Harms no one”. I have heard this argument about a close relative, who likes to browbeat women into submission, and another close relative, a woman, implied that he deserves credit for he never did worse. There were also doubting women who were defenders of harassing men when a story or two first trickled out years ago, but that was years ago, now these women are #metoo campaigners.
There is no category for my harm, there is no country for the harm done to me.
We know only of two kinds of harm, which are easily boxed up into physical and mental harm, but what is the category for my harm? There is no country for the harm done to me. In the colliding worlds of a twitter timeline, the question will be, if this is a harm perceived by you alone, how is it a harm?
Since humans like to think in sub divisions, and popular acronyms, then I would like to add a sub division here. Let me call it ‘insidious structural harm’ or ‘ish’ for short. In a part of my country, some say ‘ish’, a comedic sound made when they find something odious. Now, imagine me as a building, and every discrimination that was ever inflicted upon my being has corroded me from the inside, invisible to all but me. Though the clever among you may guess from the bent in my self-esteem that I am a leaning tower and can be picked on. Dereliction is just a brick away. Anything bad that ever happens to me is trivial to somebody who begrudges me my devastation. ‘Ish’.
Perhaps it is only a coincidence that alongside the temple debate, my country has also experienced a concurrent buffeting from the #metoo tornado. And in every one of these stories, detailed by women and some men online, is a chronicle of ‘insidious structural harm’. Stories of how too many internalised the closeted damage done to them, how they kept it close to their chests, asphyxiating from the inside, because no one would believe them nor was anyone willing to take on the person of influence that had secretly preyed on them. And again, counterintuitive though it may seem now, these are all too familiar stories, though in the public sphere of the #metoo movement they feel harrowing, a word much bandied about by precocious anchors on news panel discussions.
It only feels that way because what was once an internal, furtive world of underground predation feeding on a fuel of private privilege, has seen the sun for the first time. Outing men and women, who have stockpiled privilege unto themselves, is to take a path strewn with difficulty of the highest order. With privilege comes the cunning of skulking manipulation, which starts the day the harm is done, and the privileged who commit these are instantly desperate to cover it up. There will be text messages, photos, bans and injunctions signalling ‘no harm no foul’, but they know the truth, and so do we, a truth that is only now through #metoo just about uttering itself into being.