Inviting Tavleen Singh’s Outdated Opinions to a #MeToo Panel Was a PR Stunt

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Dec 3, 2018

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Photo courtesy of Times Literature Festival Delhi

When the Times Literature Festival Delhi tweeted out that it would be holding a panel on 1 December, titled “The #MeToo Debate” with Barkha Dutt and Tavleen Singh on “either side of the #MeToo fence,” as Faye D’Souza mediates, this was one of the comments:

The optics of the debate, in the vein of the Arnab Goswami-esque journalism, had Dutt and D’Souza pitted against Tavleen Singh, who was staunchly sticking to her stance. And her stance on #MeToo is very well known, and very controversial.

In the past, Singh has defended well-known predators like MJ Akbar and Suhel Seth, labelled the movement as elitist, criticized survivors who have come forward for just wanting their 15 minutes of fame, and dismissed #MeToo for ignoring the ‘real horrors’ that women in India face. As a senior journalist who has been a political reporter for more than a decade, Singh has had more than enough space to voice her opinions, as problematic as they are, and has received a fair amount of coverage on the subject of #MeToo. Her arguments with Barkha Dutt about the movement have already been well documented. To then put Singh on stage, supposedly to discuss the social movement she publicly denounces, feels less like a hope for fruitful debate, and more like a petty shouting match — which is what ended up happening.

In theory, a healthy debate that involves people from both sides presenting their cases, and listening and responding to arguments against their views, is crucial to societal progress — especially to a movement like #MeToo, the success or failure of which relies less on the ability to convince people that ‘x’ thing is correct, and more on the ability for us to have conversations — debates — about complicated topics like consent, desire, and power. This is true regardless of whether you’re someone who believes survivors, or someone who thinks this movement is unnecessary.

But to have those conversations, we have to be open to hearing each other out. On that panel, Tavleen Singh was not willing to hear anyone out, nor was she ever going to — because the panel itself was not about a debate; it was about a performance. A spectacle of the ‘angry feminists’ vs the ‘older misogynistic generation.’ And there were no winners there.

Ripe for those clickable, viral sound bites that The Times Group no doubt wanted, the takeaway from this panel was Singh telling D’Souza, “Why don’t you turn into a man? You’re dressed like a man.”

The rest of the conversation around #MeToo at that event was as much of a spectacle. Singh, in her usual manner, dismissed ‘MeToo’ as a buzzword that doesn’t include the more pressing matters like child sex trafficking, ignoring arguments that one offence doesn’t have to discount the other, and asked why survivors didn’t speak up if they were being harassed, a sentiment that has been addressed multiple times during the course of this movement.

No doubt Singh’s views are shared by many others, but by providing her with such a powerful platform only for her to shout down and demean her opponents, with the same kind of sexist attitude that movements like #MeToo are trying to fight against, is to normalize and encourage this kind of behavior. Instead of having a nuanced conversation about the successes and pitfalls of #MeToo, Times Literature Festival hosted a very public spectacle of the ‘Feminists Yell At Each Other’ show, which may go viral, but in the end, serves nobody except the organizers and the trolls.

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Written By Nadia Nooreyezdan

Nadia Nooreyezdan is The Swaddle’s culture editor. Since graduating from Columbia Journalism School, she spends her time thinking about aliens, cyborgs, and social justice sci-fi. She’s also working on a memoir about her family’s journey from Iran to India.

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