The wave of #MeToo-tagged stories from our region has been so sudden it has been hard to keep up with. As women across India have begun to go public with experiences of harassment at the hands of men in all different kinds of industries, it seemed inevitable that accounts from the world of advertising would soon emerge. And they have. Reams upon reams of words poured out, often anonymously, in emails, messages, on blogs and posts across the web and shared assiduously by other women.
They implicate people we at Campaign have worked with, reported on and heralded as people to watch or leaders in the industry: it has been astonishing - but perhaps not completely surprising - to hear their names and those of their agencies associated in public with such categorically damaging behaviour.
Amid the anguish conveyed, what almost shocks the most is the constant theme of permissiveness that permeates through many of these accounts. While names, agencies and specifics vary, there’s much common ground in descriptions of women being told just to expect and accept being harassed at social events, being made to feel unsafe by breezily entitled men, or being made to feel cheap and excluded for not acceding to the abuse.
This is not exclusive to the advertising industry, but it begs the question whether the generally-held identity of adland – the glamour, the parties, the ‘relaxed’ atmosphere with loose strictures and late nights – has been co-opted, to engender a culture of sexual harassment, and worse, protect the offenders?
Who hasn’t heard a male executive talk about Cannes, or any awards show, just a bit too lasciviously, only to quickly cocoon themselves in the armour of ‘banter’, a shield only men are allowed to carry?
The conversation now happening in India is shocking, difficult and necessary. The bravery of these women in exposing the men who have acted with impunity for too long is incredible, given they live in a country where news stories of women and girls being horrifically abused are an all too regular occurrence.
The question thrumming across Asia since the #MeToo movement exploded last year has been: when will it arrive here? India has now crossed the threshold, which leads to the inevitable follow-up: where next?
We at Campaign stand behind the women who are showing great courage to tell their stories, and we are receiving new information every day. Unlike those who can choose to share incidents from anonymous victims on public forums or social media, we are bound by the constraints of good journalism to ensure that the information we get is thoroughly vetted and well-sourced.
We will continue to make every attempt to bring these stories to light, and we urge anyone with a story to share, under their own name or anonymously, to contact us. In addition, we will over the next few weeks focus particular effort on following up with the agencies who say they are conducting investigations into the allegations.
Will these accounts from Indian adland inspire victims elsewhere in Asia to speak out? We at Campaign have heard plenty about the prevalence of sexual misconduct across the region. But what will it take for those affected in other Asian countries to take the next step, as the women of India have, and come forward with the names of their transgressors?
(This article first appeared on CampaignAsia.com)