#MeToo Said the Male Model

#MeToo Said the Male Model

As the storm of sexual harassment at the workplace unleashes, let’s not forget the small time, small town male models of the Indian fashion industry. Often at the receiving end of predatory sexual advances

In the first paragraph of the Supreme Court Judgement on the Sabarimala case (you can read it on the Internet) sits a quote by Susan B Anthony, an American activist for women’s rights. “Men, their rights and nothing more; women their rights and nothing less.”

It caps Sabarimala’s exclusionary practice that formerly barred women in the menstruating life span from entering the temple premises. But it is a striking phrase—which churns notions of equality and if we pause enough, will make us ponder.

In the unravelling of the #MeToo movement in India that has knifed open the deeply disturbed psyche of male-female relationships at workplaces in our country, in film, TV and media, what is starkly missing is the lament and the legitimate complaints of the harassed fashion model. Mostly male. The second sex of the Indian fashion industry. Who is preyed upon by those drunk on power and position, who is forced to yield to sexual groping and assault, manipulated to offer sexual favours for wages and work.

The anonymous, unsung, seldom heard Male Model is a dark reality, let’s not turn away from him.


Photo: Shutterstock

In the unravelling of the #MeToo movement in India what’s missing is the legitimate complaints of the harassed fashion model.

Young boys from all parts of India, a majority from Haryana and Punjab, with limited education but wild dreams and king sized ambitions, boys with beefy arms and gym baked torsos, who mistake “compromise” as a short cut to stardom, boys who stumble into and around the complexities of adult good touch-bad touch without the right awareness get are sexually harassed when they come to the cities seeking work. Most such harassment happens through umpteen unorganized fashion events or covertly right under the noses of credible but unsuspecting platforms. Don’t raise those eyebrows, because if you have anything to do with the Indian fashion industry or work in any part of it, you shouldn’t be surprised.

The molestor may not be a caricatured homosexual designer on steroids out for nightly fun with struggling young boys at the cost of their dignity, safety and rights. Or he may be. He may not be a model coordinator. Or he may be. Who knows, he may be a rich and entitled power broker, a show patron, sponsor, co-sponsor, diva or star who ogles at men, who wants and can afford a male mistress on the side. The harasser may be (and it may be a she) who coordinates trips, junkets, free flowing alcohol and access to fancy parties.

There are many influences in the fashion industry that cast a grim shadow on what we perceive as black and white. Influences that take away the distinction between consensual sex and sexual aggression that jeopardises dignity and sexual freedom. A demeaning attitude which assumes that lewd sexual comments about a hapless young boy or the body parts of a struggling male model who will never be the next Arjun Rampal or Milind Soman are “chalta hai”. The chalta hai attitude is unfair. It is damning sexual harassment. The pain and agony of compromised human dignity doesn’t get diluted if the victim is a man and went to a local gym in Haryana instead of to Harvard.


Photo: Shutterstock

The pain and agony of compromised human dignity doesn’t get diluted if the victim is a man.

Late last year, as The Voice of Fashion was gearing up towards its content mapping and exploration, we shot a video story on this subject. This was right after Hollywood Mogul Harvey Weinstein had been accused by a number of women as had other powerful men in other professions in the US—the media included. This video was shot as part of a pilot episode for a large format programme that will soon debut on The Voice of Fashion. We interviewed model and founder of Ninjas Model Management Ninja Singh, the former face of Maybelline in India, well-known model Amit Ranjan and designer Anupama Dayal for their thoughts. Watch what they had to say here. We have titled and headlined the video to match this story but nothing else has been edited or remixed.

Also read my previously reported stories— The New Second Sex: Agony of the Male Model in Open magazine wherein many names from the industry including the winner of Manhunt International Mr India Arry Dabas or Jeet Brar who runs a modelling agency in Chandigarh talk about the insidious harassment for strugglers. Not all anecdotes are about sexual harassment but they are about unfair means and harassment of various kinds at work—sexual included. Even in In The Role of a Model an article I wrote for Mint in 2013, about a young struggling boy trying to make it big in fashion in Mumbai, he talks about the dark days of “compromise”. The word “compromise” of course is the wrong label assigned to sexual favours asked in exchange of work.

2013 or 2017 and now. It continues.

Yet not one model, male or female or any professional from the Indian fashion industry has stood up to say what they may want to regarding this. It should make us all wonder: is the Indian fashion industry, an extraordinary and most rightful working space or is the conspiracy of silence coded into our nerves like a drug that dulls our responses.