The #MeToo movement, much to the relief of all those who had fingers pointed at them, seems to be catching its breath. Which doesn’t mean it has waned or changed its mind; in fact, even late pervs are now being dug out of their grave, proof and all.
Martin Luther King Jr is the latest to go through a posthumous image adjustment. According to a biographer – Pulitzer Prize-winning David J. Garrow – there are FBI records of surveillance that point to King’s not so moral ways.
What the civil rights leader was up to in bugged hotel rooms seems beyond pornographic, spilling into the realm of a solid and unwavering disrespect for women. With his debauchery seemingly documented and taped for posterity, the question of consensus may be academic but still a question. His phones were tapped and he was lavishly spied on. Trysts with up to forty women, married and single, and live advice to a rapist as he raped…. King’s alleged misdemeanors go way beyond the casual sexism of those days. How he treated women cascades into the inequalities of today, futures being privy to pasts.
What is it about power that goes to people’s head and makes them believe they are above the law? Of course, the rich and the famous find it convenient to lead double lives; one for the camera, the other behind closed doors. One understands the need for privacy, after all the high and mighty are still just human beings at the end of the day. But King’s adulterous repertoire beats comprehension; he must have known he was being watched and eavesdropped upon. He was always answerable to future historians.
With his sermons hitting the headlines, he was presumed by all, now and then, to be a simmering intellectual who thought with his heart. That his carnal pleasures were uppermost on his mind when he travelled for work are beyond pedestrian pitfalls – they smack of arrogance and abuse. Of a colossal ego that put him beyond the pale of the ordinary folks he claimed to speak for.
Apparently no one who knew him well thought him a saint even in those days; boys will be boys and all that. Groupies too are an ever-present problem for anyone remotely glam. But the outlines of his debauchery were veiled from the world at large. And now they are suddenly out in the open. What were only whispers and rumours have started to resemble fact.
King often called himself a sinner in his speech, a self-deprecatory usage that could be interpreted as humility. Even now editorials and opinion pieces do not know what to make of this latest tweak to a legend. Time though for such an unmasking to be given its due. We have seen the halo, we now need to see the feet of clay. Heroes should come clean on where they stand vis-a-vis handmaids. What men did to women down the years will always remain a relevant footnote to gender issues.
Predators are everywhere, even on pedestals, especially on pedestals.
Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival. Read Shinie Antony's columns