A bunch of coworkers go out for drinks. You are 21 at the time and the youngest employee working there. You like hanging out with people older than you because they are interesting and have life experience but mostly you want to get along with your coworkers. You want to have fun so you can be a part of the inner circle.
You can feel one of your coworkers ogling at you the whole night but you avoid his gaze. You feel uncomfortable. They are old enough to be your father. This doesn’t seem to bother them. Everyone around you jokes that he likes young women.
You are all walking home after the bar when this man (who has had many drinks at this point) grabs you. He tells you how attractive you are. He tells you that he wants to pay you to have sex with him. He tries to get you to go back to his place. You are disgusted. You are outraged. You do nothing.
You see him at work. The ogling continues.
When the news of Harvey Weinstein broke, I was not in the least bit surprised. What did strike me as particularly insidious was that while many were criticizing Trump for his despicable treatment of women, it was forgotten that grabbing women by the pussy knows no political bounds.
As my friends and I began chatting about it, we all recalled our own personal harassment and assault stories from various workplaces over the years. One theme was common, none of us spoke up about them at the time.
As women, we have internalized that we shouldn’t come forward. We should move on. There is nothing to be done about it, we just need to try to put it out of our minds. But this drains on a person. I even questioned whether I should participate in the ‘me too’ movement, because my various instances of harassment and assault have not been as bad as some.
We need to stop questioning why women don’t come forward at the time of harassment or assault. This rhetoric is exactly why women don’t come forward. Their motives are questioned. Will anyone believe them? Will they be blamed?
These are the realities of coming forward.
When we don’t have a culture where women feel like coming forward will be met with belief and support, can we be surprised that more women don’t?
Here are some reasons why women don’t come forward, just so we are clear.
- They are afraid it will be he said she said and nothing will come of it
- They are afraid their reputation will be ruined
- The perpetrator is in a position of authority or power and they are afraid to speak up
- Their job could be threatened or career ruined
Time and time again, the focus has been spent on the women and not on the perpetrators. Time and time again it takes a plethora of victims coming forward before anyone takes these claims seriously. This makes me think that in the he said she said department, it takes at least 10 she saids before we can override what he said.
For anyone that is still forwarding the narrative that there are just a few bad apples who are ruining the reputation of all men, this is a wake up call. Believing women isn’t controversial because these acts of harassment happen ALL of the time. They are commonplace. This is what the #METOO movement has illustrated, but it is what women have already known forever. Maybe if there wasn’t such a fear of the repercussions to women for coming forward, more women would.
We need to understand that these acts being commonplace means we need to look beyond the sleazy Hollywood producers and into our own workplaces and relationships. We need to shift the conversation to changing the culture that exists amongst men that allows for and even encourages these behaviours.
Here are 3 simple steps for men to follow to try to make changes in a culture that supports these behaviours:
STEP ONE: Don’t treat women like objects. When you treat women like objects (particularly sexual objects), you are denying their agency and assuming that the existence of women is for the sexual exploits of men.
STEP TWO: You need consent (enthusiastic consent) for any sexual activity. This means if the answer is not a fuck yes, it is a fuck no.
STEP THREE: Call our your male friends for participating in behaviour that is inappropriate (misogynistic jokes, catcalling, objectifying women).
STEP FOUR: Do not use your power and privilege (in the workplace setting or otherwise) to lure women (who are more often precariously employed) into situations where they are made to feel that their job depends on their willingness to go along with your advances.
I am someone who likes to consider myself a ‘strong women’. I am not afraid to speak out and voice my opinion. Yet somehow, my own stories of harassment have made me feel small. They have made me feel that this is the reality of being a woman. But I do not accept that reality.
I am optimistic that the conversation is changing. 10 years ago there were no major conversations happening about this on an international level. But for anything to change on a broader cultural level, more conversations need to happen every day and this cannot be left up to women.