by Mariah Feria on November 2, 2017, in Knowledge • No Comments
The world has been rocked over the past few weeks with the ongoing allegations of Harvey Weinstein’s outrageous sexual harassment towards members of the film community. Brave women, women who are often in the media spotlight, have broken their silence and supported one another as they speak out against the abusive, powerful, Hollywood figure.
Another hashtag campaign was born from the news, with #metoo reaching all corners of the social media realms. This time, regular women (as well as those who identify as women, and even some men) shared their stories of sexual harassment alongside those famous faces, with most of the cases occurring in workplace settings.
The effect of the campaign has been astonishing; it has got people talking who don’t usually address taboos such as ‘workplace harassment’. However, it has also raised some interesting, often perplexing questions about what sexual harassment means to us collectively, in the year 2017.
Earlier this week my boyfriend, quite honestly and innocently of him, asked what constituted ‘sexual harassment’, and who could ‘take-part’ (for want of a better word) in the #metoo social media campaign. His question may come with a range of criticisms, and accusations of ignorance, but in fairness he has raised an important point. Should someone who has been slapped on the bum, for example, be allowed to identify with someone else who has been raped?
As is usually the case with terms regarding gender/sexual orientation specific issues, the term sexual harassment is largely simplistic and a blanket term for the true complexities that minority people face. However, I think I provided a fair and justified answer: I explained to him that the campaign wasn’t about who had experienced the ‘worst kind’ of sexual harassment, nor was it about placing people who had had it worse than others, on a pedestal. It is a collective movement, where those who have been victims, can identify with one another, no matter how varied their experiences. Indeed, most people who used the #metoo hashtag, did not follow up with an extensive explanation of their assault (although many did, and this too is OK), and simply wanted to show the community that they were understanding, sympathetic, and standing with the other participators.
For me, any person who has been made to feel uncomfortable and subjected because of their body, is a victim in their own right.
Of course, there are many out there who disagree, and will continue to only view sexual harassment in terms of the extreme, and something that does not happen to ‘everyday’ and ‘safe’. Take Mayim Bialik’s response for example, who said that because of her ‘plainer’ appearance, she had never been subject to sexual harassment. She criticised those who dress in skimpy clothes and who flirt with men in order to get what they want, which offered a classic case of victim blaming. Unfortunately, she will never understand the true damage she has done by writing those few lines. If a famous woman believes that a fellow woman is ‘asking for it’ by wearing a short skirt and being friendly to a man, why should a powerful man think anything different?
Whilst the media campaign and the ongoing famous faces stepping forward to talk about workplace sexual harassment, are a step in the right direction, we are certainly not there yet. Just a few days ago, I saw a family member comment on a news link about similar claims that had been put forward against a dead celebrity. The family member – a woman – criticised the people coming forward, asking why they had not done so years ago, instead of waiting until said celebrity was dead. She said she was ‘sick of this nonsense.’ Of course, anyone with remotely a sense of sympathy and knowledge about women throughout the ages would understand why they didn’t speak up, and this needs not lengthy discussion. What matters is that still, women, who most of all should be supporting one another, are instead criticising each other for harnessing their voice.
Another article I read on the Harvey Weinstein allegations pitted the news directly alongside playground bullying, problematic for its largely simplistic approach. The author – a woman – said that Weinstein’s behaviour was likely learned in childhood, taking away from the largely known problem dynamic between white male power and the assumed authority over bodies. Whilst I don’t condone the way in which society can present gender-specific roles for men and women during childhood, it’s unlikely that Harvey Weinstein, a Hollywood mogul with an array of (former) powerful friends by his side keeping their silence, picked up his behaviours in his school playground. Not once did the author address the fact that the victims felt they could not speak up, instead using the whole article as an explanation as to why Weinstein acted this way.
This lack of support for the voices coming forward goes beyond simple criticism and ignorance too, as a recent article on bitchmedia.org outlined perfectly. They addressed the fact that many other celebrities are now saying they knew about the Weinstein abuse, and other allegations of sexual harassment against other prominent figures…yet they stayed quiet. The article mentioned the ‘Shitty Men in Media’ list that made the rounds around popular news sites, yet one writer even criticised the list because it hadn’t give the men a chance to respond – this article was written by a woman.
These powerful ‘non-victims’ with a voice admired and respected by many, should be using their status to address the problems in our society, not simply apologising when they reveal they should have spoken out sooner. Bitchmedia.org suggested the contrasting #youtoo campaign, calling for those with privilege, those who society will listen to, to get involved too.
The current #metoo campaign isn’t the first social media response to an outrageous sexual harassment claim, and it certainly won’t be the last. However, it will make a difference. Last year’s #nastywoman campaign has produced a range of literature, artwork, and collaborative events, and is demonstrating the beautiful outcome that can occur when victims, and non-victims too, come together.
So whilst some may not understand what levels of sexual harassment are deemed inappropriate, or indeed what the term itself even means, we must have the confidence and the power to ask, educate ourselves, and remain sympathetic and supportive. Only then will we topple those who believe they have a rightful authority over our bodies.