I posted this meme on my Facebook page a couple of days ago, and the response to it gave me a thought-provoking insight into the problem of how we educate our kids about sexual harassment and inequality.
As a feminist, a woman that wants equality across the board, (and not a bra-burning man-hater, of which I am often accused), I want my daughter to feel safe in the world and my son to be respectful of women, and not seen as a women-hating predator.
Since the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace finally reached global awareness via the recent outing of many renowned predators in the workplace, backed up by the almost unanimous stand of women at the Golden Globes the other night, (the less said about that the better), it has been interesting to hear the opposing views between those who consider there to be a genuine problem, and those that deny a problem exists at all.
Frankly, I want to barf each time I hear someone say, ‘But that was how men behaved back then. They didn’t know any better. They didn’t know that it was inappropriate.’ REALLY? Can we find a similar excuse, I wonder, for celebrities and Catholic priests who have abused children? So men in the past didn’t sense that it was wrong to abuse their physical and professional power to belittle, sexually harass or sexually abuse women for their own gain?
Or the other argument, ‘you can’t deny that the casting couch has worked for women as well?’
Do these people, that condone this attitude, have any comprehension of the limitations imposed by inequality and male privilege historically? Women have always had to give more to get close to equalling their male counterparts.
Surely, a more constructive response would be to point out that not all men are bad apples, and while we pull out the rotten ones, it is important not to tarnish all men with the same brush.
Gentlemen, please be aware that although you might not see yourselves as a sexual predator, that doesn’t mean you’re not guilty. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that many of you don’t seem to view the less blatant acts of harassment for what they are. For example:
It’s not okay to pat or pinch a woman’s arse
It’s not okay to demean her verbally in any environment, but particularly in a professional environment, with condescending words such as ‘sweetheart’ or ‘love’
It’s not okay to yell out at her in the street with lewd comments
It’s not okay to interpret skimpy female clothing as an invite
It’s not okay to recount sexist jokes at a dinner party, in much the same way that you wouldn’t joke about disabled people, people of other races or sexual orientation.
And finally, ‘the world’s gone mad,’ has to be my favorite comment, usually followed by, ‘you can’t do anything anymore.’ No, you can’t abuse women… mainly, because it’s fucking wrong. Without meaning to sound Oprah-esque, this is a wonderful time in our history – we are making progress and imposing necessary boundaries – and I’m sorry if this emergence from the wrongs of the past, when slavery, racism, and women unable to vote were all acceptable regimes – cramps your style, but there it is.
I have also been told over the past few months – by both men and women – that the cases highlighted in the media are in the minority and that many women who have come forward with their stories of sexual harassment are lying for financial gain. They go on to quote the couple of cases, (ignoring the thousands that have been proven to be true), where there has not been enough evidence to ensure a guilty verdict.
How the fuck does anyone know what really happens in any situation between two people behind closed doors, when women are afraid to speak out due to the stigma attached to sexual allegations? And many a rape victim will vouch for that. Think about how Amber Heard was treated in the press. I have done my own research, and even within my small peer group of privileged middle-aged women, eighty percent of us are the victims of sexual harassment or worse; in fifty percent of examples, we are talking about more than lewd, threatening comments or an innocent smack on the bum.
And finally, to that other wonderful argument – from women this time: ‘I quite like the attention. I don’t mind a compliment from a man. What’s wrong with it?’ What’s wrong with it is that you are educating men to believe that all women want to be treated in that way, and my belief is – feminist or not – most don’t. What’s wrong with it is that you are educating your children that is okay to be disrespectful to women, to treat them as second-class citizens – a permission that might start with a wolf whistle before it escalates to rape or murder. Rape and domestic violence statistics are increasing – and many cases are still not reported – so if you are into sado-masochism or like the idea of your in control, that’s fine, but as my son would say, ‘get a room.’
So where do we go from here? What we don’t do is advise our girls that all men are sexual predators, not to drink and not to wear provocative clothing when they are out; in the same way, that we don’t generalize and label all men and boys as sexual deviants. What we do tell our boys, is to treat women in the same manner that they would like to be treated.