Tuesday, 24 October 2017

We have a problem with sexual harassment but it's not up to women to solve it


The New York Times and writers Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey published an iconic article
about Harvey Weinstein. The article opened up a floodgate of sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations, shining light into some of the darkest corners of the entertainment industry.

I'm not going to go over the article, other than to say Weinstein is an entitled, predatory man who held a position of power which he happily exploited for decades. Weinstein was shamed. Weinstein was fired from the company he helped create. There were consequences for his actions.
He did release an apology statement, but he was not sorry for his actions, only sorry they had consequences. 

The fallout of the article has an emerging narrative; men who've worked with Weinstein are shocked and disgusted. Some women echo this reaction. But most women are just disgusted, not shocked. They know this sort of exploitation exists in Hollywood, and not just a few are sharing their own sexual harassment stories. 

But exploitation of power dynamics doesn't just exist in expansive, multibillion dollar industries; it exists everywhere. Albeit, without a slush fund to silence abuse survivors.

When writer Anne T. Donahue asked twitter to report on when they met their Weinstein, the responses were overwhelming.


Now there's the "Me Too" movement on twitter, signal boosted by Alyssa Milano, whose tweet has over 57,000 responses as of writing this. 

The purpose of Me Too, and When did you meet your Weinstein, is to help illustrate how vast the sexual harassment/assault epidemic actually is. They also provide a place for victims, who are so often forced to remain silent, to share solidarity, if they so choose.
And again, though appalled, most women won't be shocked by the amount of responses. I know I'm not. More than a few of my female friends are contributing to them.
Most women won't be shocked because most women know this epidemic exists. Chances are we've experienced first-hand, or we've seen it/heard about it happening to others.

I remember getting a temp-to-perm job at a big company when I was in my early twenties. People were friendly; I'm an introvert by nature and it takes me a while to really open up. But within the first few weeks, after a conversation with an extremely friendly male colleague, a female colleague came to me, leant on my desk and said very quietly: "Watch out for him." She said something along the lines of he's a touchy feely kind of guy. 
Immediately, and without a doubt, I believed her. Though I didn't know her, I believed her. This was not the first time I'd received a tip from a woman about a man.
And her advice turned out to be solid; because of this colleague’s actions a few months down the track, which were reported, we all had to undertake sexual harassment training. Of course, the reasons were never advertised and my extremely friendly male colleague still has a job there. In fact, he's been promoted.
Rinse and repeat.

In 2012 the Australian Human Rights Commission conducted a national telephone survey, focusing on sexual harassment.
 It was to investigate the prevalence, nature and reporting of sexual harassment.
*The results of the survey are broken down into gender binary, and do not show data sliced by race.

It found the following:
Most sexual harassment is perpetrated by men against women

  • One third of women (33%), and less than 1 in 10 men (9%) has experienced sexual harassment since the age of 15 (this figure is consistent with what was found in the 2008 survey of the same nature).
  • 68% of those respondents were harassed in the workplace.
  • Being harassed by someone of the same sex is much more common for men (61%) than women (10%)


The survey also found many people experienced negative consequences as a result of reporting sexual harassment

Nearly one-third (29%) of respondents who reported sexual harassment indicated that their complaint had a negative impact on them (e.g. victimisation, demotion).

Nearly one third.

Why are people still being punished for acting within the law and reporting sexual harassment? When you have an almost 1 in 3 chance of experiencing negative consequences for reporting sexual harassment, won't that make someone think twice before reporting? And if you look at the recent US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission study, that number can get as high as 75%.


It's not even just the harassment of other employees. Five years ago, the Sex Discrimination Act was amended to make it illegal for customers to sexually harass employees. 
Fairfax Media investigated customer/client sexual harassment in the wake of this change to find nothing much has changed. Women are still harassed, mostly by men. Men are also still harassed, mostly by other men. Complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission haven't seen much of a response to the law change. 


Why?


Former Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, believes this is because this entitled behaviour towards women (who account for most cases of sexual harassment) is normalised. Importantly, there is still a power dynamic being exploited, even in customer/client harassment. As pointed out in the article, power relations are "invisible in many customer-worker encounters because qualities like deference, availability and friendliness are seen as essential parts of the job".

What are businesses doing to protect their employees? 
Some might think it's unfair to ask that question in the case of customer/client harassment because businesses can't force customers to act humanely, but I don't. Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe working environment. What about ad campaigns, what about physical information in retail spaces so sexual harassers know they are not welcome? What about extra training? What about the government disseminating information about the law change?
What about the employee's right to go to work without being harassed? 

A culture of male entitlement perpetuates the behaviour that is to blame for most sexual harassment encounters. It operates because there are no consequences for its operation. The same systemic misogyny punishes almost 1/3 (conservative estimate) of people seeking justice for that behaviour. It's the same toxicity that allows our government to devalue this harassment epidemic, which overwhelmingly affects women, and allows employers to, in effect, provide unsafe work environments to employees with no repercussion. 
Women cop most of the brunt of sexual harassment, but it's not up to women to fight for a harassment-free space. It's not our job to police men's behaviour, or not put ourselves into 'dangerous situations' with male colleagues, especially at work. It's not up to any person who's been harassed or assaulted.
The onus is on sexual harassers to stop harassing.
Sexual harassers will stop when they are held accountable. They will be held accountable when the toxic culture in which they thrive is scrubbed clean and becomes transparent.
Weinstein was only apologetic when he lost his power and his support system turned its back.
He was only stopped when his actions finally had consequences. 


By: Tee Linden


3 comments:

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  2. Great article. I'm glad that awareness of this is starting to hit the mainstream, because the really should be more repercussions for this sort of behavior.

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