As allegations against Harvey Weinstein come forward I praise all the women willing to speak about their experiences and the culture in the show-biz. At the same time I am disgusted and disappointed by all those lying to protect their public image or criticising people speaking up, saying things like “why didn’t you say something sooner”. This is the perfect response for that wrong-twisted argument.
Unfortunately, that is not the only industry with predators, they are all around us in every place. Alyssa Milano was absolutely right to re-initiate the #meToo discussion to show how much sexual abuse lies in our societies. I am 35 at the time of writing this post and during my lifetime I have encountered a fair share:
- I have been groped in the street. Walking in Oxford Street in the middle of the day a guy walking in the opposite direction grabbed my boob. I was not wearing anything outstanding. Walking in Sri Lanka I got slapped in my bump by a guy passing me on a motorbike, again my clothes were not flashy. On both occasions I immediately felt ashamed and wondered if it was my fault, what is wrong with our society that we tend to have those thoughts as the first reaction…
- At a seminar one attendee came to sit besides me during one of the breaks. He asked me questions about the event, it was the middle of the day, there were people around so I engaged in conversation. After a few minutes he says: “Spanish women like to party, do you want to have sex with me?” while leaning on me. I told him I found that very rude and out of order and I asked him to leave, which he did, not without saying first he didn’t understand the problem. I did tell him for me it was not an appropriate comment and he was making me uncomfortable. I don’t think my patience and courage trying to educate him made much difference to him because about an hour later another attendee experienced something similar…
- At work I have had senior managers and colleges making unwanted comments/acts. Sometimes a simple laugh to a joke can make people think they can make an advance, and I am talking about friendly conversation, not flirting
- Cat calling, intense looking, walking in the streets is not an everyday event but it does happen to me sometimes and I personally find it intimidating and displeasing
- Plus a few strong physical actions that I rather don’t describe here
Implying like Donna Karan that depending on your clothes you would attract sexual assault is offensive, total hypocrisy from someone using sex as part of the promotion of her work and a proof of sexism in women. To me that is the worst kind of sexism of all. Mayim Bialik has also implied that the key is staying away from predators, don’t go to a place that could be compromising, don’t wear clothes that could attract attention, don’t be naive and you will be safe. She acknowledges that there is no excuse for sexual assault but all these conditions that she offers for her success avoiding abuse have a big pitfault.
Not all predators wear a T-shirt saying “look out, I will do whatever I want regardless of what you want”. Some people (men and I am sure some women) only care about what they want and they would assault to a fellow human being regardless of:
- what the other person wears – I’m really fed up with this argument. Someone could be walking naked on the street, that doesn’t give anyone any right to abuse them in any way. If we could all agree on that the blame culture of not condemning someone for rape because the victim wore jeans would fade away. It is the people that see others as objects to satisfy whatever urges they have whom should be singled out and condemned
- the environment they are in – there is a lot of talk about going to rooms/staying alone with someone as an indicator of assault when in reality it happens anywhere, alone or surrounded by people. How many of us have been clapped in the ass or boob-grabbed in the street or a club? That is and should also be treated like assault even if it is not an extreme act like rape
- what the other person looks like – anything can tip them off, maybe having a bad day and wanting to compensate it with sex and someone just passes by? a personal trait that reminds them of someone else and triggers a memory they want to offset by exercising a power position over that person
- Unfortunately sometimes is just being in a place at the wrong time, how on earth do you prevent that? not even staying at home would save you if the abuser is a family member
Sexual assault is a crime not properly addressed by society. The fact that presenters at gala’s (or any other place) are willing to make jokes on the back of it and predators are rewarded with positions of power are just proofs of how poorly understood and prosecuted it is. Anyone with this kind of behaviour in any industry or social group should be outcasted.
For those thinking that a bit of flirting or banter wouldn’t hurt anyone I repeat, this is not about your intention but how your action affects the receiver, it is never only about you. When in doubt keep in mind the following basic principles:
- Know the person before you say/do something, everyone has different levels of boundaries and what someone may consider a joke others may find deeply offensive or intimidating. If you are not sure of how your action would be taken, don’t do or say anything! Be respectful over what you may think is flirty/funny
- Most important of all, don’t insist, one rejection (as a joke, comment or soft/extreme reaction) is plenty and means you have crossed already the boundary with that person, otherwise you would have got a positive response of some sort… Don’t keep coming back, that is definitely uncalled for and predator/stalking behaviour
In a decent world everyone would stand up to predators, men and women alike. It is important to understand consent. As women I think our role in shaking up things and demanding people to know what consent and physical boundaries mean is even more important, even if this lesson should have been learned by now… Not only to support those that have been victims but to educate everyone on how people should behave and how we should be treated by others. Women don’t only influence our surrounding women but also the men that we interact with, either at work, at home, the circle of friends or family members. We need to spread the right thinking, even if sometimes requires uncomfortable discussions and challenging people on things they may see very differently and therefore argue against.
If someone hasn’t been the victim of sexual assault they should feel lucky and full stop because it is not what you do or not do to attract them, it’s just being lucky enough not to encounter them or to escape on time if you do. Something we all can do is teaching and demanding people to respect their fellow human beings, to stop covering up and implicitly endorse predator behaviour. I don’t mean outing experiences per se, that is a personal choice, but engage in constructive conversation to enforce how important changing perceptions is to make a shift of consciousness and real change. And this goes for women and men, there are men that are respectful and supportive, they just need to stand up at every corner and call people out when required.