Harassment is bad and sexual harassment is even worse. The robust discussion going on regarding proposed sexual harassment legislation is timely and long overdue. Sexual harassment has been around for a long time and sadly, hugely covered up, ignored or wished away.
Victims are known to suffer in silence, anguish and pain. They are afraid to speak out for fear of reprisal, embarrassment and probably expect that they won’t be believed. Sexual harassers, on the other hand, operate from a position of power and seem to feel empowered by their abusive actions.
In most cases, they use their authoritative roles to pursue those under their authority. It is an evil that must be confronted and punished. No person should take advantage of another, whether sexually or otherwise. The explosive revelations hitting Hollywood regarding acclaimed American film producer, Harvey Weinstein and his alleged sexual misconduct with scores of women has certainly put a global spotlight on sexual harassment.
It seems it takes just one person, bold and courageous enough, to tell their story on sexual harassment to open the proverbial ‘can of beans’ and give the impetus to countless others to come forward and reveal their own horror stories. In October 2017, the New York Times and the New Yorker reported that dozens of women had accused Weinstein of sexual harassment, sexual assaul tor rape.
More than 60 women in thefilm industry subsequently accused Weinstein of such acts. It was almost like a domino effect and Weinstein has now fallen from grace and prestige. The sad reality however, as is now coming to light, is that the alleged harassment has been going on for years and several people, including close associates were aware of it.
Had not a person come forward with her story, would these ‘friends’ continue to overlook Weinstein’s indiscretions in favour of fame and fortune? The story carried by the New York Times is like a bombshell for many in that industry and across a much wider spectrum.
As one Al Jazeera writer put it: “A spectre is haunting Hollywood – the spectre of a sexual predator named Harvey Weinstein. All the powers of liberal elite have gathered their forces to exorcise this infamy. From New York Times and the New Yorker to the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences down to every website and tabloid from coast to coast. What they could not do to Donald Trump now they are determined to do to Harvey Weinstein with a vengeance: Scandalize and run him out of town, as if he were an effigy of Donald Trump.”
So true is his analysis. The current President of the United States, Donald Trump, was accused of being a sexual predator, caught on tape saying some nasty stuff (which he dismissed as locker room banter) but went on, despite all of that, to be voted in as the President.
That is the reality we confront when we deal with uneasy subjects like sexual harassment. It is ugly, we prefer not to talk about it. But it happens, has been happening for centuries and continues to wreck lives. And the other reality is that it pervades all societies, all cultures, and even found among faith communities. No one is exempt.
I can agree that in some practices, cultures and religious settings, the likelihood of sexual harassment is minimized. The proclivity to attempt or engage in sexual misbehaviour is limited in some cases and by some cultural or religious norms and practices. But it does not 100 per cent wipe it out because the sexual harasser is a psycho who, regardless of the circumstances, will prey on victims.
An example is that of Muslim women who dress Islamically when they are in public. Often derided as being oppressed and forced by men to dress modestly, Muslim women will go about peacefully according to the dictates of their faith. By and large, they are immunized from the taunts of others but some have reported that even dressed modestly, some men will still make sexual gestures to them.
The hashtag #MeToo has been trending ever since the Weinstein story broke. As reported, “it started with an exposé detailing countless allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. But soon, personal stories began pouring in from women in all industries across the world, and the hashtag #MeToo became a rallying cry against sexual assault and harassment.”
“Within days, millions of women – and some men – used Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to disclose the harassment and abuse they have faced in their own lives. They included celebrities and public figures such as Björk and Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney, as well as ordinary people who felt empowered to finally speak out. The story moved beyond any one man; it became a conversation about men’s behaviour towards women and the imbalance of power at the top.”
Facebook said that within 24 hours, 4.7 million people around the world engaged in the #MeToo conversation, with over 12 million posts, comments, and reactions.
Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer Suckoo is reported to have said: “The sexual harassment legislation is not about locking (up) people because a man ‘psst’ at a woman . . . It is about ensuring that a person’s rights are protected and a person can function in dignity.”
The discussion surrounding the proposed legislation has ranged from those ‘pssts’ on the streets to the credibility and ability of those who will be charged with the responsibility to determine that a sexual harassment claim is credible. I imagine, like everything else in Barbados, the discussion will continue for a while with no common consent.
But what the discussion speaks to is important. There has been what appears to be an accepted practice and perhaps ‘culture’ of what, in reality, is sexual harassment, but what some see as normal human behaviour advancing the desire for another person.
The sexual harassment legislation will seek to re-calibrate that thinking and mindset but I suspect it will take more than legislation to have the desired effect. Like most other practices so ingrained in our psyche, we will have to fight hard to remove the scourge of sexual harassment. It can’t be seen in any form or fashion as acceptable behaviour or normal.
I sincerely hope victims of sexual harassment will have some comfort in the proposed legislation that justice is available. I hope as well that would-be sexual harassers will think twice before they even attempt to take advantage of another person. And, most importantly, I really wish no one will point a false finger at anyone just to spite them.
That is something I believe the legislation should also address. For it is known that unscrupulous people can take advantage of loopholes to disgrace others falsely.