Everyone is talking about sexual harassment and this is why you should, too
MANILA, Philippines – If you haven’t heard of the Harvey Weinstein fiasco by now, you’re either a child whose parents have put your gadgets on parental control, or you’re in denial. For the rest of us, the story is this: one of the biggest titans of Hollywood has been accused of various levels of harassment by a growing list of women, over a career that has spanned four decades. Allegations range from groping, requesting massages over pretend-meetings in luxurious Hollywood hotels, to outright rape. Accusers have come forward over a matter of days. Strengthened by shared experience, these women have felt empowered or vindicated enough to come out of their hiding, the woodwork, their years-long silence.
This has spawned one of the year’s most important hashtags: #MeToo. This hashtag encompasses anyone who has ever been harassed by Weinstein, as well as women outside his prestigious circles, who have ever been catcalled, groped, and yes, raped. I would go on to say that this hashtag encompasses anyone who has ever been harassed, regardless of gender, which means the circles are smaller and more intimate than you think, and may pertain to you or someone you know.
It is shortsighted to believe that this hashtag pertains only to women. It pertains to the weaker party in the oldest game we know – power and submission. People have taken up the cudgels to tell their own stories, or the stories of someone they know, on social media. Stories that range from minor incidents on trains, to major travesties in the workplace and at home. Everyone has a story, and everyone is empowered to tell it. In the end, this isn’t about one Hollywood mogul, it’s about the Hollywood mogul in your life: the one who took advantage of your weakness, youth, inexperience, and yes, ambition. It could be about your boss, your officemates, your classmates, your husband, your boyfriend, and your relatives.
It appears that everyone has a “Me Too” story to tell, and the realization rightfully sparks anger and outrage. I leave it to anyone who has a personal story to tell to tell their story. I leave it to myself to try a phenomenological exercise: to question the appropriation of the term by people who exercised their power over a weaker party, or who were, in some measure, complicit.
Men have come forward to tell “me too” stories in which they’ve either been predator or accomplice. And while I appreciate these efforts, there are cynics and realists from these quarters who argue that since men have been outed for exercising their power, it can’t mean that anyone who has ever stared at a co-worker’s breasts, or commented on the length of her skirt, or been aroused by her perfume, or read a Playboy magazine, merits accusatory remarks or wagging fingers. More empathetic men have decried the sudden wave of “me too” stories told by women as a kind of painful rehashing of sorts, a narrative from which they should be spared a second humiliation. Women have bemoaned the fact that this will do little in terms of change; that attitudes in the workplace or in any power dynamic will change little, if at all.
If I told a personal #MeToo story, it would be about the time I was invited by a couple of young priests to do a writing workshop in a local province. I was about 24 or 25, and said priests had no sooner picked me up from the airport then let loose statements like “I hope you brought a bikini for when we take you to the ______Waterfalls.” I had friends in high places in the province, and dismissed this as a boys-will-be-boys statement from which I would safely be delivered. The comments did not stop there—my stay was peppered with sexually charged talk from these two, also in their twenties, and prone to misogynistic quips and reckless laughter. For a couple of nights, I would also be staying in their guest quarters – an agonizing time during which I slept with the lights on, a chair propped snuggly under the doorknob.
I was also invited to trendy restaurants; trips I had the good sense to invite local friends to; it was one such friend – a father-figure who smelled the rats out and stayed with me through various wines-and-dines – who told me that if any situation gave me discomfort, I would do well to trust my instincts and run. I was in my twenties, and was open to anything; danger was a minor setback in what I perceived to be the project of living my life to the fullest. In hindsight, wasn’t I asking for trouble the same way a man who backpacks his way through Afghanistan with a pregnant wife has been accused by his in-laws as asking for trouble? The way a young, aspiring starlet who has been summoned by Weinstein to a private meeting in a private suite, is asking for trouble?
The truth is, no one asks for trouble; someone trusts someone who happens to be in a position of power. Someone trusts that no harm will come to them, even in the sketchiest of places. To disabuse people of this trust would be tantamount to engendering a kind of wholesale paranoia.
When older stars come forward to tell their stories, one assumes that apart from vindicating themselves, the act also constitutes a sexual activism that will educate generations of future starlets, and spare them from making the same mistakes they’ve made.
As preemptive measures, parents pay for self-defense classes for their daughters; young girls are given Mace or pepper sprays to defend themselves in dark playgrounds and parking lots. But this behavior is premised on distrust. Modern mothers are educating their sons on how to respect women (read: how and why not to rape women), meaning the poster boy for sexual etiquette will come of age in 2027. But what do we do in the world of today?
One solution seems to be to have a wholesale distrust of people in positions of power, but the more important and staying solution is to be empowered enough to know better; to be one’s own police, lifeline, and guide. And where it can’t be helped, to be someone’s police, lifeline, and guide. To be the starred number on a cellphone; to be the rule in the age of exceptions: man, woman, or identifying gender; position of power, or no. To mean it when you say #MeToo when you aren’t the predator or prey, because what happens to someone you know also happens to you. – Rappler.com