#metoo. But when sexual harassment is so normalised and random, what’s the point in saying something?
#metoo. The hashtag that was heard around the world in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault and harassment scandal. Women shared their stories of harassment, assault, misconduct, fear and intimidation; some simply showed solidarity indicated by the concession that these things had happened to them in the past.
I shared it – it has happened to me countless times. Whether it was from receiving my first wolf-whistle from a passing vehicle as a pre-pubescent girl in an affluent Sydney suburb, to a man old enough to be my father commenting on the plunging neckline of my mandatory uniform as a bar attendant. My particular favourite was the man who looked 15 years older than me, insistent that he pay for my drinks after my consistent protestations, who then called me a bitch and other derogatory, gender-specific epithets when I sat down with a male friend and was not interested in going home with him. There are the numerous men – strangers – who have been too close for comfort in bars, on public transport, in lifts, on the street.
Of the many things that have struck me during this entire scandal, one is the sudden outrage of men. Many Facebook friends expressed solidarity with women during this time. They lamented that they had never seen this harassment, and were all surprised when their friends were – in a steady stream – sharing the #metoo hashtag. They promised to stop it in its tracks if it ever happened in front of them.
Though I have no doubt that what they were saying is true, sexual harassment is literally everywhere and it is impossible to miss. It’s that it’s so normalised, it can be mistaken for jocular, good hearted fun, banter, or “locker-room talk”. When a man who openly admits to “grabbing women by the pussy” can be elected to the most powerful political position in the world, there’s little reason to believe sexual harassment is taken seriously by the general population.
The only way this can be changed is for all of us to say something. As women, we’ve been conditioned to stay silent; to believe that our jobs, credibility or dignity will be at risk. But now that light is finally being shed on this issue, it needs to be called out. Whether it’s happening to you, whether you’re witnessing it, whether you’ve heard about it; men are just as responsible for calling out other men as the women receiving the harassment. Being outraged after the fact is no longer enough. Silence is complicity.