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#MeToo: Taking it lightly?

Hundreds of thousands of women and men shared their personal stories of sexual harassment on social media using #MeToo after celebrities and once-aspiring actresses came out against Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein. But the Weinstein scandal and #MeToo campaign raise crucial questions: Why are reports of sexual violence dismissed, not just by families and colleagues but sometimes by police as well? Do we allow men to get away with violent behaviour more easily? And do companies take a stand on such issues only when it becomes a PR disaster? Gulf News readers debate.

  • Anjum Hassan, Biology Teacher living in SharjahImage Credit: Supplied
  • Dr Shannon Dea, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Waterloo in Canada, in which capacity sImage Credit: Supplied
  • Murugesh Sambasadhasivam, Professional programmes manager living in DubaiImage Credit: Supplied
  • Saliha Afridi, Clinical Psychologist and managing director of a mental health and wellness clinicImage Credit: Supplied
  • Image Credit:
Gulf News

Society

Unless and until we wake up, this harassment will continue

It is not just sexual harassment, any issue related to women like domestic violence, for example, goes unreported. Why? Society dismisses such issues in the name of family reputation, the company’s image is at stake, or by calling it a celebrity stunt. Money is used to cover up many such cases, but the woman never heals once the damage is done. It can lead to a lifetime of agony! Unless and until we wake up, this harassment will continue.

The environment in offices also needs to be taken care of. Any abusive or filthy remarks by co-workers, whether made unintentionally or with a purpose, should be avoided and those found guilty should be taken to task.

Women have been victims of molestation and harassment apart from the violence they face within the family, whether at the hands of their in-laws or husbands. Whether we stay in an extended family or a nuclear one, men have always ruled. Comments on our dressing sense, beauty and looks by even family members can be shattering. All these things happen just because women let things go! Live and let live should be the motto of society today.

From Ms Anjum Hassan

Biology teacher based in Sharjah

Priorities

Companies care about reputation more than reports of misconduct

One of the basic reasons why such issues are not taken seriously is because when they are reported in the entertainment industry, whether Hollywood or Bollywood, people think it is an industry-specific issue and not a common one. But assault and consent are different and people should realise that. Unfortunately, sometimes a relationship might start off as consensual but later on it could turn to assault.

As for companies, I absolutely agree that companies prioritise reputation over reports of sexual misconduct. Being in the field of human resources, I know for a fact that when it comes to personal issues, we do not go beyond a certain level unless it affects the person’s work. Your reputation is extremely important and ultimately, companies are focused on making money. They only react when they feel the pinch, otherwise they won’t bother.

However, I don’t think that language has a role to play. Most people just choose to not comment on such issues, unless it becomes very evident that someone did something wrong. Otherwise, everybody chooses to brush it under the carpet. There are too reasons for this. Firstly, because you are going too deep into someone’s personal life and secondly, you do not know everything about the case.

At work, I think because women are independent, people presume that they can deal with challenges. However, I also think that you can very quickly understand whether the company you are working in has a good working environment. Our social perspective in these matters is that since the woman is working, she can take a call on how to deal with these challenges.

From Mr Murugesh Sambasadhasivam

Professional programmes manager living in Dubai

Nurture

Women are socialised from a very early age to be agreeable

There are many reasons why sexual assault goes unaddressed. Not many women feel empowered to speak up. Her reputation and behaviour is scrutinised when she files a complaint, instead of the man’s. She is further demeaned by comments like “she asked for it”, “she shouldn’t have worn that” or “she was too friendly and inviting”. When women see this happening systematically, the message they get is: Don’t report, because it does not change anything and you will feel more humiliated, ashamed and guilty than when you started the complaint process.

Also, women are socialised from a very early age to be agreeable. “Sugar and spice and everything nice” … saying no, drawing boundaries, raising complaints – especially against men in power – is not what they learn from the larger culture about what is expected of them. You do as you are told. Whereas boys or men are socialised with machismo – a hyper-masculinity in physical and sexual aggression. You take what you want. You go for what you want. You conquer the inferior. Sexual conquest is a sign of virility.

The best way to change this is for men to take a stand against sexual harassment. When talk happens in the “locker room”, men need to take a stand in that moment and risk being ridiculed. It is not enough for men and companies to have beliefs or values about sexual harassment being wrong and respect as a basic human right. What is really needed is actions and behaviours that are consistent with those beliefs and values, and men and companies speaking up and taking a stand when they see it happening.

I think the situation is changing, at least in the West. Companies are being more proactive, rather than reactive, on issues of diversity and harassment. I think more can be done in this part of the world.

From Dr Saliha Afridi

Clinical psychologist and managing director of a mental health and wellness clinic

Culture

Women should be safe from sexual violence because they are human beings!

I think that sexual assault gets hushed up for a number of reasons. Victims of sexual assault are often reluctant to come forward because they experience stigma and shame, and because coming forward can sometimes re-traumatise them in various ways. And, of course, they may not feel safe coming forward. It’s worth remembering that most sexual assaults are not stranger-assaults. The victims of sexual assault usually know – and are often in relationships with – their assailants. As well, many perpetrators of sexual violence occupy positions of relative power. It is in their interests – and often within their power – to brush sexual assault under the carpet.

Further, I think that there is lots of confusion about what sexual assault is. Ideas about what constitutes sexual violence shift over time and across cultures. The current emphasis in the West is on consent – whether or not both partners have consented to sex, whether they were unable to consent due to intoxication, and similar. I think some people are afraid to talk about sexual violence because they are afraid that by current standards they themselves are guilty. There is a culture of fear around the topic.

Corporate culture can exacerbate the problem. Some corporations have good ethical frameworks and good, principled leaders. Others just want to shield themselves from legal liability and from bad PR. I think that we need to shift the conversation so that more corporations are proactively putting good policies and practices into place rather than reactively responding after things have already gone wrong. Having more women in executive positions within corporations can help. Because so many women have experienced sexual violence, I think that women leaders can be especially well-attuned to institutional practices that can increase or decrease sexual violence in the workplace.

And, in all domains, we need to change how we talk about sexual violence. Excuses like “just locker room talk” cultivate attitudes that serve to excuse and even encourage sexual violence. Another phrase that I think gets it wrong is “as a father of daughters....” We’ve seen lots of men respond to reports of sexual assault and sexual harassment by talking about the importance of protecting their wives and daughters. But this is just another way of marking women as men’s territory. Women should be safe from sexual violence not because they are someone’s daughters or wives but because they are human beings!

From Dr Shannon Dea

Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Waterloo in Canada, in which capacity she teaches and researches about gender and feminism

Gulf News asked: Why do you think cases of sexual harassment go unreported?

Victim shaming 30%

Patriarchy 4%

Lack of support from families 18%

Protecting reputation 48%

Have Your Say

Does sexism in language make sexual harrassment more prevalant? Do phrases like “He’s basically a good guy”, “it is just locker room talk” or “boys will be boys” confirm assumptions that men are generally forgivable and women are generally to blame? How do you think reporting assault can be made easier for victims? Share your views on the debate and participate in future debates by writing to us at readers@gulfnews.com

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