5 December 2017Opinion
Over the past weeks it seems that rather a bright light has been shining on a lot of people around the issue of sexual harassment. Most recently, Don Burke has been accused of this by multiple people with whom he used to work, and many others are saying that they were well aware of the issue at the time. As more comes to light about the allegations, it’s being likened more and more to the recent spotlight on Harvey Weinstein — a large number of accusations and many people seeming to have known about it at the time, but yet only now is it coming to light.
It’s not just among the rich and famous that this is an issue. The #metoo campaign that raced around social media worldwide demonstrated that this is an issue everywhere, faced by all women: that every woman you know has either faced sexual harassment or lives in fear of it, and that you probably know several men who have mistreated women at some point. Herein lies the problem.
Both Burke and Weinstein have strenuously denied all allegations, but many other men have since come forward saying that they knew that this was an issue. Despite their apparent knowledge they never brought it into the light. It was kept behind closed doors, perhaps with the occasional whispered warning to someone who might be working with them. But that’s it. We’re getting plenty of examples of men who are pointing fingers, and men who are covering their own or others’ arses, but that’s not how this problem is going to be solved.
Nor should the burden be laid back on women, the victims of abuse and harassment, that it’s up to them to come forward, to act differently, or to somehow believe that it’s not that big of an issue. That’s just bullshit.
No, the change needs to come from the men, because that’s where the problem lies.
The change starts with you and me. If you know that you struggle with this then you need to be honest about it. You need to admit that you have a problem — that you can’t keep your hands or other body parts to yourself — and get help. If it’s at the point where you could be imprisoned, it’s undoubtedly going to be much worse for you if someone else calls you out on it than if you come forward yourself. However deep you feel like you’re in, it’s going to be worse the longer you leave it, but there is always help available, people that want to help you understand what it takes to be a better person.
Whether you’ve touched someone inappropriately or said something inappropriate, or your actions toward someone has made them feel uncomfortable — none of it is okay. These women are our sisters, mothers, daughters and friends. They are not objects. They are not sex toys. They do not exist to be ogled. They are not there just for your pleasure. A woman is her own person, with her own story, own life, own family, and own loves, hurts and struggles. Even if you struggle with it at the mental level — if, when you’re simply looking at a woman, you’re picturing her naked or further — then again, that’s not okay. You might think you can control it, but I guarantee you that a bunch of guys that are now in prison thought exactly the same thing.
While responsibility ultimately rests with the perpetrators, the rest of us can do our bit to make the world safer for women. If you know someone who is harassing women, call them out on it. Don’t tacitly validate harassment with your silence. It doesn’t matter if it’s uncomfortable — it’s more uncomfortable for the women who have to live with it every day. If the perpetrator won’t do anything about their behaviour and it remains an issue, involve more people, including the police if need be. Too many people have become victims because those who knew about a person’s predatory behaviour did nothing. Don’t perpetuate that. Change it.
This will seem like another empty rant if I don’t actually follow my own advice and start right here.
There are times when I’ve pursued women romantically when they obviously wanted to be left alone, and I’ve certainly never stood up to a friend who made a sexist joke. And, because of my struggles with pornography, there are times when my mind is thinking about women in ways that aren’t okay, to put it mildly, or where I find myself staring at someone rather than looking. Part of me tries to say, “Well, I’ve never touched someone inappropriately, or made a sexual comment towards someone”, but that’s going back to the arse-covering. That’s not helpful. We need to recognise the wrong.
We need a new standard. Rather than finger-pointing and arse-covering after the facts, we need a standard of honesty and bravery. As the great Dumbledore once said:
“It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to your enemies; but a great deal more to stand up to your friends.”
Be like Neville, folks.
If you or anyone you know are struggling with an experience of sexual assault or harassment, OPMG encourages you to contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 555 677. If you are in immediate danger, please call 000. There is always help available.