Unless you’ve avoided all forms of media lately, you have probably heard that a rich old white guy in Hollywood has gotten himself in a heap of trouble. Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein has been accused of some pretty awful behavior towards women ranging from sexual harassment to flat out sexual assault. Though the behavior had allegedly been going on for decades, he finally started facing consequences recently thanks to a few very brave women who came forward with their stories. He was fired from the company he owns, kicked out of the Academy of Arts and Sciences and publicly disavowed by many of his colleagues. And his stink has gotten on those around him too – the men who knew what was going on but didn’t say anything, the fashion designer that tried to defend him and intimate that women are asking for it, and his wife’s fashion label that skyrocketed to success because actresses wear their gowns on the red carpet.
Then the “Me too” hashtags started. Social media quickly filled with people, mostly women, posting “Me too” to indicate that they too had experienced sexual harassment and/or sexual assault. Though I know, as a woman myself, the kind of things we experience on a regular basis, it was a bit sobering to see all those “Me toos” lined up down my computer screen.
I would image any of us would be hard-pressed to find a woman that couldn’t type “Me too.” It’s a sad reality. I have been very lucky to not have experienced any major sexual harassment or assault. I’ve never been told my job was at risk if I didn’t do something I was uncomfortable with. I’ve never been violently attacked. I’ve never been promised my career would be furthered if I provided a sexual favor. But I have not arrived at this point in my life unscathed. I’ve had my butt grabbed in gym class. I’ve been catcalled while running, biking and just walking down the street. I’ve had colleagues make comments about my breasts. I’ve had people ask me questions in a professional setting about my reproductive plans and mock me for my single status in a work meeting. None of these actions had any repercussions for the offender.
Shortly after the “Me too” hashtags started showing up, a male friend of mine, who is normally pretty sensitive to the issues facing those around him, commented that he was shocked about all the women he knew who had posted the hashtag. He wondered how he didn’t know how endemic this issue was in a woman’s life. I was shocked, but not about the number of women affected. I was shocked he was shocked. I guess I figured everyone knew that this was just part of a woman’s life. I figured this was a good opportunity to have an important conversation.
My friend then asked, now that he knew it was a problem, what could he do about it? It’s a question that all of us could stand to ask. There are lots of things we can do. The most important is accepting that this is a problem. There are other things as well.
- Use common sense and manners. Don’t touch someone else without permission or make comments about their bodies. Obviously all this depends on your relationship to the other person and, to a lesser degree, the setting. Bottom line, if you’re in doubt whether the other person would be ok with what you’re about to do or say, just don’t.
- Don’t make excuses. If someone is upset about how someone else treated them, one of the worst things you can do is write off the behavior. Saying, “Relax – it’s just a joke,” “That’s just how he/she is,” or the old standby “Boys will be boys,” is giving a pass to bad behavior.
- Don’t be a silent by-stander. When you see something you think is inappropriate, speak up. I was in a meeting recently when, out of the blue and unrelated to anything we were discussing, a co-worker made a remark about my romantic life. Not ok. There were three other people in the room and not one person spoke up and said that wasn’t appropriate. I left that meeting feeling humiliated and alienated.
- Teach young people in your care how to treat others with respect. Whether you’re a parent, aunt, uncle, mentor, teacher or other important role, you have the power and the responsibility to set a good example for our youth. Model respectful behavior. Let them know it’s ok, and expected, that they speak out when they see something that isn’t appropriate.
This is just a starter list, but there are many other things we can do too. If we all step up and take an active role in combatting harassment and assault, maybe someday we won’t have such a long list of people who can say “Me too.”