November 6, 2017
I would be remiss as a mother, an aunt, a sister, a daughter, and most of all a woman, if I did not somehow in this blog address a certain campaign recently on the minds of most people who roam the many halls of the internet. At first, I did not want to join my voice to the others. I have never been one for jumping on a bandwagon, and I honestly thought I owed no one my own stories, but that pesky issue of sexual harassment keeps on rearing its ugly head, even exposing the seedy underbelly of our beloved Hollywood movie mill. Harvey Weinstein, that other director I can't remember the name of, Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey, even Dustin Hoffmann all have allegations of sexual harassment against them, with some of them accused of even worse. In an interview, actress Emma Thompson said the allegations against Weinstein were 'just the tip of the iceberg' and her words are becoming more painfully true all the time. These men have all created great art and entertainment which most of us have enjoyed some time or other. (If either Kevin Kline or Bill Pullman turns out to be a perpetrator I am going to need a steep hike up the nearest mountain followed by a very strong beverage. Not that there are any rumours at all, I just really like those guys.) The #metoo campaign hatched a few weeks ago was an emotional one for me as I am sure it was for so many others out there. Introduced by someone in response to the first allegations against Weinstein, #metoo was meant to show how widespread the problem of sexual harassment and assault is. Let's face it. It's a systemic problem and the remedy is long in coming.
Certain types of men abusing their power to use or control women is nothing new, but I suppose many of us had thought our stories were not worth mentioning up until the #metoo campaign picked up so much speed. Many of us were raised not to make a big deal out of minor sexual impositions. "Oh, that's just your uncle George being funny" when he pinched your bum, or "Oh, that's just Mick. He's harmless" when we were invited into a neighbour's tool shed and saw the walls plastered with hard core pornographic images of women. I did not have an Uncle George exactly, but I did have a neighbour like Mick. Mick also had a brother - let's call him Fred - who lived up the street. We kids were always looking to make a dollar or two. Fred asked for some help washing his windows and invited a posse of pre-teen neighbourhood girls up to his place. Five of us walked up the steep hill to Fred's one hot summer afternoon. He answered the door in a tube top, except it wasn't covering his top, it was covering his hips and was the only thing he was wearing. I just about turned around and walked out but the others went in the house so I thought I had better follow. Fred showed us the windows he wanted washed and gave us the cleaning supplies. Then he went back up to his roof to suntan in the nude. We washed the windows as quickly as possible. He invited us to stay for a drink of pop or something but I wanted out of there, so I left. I'm not sure who stayed. To this day I hope nothing worse happened to any of the other girls. Also, to this day, I wonder what possessed Fred to think it was okay to behave as he had, answering the door in such a way, leering at us and making us all so uncomfortable. What a jerk. He would be reported now.
Several years after the 'Fred' incident I was at my local club dancing the night away. I had just met a nice guy who was visiting from the States and was enjoying myself with him and a large group of friends. Most of us danced in a group on the floor, so I was not paired with anyone when the next incident happened. I was really getting into the music and having a great time flailing about when a man, a much older man than I, came up to me and grabbed my crotch. I was so shocked I went into an immediate rage and shoved that man so hard he flew across the room and fell on the floor. I then turned, grabbed my coat (it was the Christmas holidays) and ran the seven blocks home so fast my feet barely touched the ground. The next day, the nice American boy called me. He said he and his friends had seen what had happened, followed me out of the club, jumped in their car and tried to find me, but I was long gone by then. I never reported what I would now call sexual assault, and I decided it was my liberal, energetic quality of dancing that encouraged that man to touch me. I toned down my dancing for a while after that incident so as not to lead men to think I was open for business, but fortunately I was too free-spirited to let the actions of that one complete jerk determine how I was to express myself on the dance floor. These days I tone it down merely to keep from putting my back out.
I have other, more complex stories, but I choose not to share them in this way at this time. Some things are too personal, too painful or weird to talk about, especially when I didn't feel like I 'won' the situations. Luckily, I learned from those experiences and went on to marry a true gentleman.
When I was reading all the reports of the actresses who came forward in the Weinstein case, I was relieved to know how many of them had been able to assert themselves and escape his greasy clutches. Still, their ability to escape does not somehow erase the attempts on their bodies and their dignity. Where did Weinstein and the others like him, get the idea their desires trumped the rights of their victims? Their attitude has to come from somewhere. Did it come from their own fathers? From other authority figures in their lives? From television or film? I remember watching a documentary when I was a teenager called Not a Love Story, about the world of pornography and its impact on society. The documentary was made by a woman with hidden cameras. She and her crew went inside the seediest sex shops and strip clubs to see what was going on. The filmmaker's conclusion, and it made a huge impact on me at the time, was no matter how small and innocent we think our participation is - maybe we've been to a strip club, bought a Playboy magazine - we have contributed to the incredibly lucrative machine that portrays women as objects and excuses men as users of those objects. Some may laugh it all off as 'just a little harmless fun' but I am not laughing anymore and neither are the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of women who have come forward in the #metoo campaign to share their stories and speak out against abuse, assault and harassment. And, now some young men are coming forward with stories of being used and abused by more powerful men, as in the Kevin Spacey case, and in some cases women as well.
Where will it stop?
It stops with each of us. It stops when we not make concessions for men simply because they do some great things in the world. It stops when we treat other people with less power than us with respect. It stops when we honour and completely respect each other's personal space and chosen boundaries. It stops when we not allow our own ambition to put us in potentially harmful situations. It stops when we truly listen to warnings from others with more experience than ourselves. It stops when we stand up to bullies, not counting the cost to our reputations. It stops when we dismantle the 'old boys network' and its ideas that make allowances for 'boys being boys'. It stops when we parents pay more attention to the true needs of our children, especially our daughters, and work diligently to form the attitudes of our sons. It stops when we are strong enough to see what needs stopping, and act on it.
And to rephrase that old song, "What the world needs now, is justice, sweet justice." We have all the tools to make the world safer for each other. Let's use them.