If you paid attention to the news over the past two weeks or have a social media account, such as Facebook or Twitter, you are aware of the scandal surrounding Harvey Weinstein, one of the most powerful men in Hollywood’s entertainment industry.
As of this writing, more than 50 women have come forward to allege they were sexually harassed or assaulted by Weinstein while they were engaged in what they thought would be legitimate business in pursuing an acting role in the entertainment industry.
In response to these stories, a social media campaign was launched using the hashtag #MeToo through which other women shared that they had experienced similar treatment in their workplaces and many bravely shared details of the ordeals they had gone through. This has become a viral sensation, with thousands of women speaking up about a situation which has gone on for way too long.
We can start by changing the message and challenging the old messages earlier in the process.
This is not the first time that there have been allegations made against powerful men in this industry in recent years — think of Bill Cosby and Bill O’Reilly — but the response this time has been much more widespread and has led to a broader discussion on how women are treated in all workplaces. The reason for this response may be because of an accumulation of frustration with the issue over time, but I think the difference this time is that the women making the accusations were powerful actresses who had become established in the industry and thus could not be ignored or paid to keep silent.
The empowerment of women is key in providing an atmosphere in which all women can come forward and hope to see that the men who treated them this way are brought to some sort of justice.
While this is all fine and dandy, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. While it is necessary that those who commit such acts are held responsible for their deeds, it only addresses the situation after the fact, when the damage has already been done. If we only focus on finding someone to blame for this type of behaviour, we will miss the chance to try addressing the underlying factors that lead to it. We need to focus on the prevention and education of men and women — at all levels and age groups — in order to foster an environment of respect for all people and in which being in a position of power is treated as a responsibility instead of an entitlement that makes some men feel they can exploit women for their own sexual satisfaction.
It would be impossible in this space to go into depth on how we can begin to change this situation. There is an undercurrent of male superiority that has been around for most of human history and we have only recently begun to make strides in working to create equality between the sexes.
We need to be aware that both men and women have been subjected to the cultural messages that keep this system going, and we need to be careful to not demonize all men because some act as our society has conditioned them to expect is their right due to being in a position of power. We also need to not blame the women who have been similarly conditioned that this is their place in society, or who have been taught that their sexuality is their main asset in achieving their goals.
We can start by changing the message and challenging the old messages earlier in the process. I don’t sexually harass or assault women — as is the case for the majority of men, but that doesn’t absolve me from playing a role in making things better. I can speak up when men around me speak about women as sex objects, brag about how they manipulated women into having sex or laugh at crude jokes that objectify women.
I will not sit back and be quiet anymore; #NotMe.
Brian Hodder is an LGBTQ activist and works in the field of mental health and addictions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org