It’s been an interesting week or so reading the flood of articles about the systematic abuse, harassment and assault metered out to women by Hollywood mega producer Harvey Weinstein. I’m scared if I add all the hyperlinks to all the articles I’ve read I’ll crash my website.
I read a great swathe of articles with a gruesome recognition. Not because Weinstein’s behaviour comes as a surprise, not because this scumbag harassed someone I went to school with, but because the media and news outlets are finally writing about this behaviour which is as old as time. As British actress Emma Thompson put it in her interview with BBC Newsnight, this is just the tip of the iceberg and it’s behaviour that " has been part of our world, women's world, since time immemorial."
I’m concerned that there will be some people that try and argue that horrific Harvey’s harassing behaviour is confined to Hollywood and/or the entertainment industry. But it isn’t. It is a fact of workplace life that most women, when with friends they can trust, will readily share horror stories about sexual abuse, harassment and assault they have experienced first hand. Georgia Dent wrote a great article called ‘Harvey Weinstein and the silence of men’ which sums up the situation perfectly.
Sexual harassment and assault remains rife around the world, not just in Hollywood, and it happens in organisations across the spectrum of industries. And it flourishes when perpetrators are deemed more important than their victims.
All too often in my career in HR I’ve come across people in positions of power who either conduct the sexual abuse/harassment/assault themselves or who aid and abet the sexual abuse/ harassment/assault of people with no power by those who have it. And it’s sickening. More than once I’ve left an organisation because those in the position to do something about this heinous behaviour did nothing because the perpetrator was more important to them than the victim.
I’ve heard the age-old excuses made by those in power about the (usually) women who complained about being abused/harassed/assaulted. Behind the excuses is usually a fear that if they acknowledge the behaviour that they themselves will somehow loose some of the power they hold – that they will to be held to account for being part of a system that allowed bad things to happen on their watch. The excuses usually form one of the following themes: ‘She must have been asking for it’, ‘she’s only complaining now because people found out about it’, and the worst and most heartbreaking rationale of all ‘it’s her word against his that it even happened (& we’ll choose to believe him because he’s more valuable to us).
Suzy Jacobs wrote that victims of this behaviour must “turn the tables on [their abusers]. Let him be our fall guy, the patsy for our story. Rather than focusing attention on him, viewing his actions as an aberration, we can use him for our own good”. And I agree. Now is the time to call out the abusers and flip the shaming onto them for their disgusting behaviour rather than tarring victims for daring to survive and want justice and change.
As an employee, I have experienced sexual abuse and harassment in many many workplaces. The experiences that I have not been able to forget are:
The restaurant Manager who often asked me to unbutton my shirt because we’d get more tips in the staff tip jar.
The Supervisor who would regularly pull me into his lap and try and nuzzle my neck when I went into the office to check my roster.
The Owner who hired women so he could systematically try and sleep with them. Once you rejected his advances, he would start complaining about your work.
The Owner who sent dick pics to female staff.
The Owner who sent sexually flirtatious emails to female staff.
The Executive who told me that if I raised a formal complaint about the Owner sexually harassing a staff member, I’d loose my job.
The Manager who would stroke my thigh during meetings and put on ‘the hurt puppy dog eyes’ when I told him to stop.
The Executive who told me that ‘all women are cunts’ and that women should ‘focus on using their cunts instead of being one’.
The men who refused to take down the pictures of naked women from their workstations, who would call me over to said workstations to talk so they could revel in my discomfort when I had to tell them AGAIN to take down the nude pictures.
The Manager who did nothing when I was woof whistled and cat called for 15 minutes straight by construction workers when conducting an inspection of a workplace renovation. When we eventually left, he was laughing at my discomfort and told me to get over it.
The man who would try and rub himself up against me at the photocopier because there ‘wasn’t much room to move’ in the photocopy room.
The endless parade of men who would loom over me while I worked so they could look down my shirt at my breasts.
The Manager who told me I was a slut and her manager only hired me because of my chest.
The above is the tip of my personal iceberg, my abuse and harassment greatest hits so to speak. Perhaps some people will think I’m lucky, that it was never any worse than this for me. But I don’t feel lucky. I just feel tired and sad and angry. I’m tired of not being believed that this shitty behaviour is as systematic in workplaces as most women know it is. I’m sad that I’m already teaching my daughter that this happens to females at work (and in sports clubs, religious organisations...in fact anywhere where groups of people congregate). And I’m angry that it takes a scumbag like Harvey Weinstein to be exposed for the media and general public to begin to take systematic sexual harassment of women seriously.
Men need to stop making excuses that #notallmen sexually abuse/harass/assault, as if that absolves them as individuals of all responsibility to the rest of the human race. Because looking the other way while someone else conducts the abuse is as bad as being the abuser.
When you look the other way, you allow it to happen.
To paraphrase Emma Thompson, we need to start talking about the crisis in masculinity in workplaces: the crisis of extreme masculinity, which condones sexually abusive, harassing and assaulting behaviour and the men in positions of power who truly feel that this behaviour is the price women must pay to participate in work.
Once this happens, maybe women will finally be safe at work.