Why Half the World’s Population is Scared of the Other Half
On the fourth of February, 2014, the Gawker published a post summarising the multiple sexual assault allegations against comedian Bill Cosby. The ensuing scandal lead to the cancellation of most of Cosby’s TV and film projects. It also revealed to the public his many years of atrocious sexual advances towards women. Over the next few years, a total of fifty-eight women eventually came forward to accuse him of sexual misconduct. The women, who have waited for Justice for almost a decade, were sure that having taken a resolute stand, they had finally brought about monumental change, paving the way to a more secure future for women everywhere.
Less than three years later, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey of the New Yorker, published an investigation detailing multiple accusations of sexual assault by Harry Weinstein, a prominent film producer. Over the next two weeks, eighty-two women came out alleging various forms of sexual harassment spanning almost three decades in multiple countries. Over the years, one by one as if like bowling pins, a total of over forty men holding high positions of power were accused of sexual misconduct ranging from lewd texts to rape. Amongst those named were men previously reputed for fighting for good causes and actively aiding the betterment of human lives. The list includes John Lasseter, Head of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation, Al Franken, a U.S. senator, Kevin Spacey, a renowned actor, and Louis C.K., a comedian. What this sowed to the world was that nothing had changed and women were perhaps more unsafe than ever.
“Bill Cosby raped me. Why did it take 30 years for people to believe my story?”
– Barbara Bowman
While the Weinstein Scandal closely resembled countless previous sexual harassment and abuse scandals, what differed this time was that those memories were fresh in the minds of the public. They decided they would not remain silent anymore. The sheer blatancy of the deed coupled with the almost unapologetic response by the perpetrator made it nearly impossible for the story to just disappear. Slowly, more and more women spoke out, accusing the men who had until then, wronged them with no consequence. With movements like #MeToo, women expressed the years of widespread oppression that had plagued them. Finally, as more and more people got involved, the veil of women equality and empowerment falsely perpetrated was finally lifted. On the twenty-fifth of October, just three days after the Weinstein Scandal broke, the BBC posted a survey on women which closely reflected this sentiment. In the survey comprising over two thousand women, half had been sexually harassed at work or a place of study of which sixty-three percent said they did not report it to anyone.
A hostile working environment characterized by persistent sexual harassment makes employees uncomfortable. However, the severe effects of sexual harassment are often understated and rarely understood. Most Women are usually unable to perform their job satisfactorily due to intense emotional and physical trauma, and are often put under indirect pressure to leave the job due to unwelcome sexual conduct. According to data compiled by Equal Rights Advocates, about ninety-five percent of sexually harassed women suffer from some crippling stress reaction, including anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, weight loss, or gain, lowered self-esteem, and sexual dysfunction. Also, victims of sexual harassment lose more than four million dollars in wages and almost a million hours in unpaid leave each year in the US. As part of a group, sexual harassment has a cumulative, demoralizing effect discouraging victims from asserting themselves within the workplace. Amongst perpetrators, it reinforces stereotypes of women employees as sex objects.
When acts of “harassment” are specifically defined, more women report incidents.
– Vox News
While often overlooked, sexual harassment also has a direct effect on employers and the global economy. Each year, millions of dollars are lost due to absenteeism, poor employee turnover, low morale, and legal charges, all stemming from sexual harassment.
Furthermore, women who experience sexual harassment have to almost always weigh the costs of speaking out, fearing the consequences. A report by Vox found that seventy-five percent of workplace harassment victims suffered retaliation when they spoke up. Shame, fear, and cultural norms all enable sexual harassment to usually go under-reported. Most victims often withhold from going on the record, fearing that they will not be believed, be blamed, be subjected to professional retaliation — fired from their jobs.
During the Weinstein Scandal, Annabella Sciorra, an Emmy nominated actress, had repeatedly maintained that he (Weinstein) had never done anything inappropriate to her. “Perhaps I just wasn’t his type,” she had once said to a reporter for the New Yorker. The truth that she later disclosed was that she had been struggling to speak about Weinstein for over twenty years. In fact, the experience had left her emotionally scarred, and that she slept with a baseball bat by her bed. It was eventually revealed that Weinstein had raped her in the early nineteen-nineties. Correspondingly, over the next few years, he continued to sexually harassed her repeatedly.
Attempts are often made to normalize sexual harassment claims by discounting them as exaggerated or misinterpreted. Moreover, on several occasions, efforts have been made to shift the blame to the victims for having ‘invited it on themselves.’ Abu Azmi, an Indian political leader in the Samajwadi Party, once famously commented, “Rape is punishable by hanging in Islam. But here, nothing happens to women, only to men. Even the woman is guilty.” These claims along with the previously discussed factors, create an overwhelming perception that, should a woman come forward and accuse a perpetrator of sexual harassment, she herself will pay the price.
Sexual harassment turns all work that women do into a form of prostitution.
What one must take away from this is just how important accountability is to maintaining a harassment-free environment. It is imperative that we as individuals, identify predatory sexual behaviour, and ensure that we are not complacent with it. Even as a bystander, one must be held to the same standards of accountability as the perpetrator. As Mogens Lykketoft, President of the United Nations General Assembly pointed out “One terrible act can wipe out a thousand noble sacrifices,” stating such crimes are unacceptable and require swift accountability. Given the opportunity, it is an individual’s moral duty to speak out for what is right. It seems only fitting for the Time magazine, ‘Person of the Year’ to be the #MeToo “Silence Breakers”.
The massive impact caused by the Weinstein Scandal is evidence of the scale of change and awareness achievable when groups of people persistently raise their voices against injustice. It shows the massive potential generated just by empowering women to rise and demand a safe and harassment-free workplace. Most importantly however, it displays the power that lies in accountability, and its capability to deliver justice, irrespective of the power and influence of those who would rather see it denied.