I really didn’t want, or expect, to write another post about the whole #metoo issue, but what with the reactions I’ve seen all over the internet, and a few incidents that hit the same spot, I couldn’t help it. So here’s what happened over the past weeks.
A local shoemaker went public with a request for help. It probably was supposed to be funny, only it wasn’t. He talked about how his shop was so tiny, he occasionally couldn’t help touching his female co-worker, how flirting with customers helped business, and how it occasionally happens that when he’s had a few beer, he might kiss the lady at the bar goodbye and tell her to have sweet dreams alongside whoever, unfortunately not him. Now should he wait until he was a famous shoemaker and hope all those women wouldn’t be jealous, or should he immediately go to the police and give himself up? Congratulations, you’re part of the problem. The co-worker might appreciate it if you at least tried to move aside on occasion, just because your customers are smiling over your clumsy attempts at compliments doesn’t mean they’re not inwardly groaning, and the lady at the bar could tell you a million stories, it’s just that she won’t, because the customer is king and she relies on you to come back and not spend your money elsewhere. She has bills to pay, and she has learned over the years to shrug it all off. And as to hoping all those women won’t be jealous… I don’t even. I mean, honestly. Let that sink in. Women file charges because their jealous? Are you even real?
The guy who shared the shoemaker’s request was a close family member, someone I know as an intelligent, thoughtful, even intellectual man, with a functioning moral compass. He didn’t seem to think there was anything wrong with those questions. You, too, are part of the problem.
An Austrian politician got accused of sexual harrassment by two different women – the reports mentioned everything from sleazy comments to unwelcome kissing attempts to drunken groping. He eventually stepped down, which is a bit of a political disaster – he was one of the “good guys”, you know, liberal, a supporter of social justice and environmental politics, that sort of thing. We need people like that, and we’re going to miss him. Both women are members of other political parties, which naturally makes them his enemies in the eyes of some. Now dig this: The (male) journalist who reported the facts got accused of seeking power and attention, and the women’s motives got questioned, obviously, because enemies, right? They had to have had motives other than simply being pissed off with unwelcome advances. Almost no one in my liberal, open-minded circle of friends, who believe themselves supporters of equality and justice, thought those women were telling the truth. They never stopped for long enough to even briefly wonder if they were okay. Part of the problem? You bet.
I recently sent a handful of short stories out to beta readers. One story features a case of workplace harrassment. I describe the perpetrator in question as a guy who gravitates to the woman’s desk every day around noon. He’s been doing it for months. She’s not interested. She tried subtle hints at first. He didn’t get them, so she told him plainly, and repeatedly. He still continued. She tried shouting at him, flirting with someone else, even claiming she was lesbian. He continued, unperturbed. No one in the office stepped in, because he was such a nice, charming guy, fabulous at his job, and oh, so handsome, she should be honored he’s showering her with attention like that. And now hang on, here’s the thing: a male beta reader sent the story back to me with a note saying that maybe I should make it more clear why she doesn’t want anything to do with him. I was totally baffled at this. I mean, why should she be interested in a guy like that? Is his behavior not justification enough for a woman not to be interested? By the way, that male beta reader fits the same description as the family member I mentioned earlier – intelligent, thoughtful, functioning moral compass. Part of the problem nevertheless.
An Austrian actress went wild on Facebook, claiming to never have been harrassed in her entire life, accusing feminists of rejoicing in being victims and women in general of jumping the bandwagon, of confusing harrassment and actual violence, and of being unable to stand up for themselves unless it’s in the group. In a later interview she went on to say that men have a different approach to sexuality and thus can’t understand what women expect of them or why they feel harrassed, and that the men she talked to complained about increasing insecurity, that they didn’t know anymore how to approach women at all.
No one said that every woman experiences sexual harrassment or violence in her life, and we’re happy for every single one who can honestly say it has never happened to her. The hashtag wasn’t meant to prove that every woman is a poor, poor victim. Remember the wording – “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me, too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”
If all the “Me, too”s on your timeline got “too much” for you, stop for a moment and consider what drove those women to post it – not the need to swim along with the flood, not the desire to get a little personal attention. We did it because it’s happening, everywhere in the world, to too many women. Because we’re sick of it. Because we’re expected to understand the poor, insecure men, with their different approach to sexuality, who don’t know anymore how to approach women, but we don’t see a lot of understanding in return. The fact that something has never happened to you doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, it merely means that you lack the first-hand experience to actually grasp it, and by negating it, by ridiculing it, by demanding the victims understand the perpetrators, you are – guess what? – turning yourself into a part of the problem.