The allegations against Harvey Weinstein brought to light decades of sexual harassment against female celebrities who were afraid that speaking up would damage their reputation and future career opportunities. Many of the women who did speak up against him explained that they lost acting jobs as a result. The second wave of feminism that has captured the world’s attention over the past few years has given many women courage, bravery and has shown us that we are worthy of being treated with respect. We are beginning to realise that we don’t need to accept unwanted sexual attention, gestures or advances. This feminism promotes female empowerment, independence, modern values and sexuality. Our mothers and their mothers were taught to stay silent and respect authority, not to question societal norms and to stay poised and polite. Thank you to the women who rejected these behaviours and decided to question the status quo. Had it not been for you, we would probably all be skipping around in poodle skirts, spending our time shopping for vacuum cleaners and baking pumpkin muffins.
When I was growing up, I remember the first time I encountered male sexual attention. I was eleven years old and it was from construction workers in my neighbourhood who shouted, whistled, hooted and hollered at me. At the time, my sister and I joked about it. She was nine years old at the time. When I was fifteen or sixteen years old, I began working at a restaurant waiting tables for some extra cash. One of the male cooks cornered me in the freezer and asked me if I wanted to touch his penis. He was at least eight years my senior and I still had a curfew. At the time, I wasn’t sure whether to be flattered or whether to report him. I told the girls at work but we were all being subjected to this behaviour on a daily basis, so we all brushed it off. Similar situations, some more physical than others, occurred over the next few years. During an internship for a global Fortune 500 company, I was harassed by a 60-something man who had worked there for almost thirty years. I was only eighteen at the time and I was very upset. I reported it to HR who did nothing, and the man blamed it on me, lying and saying I was just mad because he wouldn’t buy me alcohol. Everyone else turned against me, and my own mother questioned whether I had done anything to lead him on; it was infuriating. I didn’t understand why I was the one being punished and not him.
This is the culture we have bred. A culture where women are to blame, we are the ones at fault, we are the temptresses and we should be more restrained. To this I say: fuck that. There are men in this world who are predatory, vulgar, repulsive and unable to exercise self-restraint. They are in positions of power and they abuse this, often preying on vulnerable women or women who are too young and naive to know better. Institutions perpetuate this issue. Churches teach us that man is above woman; God was a man and he created the world. Women are on this earth to reproduce and serve man. Gross. Business and politics, it’s all male-dominated. Men make the decisions, women follow them. Until the fundamental structure of our society changes, sexism will persist. But we need to change too. Women need to take risks, follow their aspirations, use their voice, use their brains and stay strong.
Harassment is a crime. But yet we don’t report it. The recent #metoo campaign was a powerful illustration of how many women have suffered sexual harassment, assault or rape. Yet many of these women had never spoken up before. I applaud you all for speaking up now, but I beg you to always speak up in the future, should this happen to you again. Remember: if you don’t report it, you are condoning it and that man may re-offend or assault someone else. Last week, I was harassed and threatened by a man who followed me to my local supermarket. It was a horrible experience and it shook me up, derailed me, took away some of my power. I reported it to the police and although they haven’t done anything yet, I’m glad I spoke up. Each time you speak up, you gain a little courage. Each time you speak out, you send the message to other women that they should speak out too. You reassure other women and girls that they deserve to be treated with respect and they should respect themselves too. One voice is a whisper, but a hundred, a thousand, a million voices is a force to be reckoned with. So speak up and speak out ladies, it’s our time to shine.