Parsing the #metoo Movement
By Melody Tan | 28 February 2018 |
The white screen of my computer monitor has been glaring at me for the past two hours. The blinking cursor in Microsoft Word is poised, awaiting the words I will type into it, hit save and submit to Adventist Today. My fingers have lightly brushed my keyboard countless of times during this period, and yet, the only paragraph I’ve typed is this one.
However, this isn’t another case of writer’s block: it’s not that I haven’t knows what to write, I just haven’t been sure if I should write it. The sentences—the entire article—has been in my head for the past week, and it would all have been typed out and ready to send by now if not for some implications I fear.
The #metoo movement has empowered me enough to recognise and call out sexual harassment, and yet, the #metoo movement has also disempowered some men enough to render them guilty unless proven innocent, victims of a misguided witch hunt that began as a push to protect women from misogyny and a patriarchal system.
You see, just last week, I experienced sexual harassment. It made me deeply uncomfortable and it outraged me, and yes, #metoo. I still wish I had kicked up a bigger fuss like UK journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer, who threaten to punch her perpetrator in the face, and this is the very reason why the #metoo movement is so important.
The #metoo movement taught me that sexual harassment and assault cases are common and widespread. The #metoo movement taught me that many women go through the same self-doubt for something that is obviously wrong. The #metoo movement taught me that I can—and should—speak up against the perpetrator, instead of simply giggling and shuffling away nervously and telling myself later I was simply being oversensitive, while feeling angry and stupid at the same time.
So I did. The #metoo movement is the reason why I resisted and stood up for myself, albeit not as dramatically or assertively as I would have hoped.
But before you congratulate me for my “strength” and question why other women caught in similar situations couldn’t act like I did; why women who are obviously in a position to say “No” don’t actually do so, making it seem like men are the only one with free agencies, let me assure you that things are only ever that clear when you are on the sidelines.
Prior to writing this article, I used to think most modern women living in developed countries should be able to unequivocally defend themselves in situations where all is required is a firm “No”; that there is no excuse to fail to give a perpetrator a good kick in the groin when things get a little hot and steamy and you’ve changed your mind and aren’t drugged, restrained or otherwise incapacitated.
As it turns out, when it comes to vulnerability, cases of sexual misconduct put all women on an equal playing field. True, these supposedly “strong” women may not have as much to lose compared to those who are on the poverty line resisting the overtures of abusive and might I add, evil, employers, but regardless of class, career or culture, often, it’s not as simple as saying “No”.
Beverly Engel, a psychotherapist who specializes in abuse recovery, believes many women, when faced with sexual harassment or assault, don’t act, because of their tendency to deny or minimize the incident. “They downplay how much they have been harmed by sexual harassment and even sexual assault. They convince themselves that ‘it wasn’t a big deal,’ ” she writes in an article in Psychology Today.
Yes, there are plenty of violations where a “No” can and should be said, but there are also plenty of instances where you’re just never too sure if you should make a stand: a brush on your bum that just didn’t feel right; a look down your cleavage that you know isn’t just an incidental glance; when you are held just that little too tight and a little too low (or high). Too often, women in these circumstances are left so stunned they fail to react, because these cases happen completely out of the blue. It’s a little like being in an argument and coming up with a great retort much, much later.
Then there was my friend’s experience—a friend I respect and would never in any circumstance call weak: “I personally have been in a situation where I was very uncomfortable, but I accepted the situation and didn’t speak up,” she tells me. “My silence at that time implied consent. I agreed to let the situation happen, but my agreement at that time was not clearly consensual.”
As my friend reminded me, women react to bad situations in very different ways, and in a sin-filled, tainted world, often not in the wisest, most coherent or obvious manner.
Was it? Wasn’t it? I myself thought in the split second sexual harassment became personal. Am I making this out to be more than it should be? Is this really something I should be offended with?
My self-righteous notions of women caught in bad situations who choose to imply consent dissipated then. If I myself went through a moment of self-doubt, why not others? I was lucky enough to have the frame of mind to protest, but even then, failed to do so wholeheartedly. Other women in my situation—or worse—may not be quite that fortunate.
Let me be clear, this article is not a simple defence of the #metoo movement. After all, as I sat down to write, I found myself struggling long and hard, debating whether I should even mention I’d been a victim. If you’ve endured my musings thus far, I should also tell you that what you’re reading is completely different to what I thought I was going to write, also because of the #metoo movement.
I was going to begin my article outlining exactly where I was harassed, how it happened and while I may not have named and shamed, those close to me would inevitably be able to guess the identity of the perpetrator. If anything, what I was going to write would make for an interesting opening. For the past week, I mentally outlined the words, the direction and the point I was going to make with my article.
But as I sat in front of my computer, I struggled to type the words. I struggled to go into details about my encounter with sexual harassment because of the unnecessary furore I fear it may create. Yes, I wish I was a little louder with my protests but no, I don’t wish to see the person hunted down and he and his family humiliated, which is what this current climate of #metoo frenzy would have encouraged. After all, despite my perception of inaction, I did stop him from doing what he was doing (or what he wanted to do), and that’s enough for me.
And as I contemplated how this movement has managed to give strength to someone suffering in silence because she thinks she’s the only one having to endure bad employer behaviour, but brought up further questions as to why women in other circumstances can’t simply stand up for themselves, I realize I have so much more to learn when it comes to listening and to empathy. Because at the end of the day it’s far easier to tell someone what they can or should do, but far harder to carry through when you’re faced with the situation yourself.
The #metoo movement has given countless women around the world the courage to speak up against the wrongs done towards them and for that, I respect it. For the many women who, when caught in a situation when they’re just not sure how to respond, or go through too much self-doubt after the fact, I hope the #metoo movement helps you to recognize you are not alone, that you are indeed a victim and that you have a right to justice. And for the men who may have been wrongfully accused, targeted, or disproportionately punished thanks to the #metoo movement, may we as a society find the balance and middle ground soon.
Melody Tan is a magazine editor, features writer and television presenter. When she’s not at a computer typing her life away, she enjoys snowboarding, traveling, beach activities and the not-so-grandmotherly activity of knitting. She lives in Sydney with her husband and son.