Prior to the #MeToo movement, sexual harassment was considered taboo – rarely discussed and kept under wraps for fear of embarrassment and shame. In fact, victims of sexual crimes seemed to provide the perpetrators with more power by remaining silent about their crimes, and therefore, perpetrators became so bold that they started harassing others openly (such as in the case the Harvey Weinstein) and boasting of their crimes like trophies they had just won. However, all this came to a crushing end when one day, someone decided to speak out against sexual harassment.
Today, the hashtag has expanded from simply empowering women who have experienced sexual harassment to shedding light on various other matters, but the essence of it all remains. It represents a vessel for change. As a young female myself, I never imagined that change would come so fast; my naiveté led me to think that equality could be possible with time but that it would take decades, even centuries. I could not be more wrong — change is possible with strong faith and action.
Living in denial of issues we face and not giving them due attention only exacerbates these problems. They will spread like diseases and eventually infest our lives with the problems they bring. This applies to dozens of issues we face today such as climate change, poverty, inequality, etc. When that finally happens, it is because we allowed it to happen.
The age of social media has widely been credited for spreading important messages around the world. But how do we move forward from merely a hashtag?
Feminism needn’t be a war against men
In Maxine Hong Kingston’s critically acclaimed memoir The Woman Warrior, she laid bare fiercely authentic details of her girlhood infused with elements of Chinese folklore, revealing a highly complex female protagonist struggling to identify herself in a cruelly male-dominated and racist environment. As much as the memoir documented her childhood trials of racial and sexual discrimination — some even dished out by her own family members — what is more profound is how her character shaped her own individuality by exploring and eradicating biases in her own way.
Despite the fact that feminism has gained much traction, the concept has still some negative connotations to it, due to the misconstruing of certain messages. Feminism cannot and should not be construed as merely a revolution or a fight. Think feminist movements and images of loud and aggressive women parading around in FEMINIST t-shirts with unshaven armpits, without wearing bras, come to mind. Age-old stereotypes definitely do not vanish overnight, so the media and the individual play equally crucial roles in freeing these prejudices.
I was once with a group of friends when a guy I was briefly acquainted with started complaining about a girl in his class who “got angry over (his) comment that women can’t drive and went full-blown feminist on (him)”. Needless to say, he harboured a grudge against defensive females from then on and that only served to accentuate the gender stereotypes already ingrained in him.
It couldn’t be falser to say that feminists are vengeful creatures trying to wage a war against others. It is only when justification is needed for oneself that we portray signs of defense and aggression. But isn’t that human nature? Why are females still being faulted or made fun of for doing so?
According to Teresa Younger, the CEO and president of the Ms. Foundation, true equality and true feminism is about recognising the dynamics that each person brings to the table. So it is about equality for humanity as much as it is for females.
When should we know when to speak up?
I happened to come across actor Justin Baldoni’s TED Talk recently titled: Why I’m done trying to be “man enough” and a few minutes were enough for me to feel a surge of gratitude towards men like himself who were just as outraged about the toxic masculinity so prevalent in our society today.
Discussing the implications of “locker room talk”, Mr. Baldoni admits that he’s been a spectator during such conversations and regrets not speaking up earlier about why they are so disrespectful. The fact that men who are fathers, brothers, husbands alike are actively trying to protect female interests and urging others to do the same is tremendously heartwarming.
There have also been movements by men aimed at changing the culture through personal reflection and future action, including #IDidThat, #IHave, and #IWill. Therefore, #MeToo has gone beyond highlighting the plight of passive victims, it has also encouraged reflection and repentance by perpetrators.
Moving forward, understanding the sensitivity towards women’s feelings are behavioral traits that should be promoted and exercised in society. The idea that with gender comes a certain entitlement is outdated and should be abolished. The disappointing truth is that most people brush sexual harassment off. Many assume that sexual harassment is either harmless or an indication that one is attractive. I guess that is one way of looking at it, but there must be a clear distinction between a compliment and a degrading comment. It is certainly a thin line that many have crossed.
In less serious contexts, the implications of highlighting the distinction may not be as apparent. Delve deeper and we unveil the horrifying reality that when we trivialize such sexual harassment and flirtatious conduct, we run the risk of accepting it as a social convention. Vulnerable young females will then grow up thinking it is okay and worse, flattering to be exploited and taken advantage of.
At the workplace
A study by MBA students at Carnegie — Mellon University found that male students took the step of negotiating their first offer 57 percent of the time, compared to 4 percent for the female students. Just based on this example, if organisations reinforce gender-stereotypic behaviour and tend to be more accepting towards men negotiating as compared to women, it would make the workplace more unfair. Simply put, stereotypes should not be perpetuated at the workplace. Tasks should be assigned to people on the basis of merit and not on gender.
What the trending hashtag has done is to stir a dragon in its sleep. Surely there is hope that when the fire-breathing beast finally awakens, its eyes will open to a world devoid of deep social injustices and where humans rekindle humanity. A world that has truly moved past the senseless biases and stereotypes that we fight against today.
A world truly egalitarian and fair was a fantastical utopia in the minds of those whose creativity knew no bounds in the past. Although it’s a chaotic construction site we toil at today, every project has its deadline and it shall be completed for the future generations to come.