The #metoo movement was quite intense, to say the least. I knew that the prevalence of harassment was high, but some unexpected people in my circle of friends came out with their own #metoo stories that had me shook.
It has also been very hard on the men in my circle of friends, who have been wondering how they could have been blind, but also, if they themselves ever did anything that would constitute harassment. I commend these men for being so open-minded about their own behaviour, especially since they never meant to ever disrespect the women in their lives.
I have been thinking a lot about what next five steps I, as a woman, could take to further the conversation generated by the #metoo movement into action and, down the road, to change.
But First, Some Clarifications
In my mind, harassment is unwanted attention, be it verbal or physical. And I do think that in some cases, something a man can say to a woman can be well-intentioned but come off as harassment. No, I am not making excuses for physical harassment, but I do think that some of the verbal attention sometimes given by men is, in fact, well-intentioned.
This does not mean that women should not say anything about it. When any attention, however well-intentioned, is not welcomed, a woman should absolutely say something to make it stop. However, this specific situation does not necessitate an immediate slap in the face or an angry verbal tirade.
In the case of aggressive verbal harassment and any physical harassment, I have learned that a slap in the face and a very loud “STOP!” is very, very effective.
First Step: Say Something to Resist
Always say something. Even if it is not ill-intentioned, say something. Adapt your response to the situation, but always respond. Always be firm and always be loud and confident, and to start, use short sentences, or even just the word “Stop.” And, if you get the man’s attention, do be confident yet polite. If you manage to keep your cool and give a short explanation, the chances that you be listened to—either by your harasser or the people around him—are higher.
However, if you don’t say something, do not guilt-trip yourself. Women have been long taught to be quiet and meek. It’s going to take time and practice to be able to say something each and every time. Take every opportunity that (unfortunately) comes your way to practice different ways of responding. And act them out, either in the privacy of your bedroom or with someone who can help you act it out.
Second Step: Say Something to Protect Others
One thing that helped me resist and defend myself is to protect others. I always found it easier to step up when someone else was being harassed. I feel it’s probably because I am not under the shock of “What just happened to me?” Helping other also helps me practice defending myself despite this shock.
I use the same concepts and principles as in the first step. However, I precede it with connecting with the person who is being harassed; if they don’t want to be defended, then you are stepping on very thin ice. A casual yet firm and confident “Are you OK?” is usually more than enough.
However, I am not sure if we should intervene when there is a dangerous, physical component involved. If you are trained in self-defence and/or physically able to deal with it, then go ahead. The one time this happened to me, I called the cops and stayed close enough to keep an eye on the situation. Another couple of people, seeing me standing there, also stopped, and the “group pressure” seemed to have calmed the situation down somewhat, enough for nothing major to happen until the police came to intervene.
Third Step: Say Something to Raise Awareness and Prevent
We talk a lot about being politically correct and freedom of speech. While I agree that we have to be wise in our use of words and have the right to say whatever we want, the current climate is one of great confusion and muddy waters. When things are not clear, I think that the best way, in the immediate, to deal with it is to be crystal clear.
In the case of harassment, I think that we need to eliminate certain expressions, jokes, and attitudes in an attempt to be crystal clear, which will help us figuring out the line between flirting/complimenting and harassment. Let’s completely clear the air; it will help us figure things out.
Fourth Step: Engage the Men Around You in a Conversation about Harassment
I don’t think that women can resolve this issue on their own. One of the reasons, of course, is that men are the ones, for the most part, harassing women. But another reason is that women don’t understand what men are going through.
While I am not and will never make excuses for men, I do think that we need to understand why they do the things that they do. Understanding men doesn’t mean accepting the behaviour as normal (do NOT get me started on the “boys will be boys” expression…) However, it will help us, both men and women, understand why the behaviour is there in the first place, and channel it differently. Do men not know how else to get a woman’s attention? Maybe the men and women in their lives can help introduce them to eligible women, or help them practice their conversation skills. Do men feel threatened about who they are? Then maybe the men and women in their lives can help them deal with their insecurities.
There is a lot of anger around this issue, and with reason; women have experienced a lot of terrible things up to now. But somehow, we have to find a way to move beyond the anger and reach out to men and work on creating an environment in which harassment does not have any place.
These are the four initial steps that came to my mind when it comes to going from #metoo to #neveragain; do you have any more to recommend?