Posts Tagged '#metoo'

Why does public sexual harassment matter?

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Fiona Vera-Gray

The announcement today that MPs are launching an inquiry into the public sexual harassment of women and girls is a welcome recognition that finally these experiences matter. Fiona Vera-Gray, author of The Right Amount of Panic, looks at how safety and freedom work together in women’s lives.

“Picture this: You’re on a bus and this guy in front of you turns around and starts talking. You think, it can’t be at me, so keep reading, and then he says, “Are you ok? I’m talking to you.” You’re polite, a little unsure, so respond, “Oh sorry I don’t know you.” And then it starts. He says, “I thought we could get to know each other. What’s your name? Have you got a boyfriend? Where have you been? What are you reading? Why are you being so rude? You think you’re better than me? Stuck up bitch.” He follows you when you get off at your stop. You make sure you stay on a main road. You lose him at a busy intersection when you cross the road just before a bus passes, leaving him stuck on the other side.

“Women and girls are routinely having to evaluate what the right amount of panic is, to direct their movements and actions in public space.”

This is just one example of what women have told me about their experiences of public sexual harassment. Parts of this will be familiar to many women in the UK and beyond, the intrusive questioning and interruption, the quick turn to insults and aggression. Women and girls are routinely having to evaluate what the right amount of panic is, to direct their movements and actions in public space. And though usually such encounters, and the work women do to manage them, are commonly dismissed as “all part of growing up”, it looks like the impact they have is about to be taken seriously.

The announcement today by the Women and Equalities Committee that they are launching an inquiry into the public sexual harassment of women and girls is a welcome recognition that finally these experiences matter.

Activists and organisations have been working for many years to try to raise awareness of the routine intrusions women and girls experience from men in public spaces. In the UK, the filmmaker Aleah Scott’s short film LDN GIRLS profiled the work of activist Kafayat Okanlawon, and groups such as Purple Drum, the young women’s project at Imkaan committed to archiving and amplifying the voices of black and minoritised ethnic women, have highlighted the importance of looking at racialised public sexual harassment, and the experiences of queer black and minoritised ethnic women.

I have been researching this since 2012, publishing the first full length study in the UK in 2016. I’ve also been working with young people on the issues, developing a set of Lesson Plans with Rape Crisis South London and Purple Drum that helps young people think through the differences between banter, harassment, and a compliment. What I have found is that far from the ways public sexual harassment is trivialised, it plays a significant role in limiting women’s freedom.

Women are habitually performing safety work, often without thinking. Habits such as restricting where they go, what they wear, choosing particular seats on public transport or certain routes home. The vast majority of this work is pre-emptive, a highly crafted way of evaluating what the right amount of panic is in any given situation.

“… crucial information can be missed when we ask broad questions about crime and safety.”

However, this ability to create a feeling of safety through changing their behaviour creates a problem: it means that crucial information can be missed when we ask broad questions about crime and safety. Questions such as “how safe do you feel?” or “how often have you experienced sexual harassment in public?” are unable to capture the work that women may be doing to feel safe, or the many times where this work has been successful and they have expertly avoided sexual harassment. We become unable to see the full impact of the sexual harassment of women in public because we’ve separated out safety from freedom and are only measuring the former. But in women’s lives, the two work together. The Women and Equalities Inquiry may finally give a space for this connection to be uncovered.

Over the past months, we have seen the ways that the #metoo movement has mobilised women across different sectors. It is not that women are finally speaking about their experiences of harassment – indeed many of the accounts include how disclosures were previously made to people with the power to make changes – it is that women are finally being heard. This movement has shown what happens when we take workplace sexual harassment seriously. The Inquiry over the next few months may at last do the same for our experiences in public.

9781447342298The Right Amount of Panic by Fiona Vera-Gray is publishing in July 2018 and is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Pre-order here for just £11.99.

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#MeToo and the underlying contradictions of patriarchy

jgbv_cover2_dw-1-smallBy Emma Williamson, Co-Editor of the Journal of Gender-Based Violence

Recent weeks have seen a deluge of allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, with the media scrambling to print stories from A-List celebrities: allegations, what they knew (or didn’t), or whether Harvey Weinstein’s behaviour is the tip of a toxic iceberg.

The original story discloses allegations stretching back three decades. What is clear from the subsequent coverage is that people knew: his company, his family, his colleagues and the media. In fact, the New York Times itself, has been accused of suppressing an article written by one of its own journalists, Sharon Waxman, in 2004.

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The account above is not new. If you replace Harvey Weinstein with Bill Cosby or Jimmy Savile (had he been identified before his death), the sense of entitlement and power is exactly the same. It is also the same in those everyday cases where neither the victim nor perpetrator is famous, and which the media rarely report. What unites all of these perpetrators/abusers is that, as Herman (1992) states, “It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain”. [Herman, Trauma and Recovery, 1992].

Following the allegations, there has been critique and soul searching from a range of sources. Donna Karan was roundly lambasted for suggesting that women in the movie industry who act in a certain way are probably ‘asking for it’.

“You look at everything all over the world today and how women are dressing and what they are asking by just presenting themselves the way they do. What are they asking for? Trouble.” 

We have also seen more subtle forms of victim blaming-shaming. The Daily Mail’s double page spread of female stars being snapped with Weinstein failed to recognise the power he had in the industry, and that it was that power to make or break an individual’s career which protected him.

Following the increasing number of allegations, Alyssa Milano initiated a #MeToo campaign. Her intention was for women who had experienced abuse to show solidarity with those who had come forward, and to show just how widespread such abuse is. The Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow applauded the movement. “The democratization of the spread of information can finally move faster than a powerful media mogul’s attempts to bury it,” she said by email.

It is important to recognise that #MeToo was originally a campaign launched by Tarana Burke, a Black American Women, in response to a lack of services for this group of victims of abuse. Identifying oneself in this way was intended to offer direct support to others in their network when statutory and other support was non-existent . This was framed as ‘empowerment through empathy’.

“It was a catchphrase to be used from survivor to survivor to let folks know that they were not alone and that a movement for radical healing was happening and possible.”

The current #MeToo campaign arose from a desire for victims to show solidarity with those who, for a variety of reasons, didn’t feel able to come forward. The debates about this campaign however, illustrate the debates about misogyny itself. Some accuse the campaign of targeting women as responsible for naming the abuse.

Making the point that for many victims this in itself is harmful and distressing. Others, like Heather Jo Flores have stated that men need to do more .

“It shouldn’t fall to the victims, again, to have to keep speaking out. I’m not saying anybody should stop speaking out, just that I wish more people would start listening, because we are f*cking exhausted…… Until men speak out against men who abuse, this will never stop. How about y’all post “I ignored it and I won’t anymore” instead? Because #hearyou doesn’t cut it. Just hearing us doesn’t cut it. Taking action, speaking out, and showing zero tolerance for abuse is the only way through. Silence enables. Be the change.”

And here we come to the underlying contradictions of patriarchy. Perpetrators seek our silence by manipulation, threat, harm. Yet even when we break our silence, we still make them invisible by turning the focus yet again on the victims. Perhaps the most important thing we can remember, when the new scandal breaks, which it inevitably will, is captured by that sense of exhaustion Flores talks about.

“Men, it’s not our job to keep reminding you. Remind each other, and stop abusing. It’s as simple as that.”

 

jgbv_cover2_dw-1-smallDr Emma Williamson is a Reader in Gender-Based Violence at the University of Bristol and a Co-Editor of the Journal of Gender-Based Violence. The first issue of the Journal is now available online, and the editorial is free to read.

You may also be interested in the special issue of Families Relationships and Societies on Violence Against Women and Children in Diverse Contexts.

 

 

Image: Image credit: “Harvey Weinstein, Chairman, The Weinstein Company” is copyright (c) 2015 Thomas Hawk and made available under a Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 license


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