Over the past week a movement has struck social media to raise awareness of the widespread issue of sexual harassment, with women from all over the world posting the hashtag #metoo.
I first saw this post at the very beginning of the week. I read it and signed a breath of relief, deeming myself not one of those people. A quick scan of my existence concluded that no, I didn’t believe this applied to me. As it popped up in the timeline of almost every woman I know I counted myself lucky.
Until I saw one post. It wasn’t a copy and paste of #metoo as with all of the others, but a post that listed but a few of the encounters this friend had endured. They ranged from the extreme – of which I am lucky to never have had to survive – to the every day. I realised I had been mistaken in my assumption that #metoo didn’t apply to me. Yet it wasn’t the listing of the unwanted gropes or derogatory cat calls, the shaming, or even the habit of checking my back and holding a pair of keys defensively that got me: it was the admittance of a tactic that is used by too many women.
Wearing a fake wedding or engagement ring to warn off unwanted attention is a tactic well known to women. Somehow holding a hand up with a sign of ownership to another man has more weight than a woman simply saying ‘no’. There are all number of things wrong with that, but I’ll leave that to you to ponder upon. I, however, had never, until the #metoo movement, thought anything more of this tactic than it being just that, an easy way to get left alone. In the rare times I have gone out without my very cheap, very fake, very convincing-in-pub-and-club-lights ring it takes several ‘no’s, countless excuses and inevitably a dodge and hide into the bathroom to avoid many encounters. Don’t get me wrong: not every interaction is like this, but there are enough for me and countless other women to know exactly what to do in the routine of escaping unwanted sexual advances. And yet when presented with #metoo for the first time I didn’t class myself as someone who had been sexually harassed or assaulted. Because to me, it’s just… life. And that’s not cool.
As this movement has taken off I have seen men shocked and affronted, and some asking how they can stop this, or apologising for any past discretions. This made me think: If I as someone who has had numerous conversations about this and who lives through it every day is shocked with the spread and depth of this issue, how do those of the accused gender feel? Not everyone is guilty, but there can be some confusion and doubt in this seemingly complex situation.
It is all of our responsibility to address this situation and to right this doubt and confusion. The hashtag is a good start, the engagement with it even better, but now we need to actively do something about it. If you have seen someone you care about post #metoo, or if you posted, or if you are one of the countless women who haven’t posted #metoo for whatever reason, and even if you fall into none of these categories, there are a couple of things you can do to be mindful and to finally turn this abhorrent reality into history.
Everything I am about to say can be bundled into one simple thought, presented by Anne Victoria Clark earlier this month in the form of ‘The Rock Test’.
Men: Whenever you are interacting with women, treat them as if they were Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. Would you grab his ass again after he said ‘no’? Would you even grab his ass without his permission?! Treat women (and everyone else you meet) as if they were The Rock in all his glory.
Women: Whenever you are uncomfortable or dealing with someone who has forgotten you’re The Rock, treat yourself like you’re Dwayne Johnson (out of the ring; don’t hit anyone.). He’s kind, gentle, wonderful and strong, unapologetic and confident. I’ve seen a lot of women finding themselves uncomfortable in an unwanted situation, but they just stand, smile and take it. I’ve done it! We need to be kind, confident and straight. If you’re uncomfortable or don’t want any advances, be The Rock and say confidently and kindly ‘No thanks’. Don’t apologise. Just say ‘Nah man, I’m not cool with that. No thanks’. Be as clear as possible and don’t give room for anything else. Just remind the other person you’re The Rock, just as they are.
If that’s too abstract for you, here are a few further tips:
Men (though Women, read this):
Empathise – Stop, Think, then Act
The thing you are about to do to a woman; would you be comfortable if roles were reversed? Don’t touch anyone unless they tell you they want you to and apologise if you get it wrong.
When you make an advance and a woman says ‘no’ or doesn’t seem a thousand percent into it, stop. Accept her decision. It’s not an insult to you – it often has nothing to do with you – so just go ‘OK’ and move on. We aren’t playing hard to get! One of the best interactions I’ve had with an interested stranger was when he asked me if I’d like to get a drink, I said no and he said ‘OK, have a good day!’ and went back to his life without any hurt. Simple as that. It was refreshing. It made me respect him, because he respected me.
Additional to this, if a woman or person comes to you and says they felt uncomfortable with something you or someone else did, do NOT tell them they are ‘overreacting’ or ‘being dramatic’. Whether they are or not is not the point – they felt this way and that is all that matters in consent. Accept it and act with the appropriate amount of kindness.
Don’t stand idly by
If you see another guy making a woman uncomfortable, don’t look the other way. Take the measures you need to in order to check that she’s ok, and if you see your friend making someone else uncomfortable call them out on it. The world is currently being made to look at what happens when we look the other way and don’t say anything. Don’t let it happen anymore by being passive: Stand up.
Women (though Men, read this):
We are all daughters, sisters, mothers, and friends. We are all females in men’s lives. Share your experience with men and boys so they can understand and be aware of what it’s like, and what you think they can do about it (these tips aren’t exhaustive!). Teach your boys to respect women and people in general. Answer and encourage their questions in how they cannot be part of the problem.
Be straight with men – Stand up
I, too, have a secret signal I give to my friends to get out of situations with unwanted strangers. I, too, know the worry you have over consequences of being clear and strong. But, it has long been concluded (whether accurately or not) that men need things to be stated clearly and without subtext. We all know what it’s like to wonder ‘what did [they] mean by that?’. Leave no room for that wonder or the assumption that you’re playing hard to get. Be kind and understanding and make your stance clear. Don’t play games.
Don’t let others stand idly by
I am ashamed to say that I have seen and then chosen to walk past a woman who was pressed against a wall by a guy chatting her up. Why? Because a few hours earlier I had not stood idly by, had interrupted a similar situation, and had the woman call me all sorts and attacking me because I was getting in her way. Don’t be that woman. If someone asks if you’re alright, don’t attack them. They’re just showing care. All you are attacking is their willingness to help someone else out. It’s scary enough facing the chance the man may attack you, but to also face the chance that a woman may attack you… that’s not cool. All you do is decrease confidence and willingness to not stand idly by.
And on this note, don’t join in on the shaming that occurs when a friend confides in you. No one is overreacting. Encourage yourself and other’s to speak up. We are witnessing now what happens when we empower ourselves enough to speak up and call things out.
All of these tips hold relevance to both of the sexes. And if that’s still too much, then just work by this: be kind to one another. That is our responsibility.
Last Minute Business Jem
Do you have any tips to help end the need for hashtags like #metoo? Any thoughts on the tips mentioned above? These are not extensive, how would you suggest we all help end this issue? Let us know in the comment section below!