[OPINION] Hashtag here, hasthtag there, sexual harassment everywhere
Let me explain the concept of a Golden Boy to you. He’s the dude in the corporate or creative environment. He’s usually good-looking, earns a huge salary for doing almost nothing and gets a lot of credit for other people’s work - mostly the work of women. He isn’t particularly talented, his skills are mediocre at best, but he gets away with a lot. He is the guy who gets requested by the MD to mentor other people, he’s the guy who gets asked to do the presentations.
When there’s a team brainstorm session, he’s the one with the least to contribute and the most to say. He’s the sneaky colleague who gets the big title and hands out all the important tasks to the little people. Then he swoops in like a hero, throws everyone underneath the rug and basks in the glory of his masculinity and privilege. But it doesn’t stop here. His reach and immunity stretches far beyond his professional influence. This man is also an office pest. He operates under the assumption that all of the above buys him an infinite store of rights to sexual harassment. He is a free agent.
He is a proud mascot of patriarchy and sexist perpetuation. He hands it out without needing to think about its repercussions. In fact, in the office environment, for example, there are hardly any repercussions anyway. Why? Well, the generic reason is that it’s because women don’t speak up so the problem exists in silence and is allowed to breed in the dark like a poisonous fungus. To prove this, a trend developed. The cure for all illnesses in the modern society is, of course, the hashtag. In this instance, the name of the medication? #MeToo.
The #MeToo hashtag started trending after Hollywood actor Alyssa Milano encouraged women to use it if they’d ever been harassed or assaulted. A rallying cry to gather the troops and prove there was a problem. Don’t we know this already? A barren field of perceived silence on the part of the women started to sprout fresh with confession on social media. Here’s the thing though, does the hashtag really prove effective when ultimately it is asking women, the victims of harassment infringements big and small, to once again come forward and prove that it happens.
You see, this preconceived notion that women don’t speak up (therefore no one is aware of the magnitude of the problem) is simply untrue. Up to 80% of women do actually report cases like these to HR. The problem lies in the management of the situation. In corporate environments the culture of patriarchy reigns supreme. There is almost no opportunity for women to exercise their rights without being further castigated.
In creative environments it’s the same - except that in most cases, a creative office is a smaller office - therefore there is less capital. The go-to excuse for not dealing with sexual harassment allegations is that is it just much too expensive.
This is not the problem of women in society. Sexual harassment is the problem of men. The consequence of silence should not be shouldered by women. It is the consequence and baggage of men. They must carry it. Because it’s in this silence where men perpetuate a tolerance for harassment. Tolerance means that sexual harassment is “popular” enough for men to have knowledge about it.
There are enough structures that exist around the harassment of women to remind men the crisis exists. Every man himself is a structural reminder.
So must the onus once again fall on the woman to prove that it does? With or without the hashtag, women have been saying Me Too for as far as our collective memory can stretch. If history has taught us that it is the responsibility of the victim to provide receipts, well, then I think it’s fair to say that men are the victims of their own masculine conditioning. And it’s time for them to please explain as well.
Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a commentator on gender equality, sexuality, culture, race relations and feminism as well as ethics in the South African media environment. Follow her on Twitter.