Since the news broke about the predatory behaviour of one of Hollywood’s most famous, the topic comes up in nearly every conversation I have, even when I desperately hope that this time it will not be mentioned. The overall sentiment is that people are pleased with the attention the story is getting because most want change. Although newspapers report about victim blaming, I have not seen this in my environment.
As always the reality is more complicated than the strong dichotomy that is making news. Of course, the man in question is a predator and he could only get away with his deplorable behaviour due to having a team of enablers around him. But that is not all, we need to perceive the latest developments in a wider context, the level of toxicity in the workplace.
I am getting tired of the stories of vulnerable females victimised by powerful males. Not because this is not still happening, but because so much more is happening that contributes to a climate of toxicity and no, it is not just females who are the victims in a climate of toxicity. It affects all of us. It includes sexual as well as personal harassment, a lack of transparency, a lack of effective and open communication, a lack of knowledge of companies’ policies, and a climate in which gossip and rumours are ruining the atmosphere.
Stories and movies (!) about the climate of rape at University campuses are doing more harm than good. Unfortunately these stories too, were widely featured in newspaper articles. There is no evidence of a rape-climate at campuses at all. In fact, campus sexual assault rates have declined over the last twenty years. False stories that are without question repeated over and over are not contributing to positive change, it will have the opposite effect, because those who minimise the level of toxicity and who hear about fake stories, will question all stories. It does not make it easy to obtain a clear perspective on the factors that contribute to the real issues if we are not sticking to facts.
I have no sympathy for fashion designer Donna Karan who felt the need to point out that there are women who seem to ask for whatever by the way they present themselves. This comment obviously was ill timed as the story of the predatory Weinstein was providing those who are victimised the attention they deserve. Women and men who are victimised do not ask for being harassed.
That does not mean that there is no evidence of women and men who do use sex to gain access to advantages they may otherwise not have received. But these individuals are no victims because whatever we think about them, they are consenting to participate in sexual acts. I invite all of us to have a closer look at these behaviours and how these are fuelled. For instance have a look at people in power. These individuals have a choice and a responsibility to act ethically. If they were being held accountable and are respectful of the code of conduct and a code of ethics and if companies had clearly stated policies on fraternisations and the consequences, there would be less of these behaviours. When those in power are no longer engaging in unethical behaviours, no “consenting” subordinate will be involved in these relationships. Simply because it does not work as career advancements are based on merit. This and only this will create equality in the workplace.
Let us look at servers in restaurants. Many of them are dressed provocatively as they have found that they obtain more tip money when doing so and they will feel they have to dress similarly to the other servers otherwise there might be unfair competition. If we who are patrons of these restaurants no longer tip these servers more, but tip on quality of service, the behaviour will stop and quality of service will increase. A win-win for all of us.
I feel a need to point out that although many women have experienced unwanted attention from males, many of us have experienced the support and understanding of other males who have come to our aid when placed in a scary position. During my college years I did experience unwanted and pushy behaviours of males who did not take no for an answer. During these years however, I have not been assaulted as male friends made sure the offender got what he deserved. Not once was I blamed for having asked for it. These narratives need to be aired as well. It provides balance and hope and an acknowledgment to those who did stand up for what is right.
I was pleased to read the comment made by Glenn Close who asked for men and women to unite to create a culture of respect, equality and empowerment. Indeed the time is “long and tragically overdue”. The more moral panic the Weinstein saga elicits, the more people open up about their experiences bad but hopefully also good. Let’s just drop the fake stories and do a decent amount of fact checking and let’s stop victim blaming as well as the overreaction to comments of those who point out that there is more to the story.