In the wake of the Hollywood scandal involving Harvey Weinstein, we have seen thousands, if not millions, share the #MeToo hashtag. The numbers of those affected is staggering, and the fallout reaches beyond the confines of Hollywood and the rich and famous. In fact, I am sure each one of us can say we know someone who has been sexually harassed in some way. The fact is this goes beyond a trendy hashtag, beyond Hollywood, beyond the modern era, and way beyond the confines of gender roles.
For the purpose of this article, I will be discussing sexual abuse and harassment in the United States in the modern era. Women have been experiencing sexual abuse and harassment for most of the recorded history of the United States. Women were not seen as equal to the settlers who repeatedly abused indigenous women as well as their own wives, into the civil war era when slaves were forced into sexual relations with their masters, and for countless other examples throughout our history. As women entered the workforce they were met with the same type of prejudices with no recourse. Labor laws shielded women from the dangers of physical labor, but not the sexual advances of their bosses. By the 1920s women were told if they didn’t like it, quit their jobs and go home.
Things got slightly better by the 1970s and the advent of the women’s equality movement, but it wasn’t until the 1980s when the Supreme Court recognized sexual harassment as a violation of title VII. (Establishing the standard of whether the conduct was welcome, and that speech or conduct can create a hostile working environment. *1986 case of Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson)
That’s all well and good for the workplace, but women were still facing harassment and abuse in other aspects of day to day life, and still are to this day. And the abuse reaches far beyond the male female dynamic. Sex is being used as a means of intimidation and power over children and men as well. The question is, why are we still facing this in an otherwise “civilized” society?
There is no doubt that we are influenced by the powerful images around us, which are abundant in the digital age. The concept of rape culture has been tossed around for awhile now, and to me it only leads to victim blaming and false narratives. As the stories pouring out of Hollywood are showing us, sex is being viewed as currency, and a currency used by cohersion. When we have leaders in this country who view that their power entitles them to take what they want from women, and men, how can we teach our children otherwise?
This problem has to be viewed as a far reaching one, one that touches not just women, but men as well. While women are the main ones targeted in these situations, men should not be shouted down and dismissed when they tell their tales of sexual abuse. The statistics are staggering:
1 in 5 women have been victims of attempted or completed rape.
1 in 5 men have experienced sexual violence
27% of male rape victims were ten years of age or younger when assaulted
Transgender teens are more likely to be assaulted
The majority of rape victims knew their attacker
1 in 3 women 18-34 have been sexually harassed at work
Men are victims of workplace sexual harassment 17-20% of the time …. I could go on and on
As we navigate our ever-changing society, we need to teach an inclusive narrative that doesn’t exclude men and the LGBT community as victims of this abuse. We are all susceptible. We also have to stress that this behavior is unwelcome, and we have to stop demonizing and shaming the accuser. The staggering number of #MeToo posts show how pervasive in society this issue is, and how we still blame the victim. That is rape culture: a society that blames the victim and tells them they should have acted differently, or done this or that, and does not go after the perpetrator and the true cause of the problem.
Let’s start an inclusive and real narrative that includes all victims, all people, from all walks of life, regardless of gender and sexual orientation. Just treat people as people. Protest with our conscience and our pocketbook. Do not support the sexulization, bigotry, and abuse prevalent in entertainment and politics. Practice real humanity, and real tolerance, not a watered down version. Show your displeasure in the voting booth. Get involved. Don’t turn your head to injustice and abuse. Call it out. Stand up for each other. Teach our young people by words and actions that sexual abuse, violence, and mistreatment of any kind should not be tolerated. And most importantly stop victim blaming, stop making excuses for the perpetrators of these crimes, and create an environment where a victim feels safe from repercussions.
Maybe then we can see fewer #MeToo’s.
**Statistics taken from mecasa.org and rrsonline.org