Successful Hollywood producer sexually harasses and assaults tens of women for years, none of them speaks out. His dazzling career carries on. Suddenly, after decades, tens of women come out of the closet: his career is over.
This, in sum, is Harvey Weinstein’s story.
Then Alissa Milano encourages women with a hashtag, #MeToo, to share their stories of sexual harassment or abuse. The snowball is unstoppable.
Not one days goes by without someone I know, either friends or acquaintances, posting their story of harassment, and in some cases even rape, on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
Leaving aside the revulsion I feel for disgusting men like Weinstein and the imbalance of power in the film industry (just like in most other industries) this whole madness makes me feel uncomfortable for at least 3 reasons:
1. Why did all these women, or most of these women, never speak out? Why didn’t they say anything, and let him for years and years repeat his behaviour, feeling confident that they would not denounce him to the authorities and that he would not be punished?
2. Why did some women accept to sleep with him, to get film roles? As long as there are women willing to use their own body and sexuality as an exchange good, there will be always be predators who use their power for sexual favours.
3. Why do people think that sharing traumatic, horrible and extremely personal experiences on social media is the only way to seek revenge, or find some peace and closure?
I keep asking myself these questions, and I feel like I might have some answers, or at least I’ll try:
1. Most women didn’t speak out because it was easier to forget. Because of the guilt paradox, because victims often feel that they might have attracted or caused the abuse with their behaviour. Many women also didn’t speak out because of the imbalance of power. He was a Hollywood power player and they were nobodies. Some women, also, might have not spoken out because of fear of being judged and of this horrible thing becoming a stigma, something that could have ruined their reputation. So how are victims supported, treated, how are their stories narrated by the media? The adequate support and the empathy of society towards victims is crucial to encourage more women to speak out. But also, being a victim doesn’t define us. It can’t define us.
2. Some women take a shortcut. So many people do. For men, this can mean being selfish and horribly unscrupulous, trying to advance their agenda in every occasion, for some women it could mean pandering to a flirtatious boss or even consciously using their bodies to get closer to their goals: and education here is crucial. We have to raise our young girls with values such as strength and courage rather than beauty and “cuteness”. Making them feel pretty is important, but should not take priority over the rest. Instead of letting them play with make up and dolls, maybe we should make sure they do sports, they know about science, they read books and they compete with boys, at the same level. At the same starting point, like for any equal race. Let us nurture their ambition, their endurance, their strength. At the same time, we have to raise our young boys to be gentlemen, to respect women and consider them as their friends, colleagues, co-workers and also team mates, rather than just potential wives or girlfriends.
3. Self-victimization is too tempting to resist. Women like to flirt in the workplace with that handsome colleague, or are secretly flattered when someone in the street gives them a compliment, or dress in a certain way because they want to look sexy, but then we also want men to know where and when to stop and to take ten steps back. We removed many boundaries, but at the same time we don’t want to accept that a big amount of confusion has resulted from it.
I’m not denying the horrible sexism present in everyday life, as I’m experiencing it myself and I know it is a real thing, but we are the product of our societies, and these sexist men, even the Adam Sandlers who place a hand on a woman’s knee, are the product of this society. Some of them might have bumped into many women with little self respect. Some of them watch too much TV. Some of them have wives who are so repressed that are willing to be married to a sexist, and defend them too.
I’m not saying women are to blame: what I’m saying is that even if we are not the problem, we must be part of the solution. Women are mothers, their impact can be immense.
And regarding the rape stories: they’re horrible. But I don’t really want to read them in a post on Facebook. If you, my friend, need to talk about it, I’d like to be in front of you, holding your hand, looking into your eyes and listen to you in real life. Hugging you. Feeling your pain. Yes, as a journalist or a blogger you can write an article about it, and try to trigger a conversation, because it needs to be discussed everywhere. But putting yourself in the limelight, with your pain and your grief, in few characters and in the same account where you also post your holiday pictures and Halloween costume, well that doesn’t sound right. It is a call for help, maybe, but it won’t be taken seriously, not as much as it should. And those serious allegations, should be reported to the authorities, rather than being shared on Instagram.
These are my answers, and yet I have more questions: if not on social media, where then? Isn’t this a conversation we need to have? Don’t women have a right to choose the place and time and tool they want to use to express themselves and share their stories? Is this whole snowball going to stop at some point, and what happens next? Is it going to change everything, or just like any other social media trend and hashtag, will it be promptly forgotten as soon as the next big story breaks out?