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Men have to say #IDidThatToo to workplace sexual harassment

25 Jun 2018 By Allyson Jule

Allyson Jule explains why it's not just women who need to speak up if #MeToo is to gain long-term significance 

With the exception of the Harvey Weinsteins and Matt Lauers of the world, why is it that men who have been accused of being involved in workplace sexual harassment go largely unpunished? They’ve been pretty silent and that’s rather interesting. 

I think it’s time we shifted the focus from the brave women who have come forward to the cowardly men who have done the damage. Why is it we don’t see more men coming out with remorseful admissions before the allegations begin? I imagine they would rather get away with it than face their responsibilities. If the woman doesn’t come forward, it can be brushed under the carpet, they must think. 

But this is neither good nor moral. If we are to solve the problem – and this is a problem – both the victims and perpetrators need to understand the fullness of such behaviour. Women have kept silent about workplace harassment for centuries because they don’t want to cause a fuss, don’t feel they’ll be believed, think they’ll be socially stigmatised for outing a powerful man, or a combination of the three. 

But women are speaking up in this new season of gender relations and, as a result, our culture has shifted profoundly. I hope it continues. People who have been wounded, damaged or even destroyed should be able, in a civilised world, to speak up and seek recompense. 

However, if #MeToo is going to have any lasting impact, the men must speak up too. The perpetrators should be able to understand the damage done. If they really understood this, they would speak up, wouldn’t they? If I ran over someone with my car and the person publicly accused me of injuring their leg or causing paralysis, I would quickly voice my remorse and deep grief at my terrible recklessness. Even if not accused, I might be triggered if I heard of a similar incident on the news, have a heavy conscience and not be able to sleep. This might lead me to try to find the person I hit to attempt to make amends. Wouldn’t you? 

I guess you wouldn’t if you didn’t really care, didn’t see the problem, felt incredibly embarrassed by it or your life depended on your being innocent of such an act. But if you had some kind of moral bone in your body, you would want to make it as right as possible, regardless of the victim’s response.

Today’s young women rank among the most educated in history and so many gains have been fought for women. Yet many grapple with frustrations never imagined by their mothers or grandmothers when it comes to workplace sexual harassment. Social media has seen to that – the idea may be universal but the tools are more advanced. 

And despite having earned comparable post-secondary credentials, women are still twice as likely as men to be employed part time and tend to pool in the clerical, sales and services sectors. It takes a woman 15 years on average to catch up with men in employer-paid benefits if she has children. Highly educated boys have consistently more successful career trajectories over highly educated girls who often opt out of a career path to tend to children at a critical stage in career development, or face hostile hallways throughout their careers. Male stereotyping and preconceptions of women are two of the biggest barriers women face at work. While these offences do not necessarily point to blatant sexism, they too often do. And there’s no getting around the fact that workplace sexual harassment comes from a fundamental flaw in one’s understanding of the female form and experience. 

I wait for the day when men see the ways they’ve belittled and debased women and voice their regret. One hopes it’s not too far away.

Allyson Jule is author of Speaking Up: Understanding Language and Gender, published by Multilingual Matters

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