Over the past week or so there have been numerous allegations of sexual harassment and even rape made against male MPs from both the Labour and Conservative party. Interestingly, these have come soon after the many allegations made against Harvey Weinstein, the disgraced Hollywood big shot, signifying a rare moment in history where women are less fearful of coming forward to shame their abusers.
Allegations range from inappropriate comments and touching of female co-workers to ‘violent rape’ of a female Tory activist. The news has sparked a discussion of the treatment of women in Parliament and in the workplace in general. Labour party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said there is ‘a warped and degrading culture in Westminster, and across society’. What he refers to is the longstanding culture of men pursuing women with a sense of entitlement to their bodies. Men have often abused their positions of power to make women feel weak and exert their dominance over them through a pursuit of sexual interactions with women that would much rather get on with their work.
In situations like this, there is always the irritating cry of men declaring that women aren’t the only ones experiencing sexual abuse. Whilst this is irrefutably true, it is all too convenient that most men only seem to remember this when women are talking about their experiences. The truth is, most women you talk to will tell you that they have experienced some form of sexual harassment or abuse in their lifetime and often frequently. It’s very interesting that men only seem to care about male victims of sexual abuse when women are talking about it but not when actual men come forward as victims (male victims are usually stigmatised, seen as weak or even ungrateful for not being happy that a woman wants them). It’s even more intriguing that whilst most women can say they’ve experienced harassment, no men seem to know any harassers.
The storm of accusations relating to both Parliament and Hollywood are a confirmation of what women already know, sexual abuse and harassment is something to fear and it hides in plain sight. It could be a woman’s boss stroking her knee during a meeting, but she chooses to say nothing out of fear of losing her job. It could be a girl at a nightclub being groped by a man, but she chooses to say nothing because that’s just a ‘normal’ part of a night out. Unfortunately, some women choose to pander to men saying that some women are just overreacting or that not all men are bad so it’s not a big problem. This only makes it harder for actual victims to come forward and easier for men to justify their actions.
The issue is that many women don’t want to come forward because more often than not they will be shamed and accused of lying instead of being helped through the process. In order to extinguish sexual harassment there needs to be a better understanding of consent. In order to protect victims, there needs to be a greater acknowledgment of the trauma these experiences can cause. We’ve come along way and the brave women that tell their stories today are paving the way for future victims to feel comfortable doing the same, but until there is some level of introspection in male ‘locker room’ culture there will be little change in the frequency of these incidents in the first place. It’s time for men (and women) to call each other out on their toxic behaviour in order to put an end to sexual abuse.
Photo: British Parliament