by Stephanie Mitton
#MeToo has shone a light on sexual harassment and assault. The movement has stirred up truth, controversy and debate. The most recent example is the Gillette commercial, which kicked off its campaign "The best men can be", sparking fierce reactions of support and criticism.
“Wel Gillette just killed 90% of their costumer base”
“This video single handledly just handed over the 2020 election to Trump”
Regardless of your views, the facts in Canada speak for themselves.
According to the Ontario Ministry of Children, Community and Services, it is estimated that about one in three Canadian women will experience sexual assault in their adult life; and although men are victims too, women are eleven times more likely than men to be victims of sexual offences.
According to a 2014 poll, 43% of women have been sexually harassed at work. Women were also more than twice as likely as men to say they had experienced unwanted sexual contact at work (20% compared to 9%).
What is the difference? The Canadian Women’s Foundation explains that “while sexual assault refers to unwanted sexual activity, including touching and attacks, sexual harassment can encompass discriminatory comments, behaviour, as well as touching. Sexual harassment may take the form of jokes, threats, comments about sex, or discriminatory remarks about someone’s gender.”
The sad reality of these statistics is that, either you have been a victim of sexual harassment or assault yourself, or you most certainly know someone who is (whether you are aware of it or not).
For me, MeToo has resurrected long suppressed experiences that felt very wrong at the time but I chalked up to “that’s just how it is”. It wasn't until the MeToo movement arrived (and people began to share their stories) that I realized how wrong the perpetrators were in their actions towards me. I now feel vindicated and validated about the feelings I experienced when the incidents happened as well as ashamed that I didn't know at the time how WRONG I was to pretend they didn't mean anything.
Why didn't I do more?
I wonder if my failure to act resulted in other women having to endure the same abuse.
As much as I try to remind myself I have nothing to be ashamed of and that it was wrong for someone to make me feel that way, these incidents impacted my career. In one particular situation, when I was a young university student, I quit my part time job to stop exposure to the unwanted behaviour. Comments about how I looked in certain types of clothing (or lack of clothing) from my boss made me feel dirty. And this is only one example.
One time, when I was working on Parliament Hill, a Member of Parliament (MP) kissed me in a way that shocked me. It was in a public space, it was unwanted and it made me feel very uncomfortable, but I told myself it was no big deal and moved on. It wasn’t until multiple women recently came out publicly with allegations of sexual harassment against the same MP, that I realized my unease at the time was totally justified. I was recently in a room with several executives when the news of this MP’s actions was discussed, and I suppressed tears, feeling victimized and vindicated, and finally a sense of relief. It was an unfortunate reminder that victims are everywhere: we are your sisters, your mom, your boss.
The MeToo movement has opened conversations, made a dent in stigma, and hopefully changed behaviour.
Maybe if the movement had begun ten years ago, maybe if my bosses and coworkers had seen Gillette’s short film, they wouldn’t have treated me the way they did. I hope they know now that they will have to treat my daughters much differently.
My personal hope (and I hope you will join me) is that…
● As victims we stand up for ourselves with loud voices that will not be silenced.
● Perpetrators will think twice before acting, better yet, I hope we change hearts and minds so this behaviour stops.
● As leaders we do better to protect those under our care, that we create a culture where this behaviour is unacceptable, and raise our voices and DO SOMETHING when issues are brought to our attention.
I can’t change the past, but I do have control of my future behaviour. Let’s do better. For ourselves and for our daughters and sons.
“Tell your story.
Shout it. Write it.
Whisper it if you have to.
But tell it.
Some won't understand it.
Some will outright reject it.
But many will
thank you for it.
And then the most
magical thing will happen.
One by one, voices will start
whispering, 'Me, too.'
And your tribe will gather.
And you will never
feel alone again.”
- L.R. Knost
For more on prevention visit the Canadian Women’s Foundation.
If you need help, I encourage you to visit here.