Smart Thinking

#metoo: it’s not just about women

Women all over the world have come out in support of #metoo, but this issue should matter to both genders, says our Managing Editor

If you’ve not seen this hashtag, then either you’re not on social media or you’ve not read the news. It’s a response to the stories that keep coming about Harvey Weinstein. Women, starting with actress Alyssa Milano, are putting their hands up to say they’ve been either sexually assaulted or harassed, in any way, by any man. 

The idea was to give women courage to speak out, one of the criticisms that has been levelled at the Weinstein accusers – ‘Why didn’t they say something? And sooner?’

The simple answer to that is, they were afraid to do so. Milano’s logic was that if all women spoke up, very simply, about the fact that they’d experienced harassment or assault, without necessarily having to detail the event, it might expose how normal this is for most women.

The hashtag is broad – it covers everything from being shouted at in the street to being raped, which of course makes it uncomfortable reading. Some might think that the underlying assumption is that those catcallers are rapists in waiting. Absolutely not.

“I don’t walk around all day thinking ‘I’m a woman.’ But daily things happen around me that remind me I am”

The aim isn’t to shame men, or to point the finger – ‘You’re all the same, and you’re all out to get us’ is not the message to take from this. The correct response is to feel sorry. I’m so sorry this has happened to you. And to you. And to you. And to you.

Beyond that, it’s to acknowledge that the way society is allows bad behaviour to happen, and perhaps some of the underlying norms of society ought to change. So that men aren’t vilified, and so that women don’t have this common experience. Both matter.

For what it’s worth, I hesitate to post #metoo on my Facebook or Twitter feed. I don’t want my friends to worry that I’ve been violently sexually assaulted. I haven’t. My instant response was to think that nothing bad has happened to me. But I have had a stalker, I have been ‘grabbed by the pussy’ in the street by a stranger, I have been shouted at. Oh. Actually. Me too.

These are stories I’ll tell other women about and make humorous, perhaps as a way of taking the power back. But they weren’t funny. Not one bit.

Women, like men, just want to be themselves. I certainly don’t walk around all day thinking about the fact I’m a woman. But daily things happen around me that remind me that I am – it’s when I’m in a meeting with men I don’t know and they all shake hands, but choose to kiss me, it’s when someone sucks their teeth as I walk past, whistles, or makes some comment on my appearance. It’s not charming. They’re things that say to me ‘you’re a woman,’ with an implicit ‘know your place’ – to be pretty and serene.

I don’t even count these things as harassment. Just the water I swim in. But it would be nice if it wasn’t that way. Likewise I’m sure men would like to feel they could walk down a street behind a woman and not worry about whether she feels threatened. Wouldn’t it be good if neither gender ever needed to consider their male or femaleness in ordinary life. Agree? Me too.