#MeToo hashtag floods social media with stories of harassment and sexual assault. In the wake of the sexual harassment claims against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstien, women and men are coming out about the sexual assault that they have experienced.
On Sunday, the actress Alyssa Milano posted a screenshot outlining the idea and writing “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.”
Endless thousands of women and men responded. Do you find it disturbing that we have to have a hashtag movement to make people realise that we have a problem with sexual violence?
How is sexual violence defined?
Sexual violence is defined as: any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise directed, against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting, including but not limited to home and work (source).
What I take away from this is that we do not only need to warn our daughters, we also need to educate our sons.
Why aren’t we hysterical about sexual violence?
According to UN figures, one in three women on the planet will be beaten or sexually assaulted and one in five men. We have to ask the question, what is it about our society that makes us so accepting of this, so polite, so hushed.
“So then I began to understand that this worldwide violation of women, this denial of desire or pleasure, this blaming of women for their sexuality when they are abused, is actually universal. When you’re fighting female genital mutilationin Gambia, or you’re fighting gang rape in Congo, or you’re fighting acid burning in Pakistan, you are in your world believing this is happening in your culture, because it’s specific to your local reality. But when you suddenly understand that violence against women is the methodology that sustains patriarchy, then you suddenly get that we’re in this together. Women across the world are in this together.” (Eve Ensler)
Eve Ensler is an American playwright, performer, feminist, and activist, best known for her play The Vagina Monologues. She makes this startling comment, a quote that I posted this week on FaceBook. It is startling because of the paradigm that it presents. Why don’t we talk like this? Why haven’t we asked this question before?
I have been sexual harassed, sexually abused and mistreated. #MeToo.
I am fairly vocal about social justice issues. Have learned how to speak out. I have personally suffered sexual assault. I would say that I am moderately educated and informed. Yet this quote rocked me.
Men, why aren’t you driven to the point of madness and action by the rape and humiliation of us? One in three women experience sexual assault. Every week in Australia a woman is beaten to death by a significant other? Why aren’t we storming parliament, walking in protest and filling our courts?
Are we raising boys to be disconnected from their hearts at an early age? I don’t know? I have raised two sons and three step sons. They are amazing and compassionate young men. I couldn’t imagine them raising a hand to a woman or sexually harassing a woman. However, every abuser was once a mothers dearly loved three-year old son. What are we doing wrong? For some men, is it about the need to control? I wish I had some easy answers.
Have we as women remained silent and powerless for too long? Has our shame and secrecy woven us deeper into a web that we cannot escape? Are we complicit by not speaking out?
I have heard female family members say to me:
“It wasn’t that bad, I got over it”. “You just have to move on”.
“He only fondled my breasts.”
What about rape? “Just close your eyes, he’s your husband he is entitled”.
“Don’t make a big deal, he didn’t mean it. He said sorry, he just lost a bit of control.”
“What people don’t understand about rape – and it’s so hard to communicate – is it’s not an act, it’s a life. It robs you of dignity, agency, choice. It is an invasion that renders you incapable of trust, and makes intimacy one of the most terrifying things”. Eve Ensler
Sexual Harassment is about power and dominance
“Sexual harassment is, above all, a manifestation of power relations women are much more likely to be victims of sexual harassment precisely because they more often than men lack power, are in more vulnerable and insecure positions, lack self-confidence, or have been socialized to suffer in silence” (source)
“Studies of person factors demonstrate that men who possess a proclivity to sexually harass cognitively link social dominance and sexuality” (source).
Lets not forget that sexual violence against men and boys is also a significant problem.
With one in five men having experienced sexual assault. With the exception of childhood sexual abuse, though, it is one that has largely been neglected in research. “Rape and other forms of sexual coercion directed against men and boys take place in a variety of settings, including in the home, the workplace, schools, on the streets, in the military and during war, as well as in prisons and police custody” (source).
This is what we know:
Sexual violence is a common and serious global problem.
It is driven by many factors in a range of social, cultural and economic contexts.
At the heart of sexual violence against women is gender inequality
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