The “#MeToo” Debate and the Vulnerability of Women

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The “#MeToo” debate, which started after one of the most powerful Hollywood juggernauts  Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual harassments by a series of women, has been generating more discussions of recent. As well as claiming more victims. Many women have boldly come out of their cocoons to narrate their horrifying stories over sexual intimidation and – in some cases, violence – in the hands of powerful men. Interestingly, some of the alleged sexual harassments took place some as old as 20 years ago. The positive thing about the campaign is that women now have the courage to come out openly and report sexual abuses against them, especially having in mind that many men misuse their positions in the society to intimidate, harass and subordinate women. The debate and campaign have both created awareness and sensibility over the sexual intimidation against women. However, the whole debate has equally brought about other problems, which, if not well addressed, could lead to unnecessary abuse or even deterioration of the relationship between men and women. Worse still, the situation could even lead to putting women increasingly in a vulnerable position as well.

Before one is wrongly understood, I fully and totally condemn any form of sexual, harassment, intimidation or abuse against women as well as support any law that would lead to harshest punishment against the deviants. However, I strongly believe that before one is castigated as a culprit, it is absolutely important to differentiate between sexual harassment or intimidation and sexual violence. Would a pleasantry compliment from a friendly male manager to his female secretary over her nice glamorous dress or hairdo be regarded as a sexual intimidation? Does this compliment amount to sexual violence? Does the compliment constitute a positive evaluation and appreciation of the female worker, or does it make her a sex object? Shouldn’t there be such a compliment between a male boss and a female subordinate in the first place? Should bosses be discouraged from giving compliments to their female junior workers to avoid sexual harassment accusation? Of course, it could be that the boss has some sexist ideas or that his compliments are the first step towards a sexual intimidation, at this point in time, it might be difficult to say. However, the female subordinate has the right and power to show her displeasure if this compliment from her male boss leads to sexual intimidation. Of course, one may argue that the female worker might fear to lose her job, as such, she might not resist the advances of her boss. On the other hand, the boss is held accountable for sexual violence if he does not respect the border the female worker has drawn. Also, if the male boss tries to put her under pressure due to her refusal to succumb to his advances, that would amount to sexual violence against her.

The big problem is that there is hardly a clear border between when a friendly pleasantry turns into sexual violence or intimidation. The danger is that because of this undefined border, often one ends up making a generalization and thereby categorizing women as helpless, weak and – ironically – sex object, and men, bullies. But that is not always the case. How would one define a situation where a female boss, who has some romantic feelings for a junior male worker puts incredible pressure on him to toe her line or put his job in jeopardy? Doesn’t this make the junior male worker a victim of sexual harassment or not? Certainly, yes it does. That turns men into victims, and women, victimizers. Interesting, that shows how multiple, inconstant and inconsistent and unfixed one’s identities can be. It is, therefore, wrong to effectively generalize and put a whole group in a defined box of a single identity. Again for the very sake of clarity, I totally condemn any kind of violence or harassment against women. Men and women must be treated equally with due and unconditional respect and dignity. But could the “#MeToo” debate, create another image of and an attitude towards women? Yes, I would say so. Fortunately, women have come of age. They are not only highly educated, with influential jobs, our present women occupy positions of power and authority. Therefore, it becomes a bit worrisome to generalize and put women in the same helpless box. Yes, compare to men, women still occupy lower positions in terms of job opportunities, but are women still so subordinate to men that they cannot show their disapproval when a man puts up sexist attitude towards them? Before I am misunderstood, my stand is that most women are and should be capable to determine when a man crosses the gender border is in any kind of relationship. This will help avoid sexual harassment. However, of course, there are men out there that would not stop until they get what they want. That includes using their position to force their will on the innocent women. This is, to me, where sexual violence starts. Women should and must resist this fearlessly. The authority must punish any man who tries to exploit women sexually.

That said, looking at the recent debate and the “#MeToo” near-movement, some have wondered whether women are generally vulnerable, as most of the alleged harassment have shown? Most of the alleged sexual harassments happened even 20 years ago. Some have questioned why it took so long before women started speaking out against the sexual intimidation. Perhaps, women have got more rights and power now than before. Certain behaviours tolerated years ago are today totally unacceptable. Furthermore, the delay in response on the part of the women may not be unconnected with the social attitude towards women, which portrays them as the cause of sexual harassment initiated by men. Some even attribute women’s sexy dressing women as one of the causes of the sexual harassment – a vague and watery argument to say the least. Such a stand relegates women to sex objects. Would it be ok and accepted for a woman to sexually harass or even rape a man simply because of his dressing code? That would attract the woman a promiscuous semantics, of course. Others would cite shame as another reason why women prefer to keep sexual harassment to themselves. Often women are ashamed to come out openly and discuss any kind of sexual intimidation against them. We live in a society where women are more or less defined by her sexuality; that puts women in an awkward unfair position against men. More than that, it creates some kind of psychology of gender. Due to this gender consciousness, women prefer to keep certain sexist behaviours towards them to themselves. To some women, that act would preserve their honour, dignity, and respect. All in all, these steps being taken by women, more often than not, do more harms than good. They effectively encourage men to see women as a sex object. This must be discouraged strongly.

Care must be taken not to simplify the whole “#MeToo” debate by way of generalizing, castigating all women as helpless gender and men bully machos. We must clearly draw a line between sexual molestation or intimidation and sexual violence. Moreover, the media may consider allowing the court of law to handle cases of sexual assaults and make a verdict before the media make a conclusion about the assaults. This will avoid sensitizing sexual assault allegations. It will equally give both the accused and accuser a fair treatment until the court decides the validity of the claims. Often, in the case of sexual violence, the victim, in most cases, do not have the power to stop it. But with sexual intimidation, the victim may have the power and possibilities to say no. Again, in both cases, condemnation must forcefully be made. Women must not and should never be harassed in whatever way due to their gender.

We are living in the 21st century. Women have come of age, as such, we must be extremely careful not to generalize or trivialize the “#MeToo” debate. This could end up reaffirming sexist views of women as weak and sex objects. Yet, that is not the case. At the same time, one must totally condemn any form of coercion for sexual advantages, which puts one under pressure or duress – whether women or men. The society must condemn this practice in totality.

Women deserve better, and the best way for us to show this is to not generalize or treat them as an appendix to men or sex objects – in whatever manner.