It is a curious thing to observe the reaction of some members of the population to the #Metoo movement. For the last year and a half, scores of women, and some men, have been coming forward and speaking of being sexually harassed or assaulted by a colleague or employer. A lot of these complaints have been made against high profile celebrities that many of us have grown up watching on television or listening to their music; in short appreciating their art in some form or another.
Reactions to these allegations can be basically broken down into a three categories. Firstly, the accused is innocent and is being targeted for money or the subject of some conspiracy that seeks to bring prominent black men down (Bill Cosby). Another response has been exasperation with folks wondering when these accusations are going to stop. Finally, and this is by far the most troubling and simultaneously amusing response, there are some who are genuinely worried that the movement would affect the way they interact with women colleagues and subordinates in the future.
As you can imagine, the people who fall into the last category are mostly men. Yes, there are men who are worried that their interactions with women in a professional setting could lead to #MeToo moments, with uncomfortable conversations involving lawyers and human resource personnel. This is interesting to me for two reasons. Firstly, it raises the question as to why they should be worried in the first place. I could see them searching their memories trying to recall every “joke”, or “harmless barb”, or flirtatious remark they might have aimed at a female colleague wondering, for the first time probably, how said female colleague took their utterances.
Therein lies one significant impact of the #MeToo movement. It forces men to re-examine their own behaviours and attitudes towards women, especially in their work environment. It forces them to confront the reality that their experiences in the work space may not be the only legitimate ones and that maybe, just maybe, the women they work with might have their own divergent perspectives on these interactions.
Furthermore, men are also uncomfortable with the level of scrutiny that they are receiving. The spotlight has been turned on to what has been “normal” behaviour for many decades, revealing it for what it really is, harassment. This shift in perspective and the added scrutiny that it brings is causing some men to feel very uneasy. I think about this unease, and I reflect on how many women, for so many years, have had to endure persistent harassment and inappropriate behaviour from men in their work environments. We have heard a lot of stories, but imagine the hundreds of others that do not come forward for fear of losing their jobs. I think about these stories and shed a tear for the men who are in the crosshairs of accountability, because this level of discomfort that they are currently experiencing pales in comparison to the years of suffering in silence that many women have endured.
I also wonder what #MeToo would look like in St Vincent. How many women, in a range of jobs from the low paying to executive type, are facing these situations with little options for redress? What shape would such a movement take in our homeland? What outcomes could we expect?
I do not know how long the #MeToo movement is going to last. I hope it lasts long enough for this shift in perspective and call for accountability to correct terrible behaviour. I hope that it fosters better, less toxic work spaces in the future.
I hope that in the future women do not need to air out the things, but if they do then I hope it makes the future offenders helluva uncomfortable too.