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Sunday 17 December 2017
Commentary

Life hacks for sexual harassment?

Sharda Patasar writes a weekly column for the Newsday.

“Hey! Aunty Sharda, have you seen our new life hack?” nephew asked.

“Umm, no. What? Is that something new you made up?” I asked.

“No no! It’s a life hack. See.” He waved a bag of chips in front of the camera. He and his seven-year-old sister went on to explain,

“See you always open a bag of chips from the bottom because the bottom is where all the salt is. That way you can get the salt on all the chips. That’s a life hack.”

With this week’s announcement of the firing of Matt Lauer of the Today show, last week’s of Charlie Rose, before this, Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby, all on account of sexual harassment cases brought against them, the list seems to be getting longer.

No one really teaches us life hacks that address, “What does one do in the instance of sexual harassment?” Many women have been subjected to sexual advances, whether it’s a man “throwing talk” or actually touching. It’s unavoidable and for some of us, a common reaction is embarrassment because you usually don’t wish to be insulting. I was told once to “just answer back” because, apparently, men’s advances were normal as long as they didn’t touch. I now reconsider that advice because that advice trivialises an individual’s feelings of discomfort. And given that in Trinidad, we live in a society that thrives on smut, sexual harassment has a disguise.

“What happen, you can’t take a little slack talk?” people throw at women who “can’t handle their stories.” Well actually, no, because you earn the right to slack talk with me only if we share a comfortable relationship where I know who you are and what the nature of our relationship is. Therefore you have no permission from my end. But this is a lesson I only recently learnt.

The attitude of trivialising in some cases also stems from the general thinking that if you work in a particular industry you have to be “willing” to entertain certain male behaviours. Women enter at their own risk, knowing fully well that sexually inappropriate behaviour is a given, or at least they should, says that common trend of thinking. When Harvey Weinstein claimed that he “came of age in the 60s and 70s when all the rules about behaviour and workplaces were different,” it is not surprising therefore that among the men against whom sexual harassment cases were brought up, were in the age range of 55-80. It was after all the culture then. But then times changed and with it, women’s rights and the place of women in society.

By the 1960s and 70s, the second-wave feminist movement had begun and only by 1980 was sexual harassment legally seen as an infringement on women’s rights. But the regurgitation of history is not even necessary for us to note that attitudes towards women’s rights are, evidently, still to be rectified. But the sudden outpouring of allegations in the past year makes us question, why now?

One can only surmise at this point, that one reason is the mood of our times. Today’s social media culture is one that no doubt helps with the publicising of women’s rights. Social media presents a space where women are free to take control of their own bodies and voices. The selfie culture, another addition to the social media world is a powerful tool. In this era, one where the boundaries between the male and female worlds are gradually being broken down, the opening of the world through technology no doubt assists with the re-structuring of power. And women are embracing it.

What is very apparent in these stories is, that even in the alleged first world, there has been widespread silence and shame surrounding victims of sexual harassment. Perhaps Donald Trump’s election into office with a sexual misconduct case pending, is a benefit if it did indeed spark the disgust of women and gave them the confidence to speak out against other powerful men who see themselves as above the law. The fact that this year has seen such a large number of sexual harassment cases coming to the fore is also a positive sign for the younger generation. It marks the coming of age of a generation who can now state confidently that sexual misconduct is no longer to be regarded as a norm. And it says to youths, that they have the power to affirm and claim their rights against even the most powerful of men.

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