I have been following the news like everyone else, interested to see who will be the next Hollywood heavyweight called out. The names of men accused of sexual harassment or sexual assault keep coming.
Hashtag activism is creating a historic shift in momentum. Finally, women’s voices are being heard, and survivors’ stories are being believed. This shift has accelerated since I published my book, One Hour in Paris (2014), about my experience as a rape survivor.
Since then, we’ve seen allegations against men in fields as varied as technology, sports, academia, politics and media. But it’s perhaps particularly significant that the entertainment industry lead the charge, given the influence of celebrity culture and the relative privilege of Hollywood actresses. We think, even these women have been subjected to this?—as if women in positions of power would be inoculated from harassment and assault.
But no, women in all industries face injustice and inequality in the workplace (I say this within days of Iceland becoming the first country to make it illegal to pay men more than women for the same job).
A 2017 study by Insights West found more than half of working women in Canada have experienced sexual harassment on the job; many didn’t report it for fear of being labelled a troublemaker.
But now, it seems, women are emboldened. And the sheer number of stories we’re hearing is reshaping our understanding of workplace harassment. It is clear that this experience is not a one-off, something that happens to just some kinds of people in some kinds of jobs, but rather it is a widespread pattern of behaviour—a sociological phenomenon—that occurs because we, as a society, continue to accept victim-blaming norms and other problematic practices that are harmful to women.
When I hear these stories, I think about those women who haven’t come forward, the ones who don’t feel safe or supported, the ones who don’t feel that they will be believed. I see them in the audience at book readings, and I remember being one of them.
Even when #metoo and #timesup prove too trendy, I hope the benefits of this period of hashtag activism will endure. I hope we will refuse to tolerate sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace (and elsewhere), and that we will see greater funding for social services, more safe spaces to talk, and institutional anti-harassment policies that have teeth.