Human instinct is an extraordinary thing. At the first hint of danger or threat, it kicks in our flight or fight response, a significant reaction which has probably ensured the existence of mankind throughout the millennia. Now that we must no longer deal with prehistoric beasts that threaten our modern lifestyle, it seems that our innate capacity for sensing danger has been blunted. Why do I say this?
With the rallying cry of the #metoo movement and the more recent #WhyIDidntReport, raging across America and slowly filtering down across Europe, not a week goes by when another rape/indecent assault allegation does not make it to the headlines, our own home turf included. Where to begin? Ever since the Hollywood mogul, Harvey Weinstein, has been outed as an alleged rapist by dozens of female celebrities, an unprecedented wave of outrage has seen women from all walks of life come forward to put a halt to what was historically seen as ‘normal’ behaviour within certain circles.
Sexual harassment in any way, shape or form has been tolerated by generations of women all over the world, well beyond the confines of gilded Hollywood. It has permeated our way of life, long before Harvey Weinstein was put on a stand. We all have stories, albeit of varying degrees of horror to tell and yet many of us, the vast majority actually, remain silent. Why the silence? Why have we, for generations on end, preferred to go about our daily life as if nothing had happened, after occurrences which at their least serious have made us uncomfortable, but which always leave the victim feeling distraught.
How many of us, have had to walk into an office on a daily basis, where sexual innuendo was part of the narrative every single day and where you were ordered to be ‘friendly’ because the all-important client (a well-known womaniser) was coming for a meeting? How many times as a young girl, have you had to choose to alight from a bus, even if your stop is still miles away or else suffer the indignity of being inappropriately rubbed against by the slimy man standing behind you? Not life-threatening scenarios, far from it, but events which leave an indelible mark on your subconscious. It would have been glorious if you could tell your boss to stick his attitude to where the sun doesn’t shine and live happily ever after. But until a few years ago, being that kind of assertive would have inevitably cost you your job.
Compared to serious sexual offences, these are minor grievances but when the world seems to be suffering from a ‘Madonna complex’, it is quite clear why very few women, victims of sex crimes come forward to recount their tale. A simple read through of the commentary boards this past week, as well as social media threads regarding the John Suda case, is more than enough to convince that we are a long way away from eradicating sexual harassment in all its levels and for girls and women to come forward…
She should have walked out. She was twenty-two, not exactly a child. Didn’t she sense that something dodgy was afoot? She should have never taken off her clothes… Yes, she should’ve, but for reasons which only women who have been in that very same situation can identify with, instinct is not something we fall back upon at such moments especially when this very scenario is being played out with a person you trust and respect. No matter how much your instinct screams ‘foul play’, the very fact that the perpetrator is a respected member of the community, makes you question that very instinct which is triggering your flight or fight response.
But let’s backtrack for a moment… For centuries, women have been considered as either Madonnas or whores, with a very little grey area in between; in simple terms, even in 2018, you are either a good girl or bad. Good girls are wife material, the kind of women who dress, speak and act appropriately, all of the time, no matter the circumstance. Bad girls on the other hand, are the total opposite of appropriate, getting themselves into all sorts of tricky situations, which they have no one but themselves to blame for.
This has been ingrained in our collective minds since forever. If this was not the case, why is the sexual history, the mode of dress or the level of sobriety of a rape victim an issue in any court case? Why has the sexual history of a local woman, murdered by her partner, just a few weeks ago been splayed across the news? Is it relevant? Does this prop the defence of the perpetrator? It seems as if it does and how. Because as the narrative goes, if the victim did not have a colourful history/was dressed appropriately/was sober, then she would have surely avoided the outcome.
What are we to do? It would be very easy to blame the way our justice system operates with the way sexual offences are handled, tried and sentenced. But I believe, the answer to halt these crimes against women, big or small, which happen with impunity every single day in a variety of scenarios, lies elsewhere. Our collective mindset needs a huge overhaul. We need to educate our children, our girls, that human instinct is an asset they should nurture and when something does not feel right, it oftentimes isn’t. Girls need to believe, that no matter how much they trust the other person, no matter how respected, no matter how adult, no matter how famous, they should follow their gut feeling and if this says, ‘get out’, just do it pronto, because it might be the only safeguard they have against ending up as easy prey.
We need to educate our boys, that it’s not ok to joke about a girl’s physical appearance. It’s not ok to use disparaging language when talking about them and locker room talk is belittling them as well. They need to learn that double standards are a thing of the past. A girl can have as many notches on her bedpost as a boy and more if she chooses to, without fear of being seen as being ‘up for it’ with just anyone. A girl can wear whatever she wants without the fear of harassment and most of all boys need to understand from a very young age, that there is only one meaning for ‘no’ and that is, an unequivocal NO!