‘Me too’ beyond the red carpet

opinion January 13, 2018 01:00

By The Nation

As stirring as the Golden Globes protest was, the fight against sexual harassment needs foot soldiers in every walk of life

Female celebrities wearing black at the annual Golden Globes entertainment awards last weekend represented a strong protest against sexual harassment, which is abundant in the film industry. But the campaign to raise public awareness about the practice and drive home the point that it is wholly unacceptable needs to be expanded to other spheres. It is not only high-profile women who should be able to speak out, but also those with quieter voices.

The campaign has thus far largely focused on and been led by victims who are daring to speak out against abuse. They are part of a culture within the United States and Europe that advocates greater female liberation. The entertainment industry in Thailand, on the other hand, is unlikely to see such a campaign, even though the problem of sexual harassment is understood to be no less severe here.

There are many other workplaces where female employees cannot so readily band together and rise up against their superiors, or hope that the news media will turn the spotlight on their plight. Most victims of sexual harassment suffer in silence. Some are afraid they’ll be laughed at. Others aren’t even certain the aggressors’ improper behaviour is in any way unethical or immoral, let alone illegal.

Thais face a secondary problem on the issue of sexual harassment. Certain behaviour is more acceptable in other cultures than ours. Even when victims are made to feel uncomfortable about the way they’re approached or treated, it might not strike them as cause to complain. And the offenders often genuinely believe they’re entitled to behaving with the opposite gender as they see fit.

The unified statement issued at the Golden Globes should not vanish like a flash in the pan. It should encourage women in all walks of life to take a stand, including those conflicted over cultural differences. The push for greater awareness needs to encompass all sectors of society, ensuring that victims of harassment never need to fight alone.

What happened at the Golden Globes didn’t impress everyone – some critics thought they smelled fakery and contrivance – but it served to confirm that sexual harassment is widespread. As one news commentator said, it showed that movie producer Harvey Weinstein, the exposure of whose horrible conduct got this ball rolling, was “just a rather large and disgusting symptom of an industry-wide cancer”.

Unfortunately, the cancer is far more than “industry-wide”. Sexual harassment pervades all levels of society and is apt to exist wherever there is a power structure. Whether fake or sincere, Hollywood’s black-dress protest helped raise awareness, and many more people still need to be made aware.

The campaign has its motto – “Me too” – which has been a popular hashtag on the social media as women share their personal experiences with this despicable practice. Curtailing or ending sexual harassment, though, will require more than these brave victims speaking out and saying, “Me too.”

Shame, fear and cultural shackles result in many cases of harassment going unreported. Reliable surveys point to large-scale retaliation against those who dare to speak out. For these reasons, the effort against sexual harassment will demand much more bravery and a wholesale adjustment in the public’s attitude. The actresses have stoked the flames, but the real war will be waged far from any red carpet.