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Want a future free from violence against women? #MeToo

October 23 2017 By MARY BARRY, OUR WATCH CEO

I overheard a conversation that was both bone-chilling and hopeful this week.

#Metoo Image

It was a discussion between hundreds of thousands of women, and an encouraging – though much smaller – number of men, on social media.

The conversation was sparked by a tweet from an actor. The tweet, in turn, was prompted by yet another revelation that Harvey Weinstein, whose iconic films have touched so many of our lives, abused his position of power to touch women who didn’t want him to.

He did it for decades, it seems, in full view of his peers, who did nothing to stop him.

The tweet came from Hollywood actor and producer Alyssa Milano. She urged women to use the hashtag #metoo if they’d ever been sexually harassed or abused, to show the magnitude of a problem that reaches well beyond the movie industry.

Her entreaty was shared tens of thousands of times in just 24 hours across social media channels. Six million people are talking about it on Facebook right now. On Twitter, 200 or so new tweets spring up every couple of minutes when the page refreshes.

Similar hashtags quickly emerged in other languages like the French #balancetonporc – or ‘squeal on your pig’, #YoTambien in Spanish and #янебоюсьсказати in Ukrainian.

All those tweets and posts are from women with the access and the ability to express themselves online, who have literacy skills and possess more freedom than millions of others worldwide who might say ‘me too’, if they could. Adding to the potential number of victims are all those who don’t feel able or ready to share their trauma.

As SBS presenter Jan Francis put it, the magnitude of the response comes as a surprise, except to literally every woman.

The fact that a staggering majority of women and non-binary people around us have experienced harassment and abuse is easily traced back to one major driver: gender inequality.

No matter the cultural, social or economic context, men frequently victimise women and others they perceive as weak or different because they have been taught to view them as lesser, as undeserving of respect.

Commentator Anne Victoria Clark used a giant, muscular action movie star to illustrate this perfectly: if you don’t know how not to sexually harass a female colleague, she advised readers, simply imagine she’s The Rock, and treat her the way you might treat him. Adding fear of physical retribution to the equation changes it completely.

Fortunately, gender inequality is something we can fix, and Our Watch along with many other organisations are working hard to do so. But before talking about the solution, I’d like to draw attention to how ubiquitous the problem of gender inequality is.

Yes, even today, even in Australia. And we need look no further than prime-time TV.

Just this week, much-respected presenter Lisa Wilkinson resigned after Channel Nine refused to pay her the same salary as her male co-host, Karl Stefanovic.

Over on Network Ten’s The Bachelorette, a contestant who’d behaved belligerently from his very first meeting with Sophie Monk openly admitted that although he swears, he doesn’t want to be with a woman who does the same. When asked what he looked for in a partner, he commented on little more than how important it was that she look good.

On the same show, a contestant was presented by three young boys as their lovable and slightly daggy Uncle Sam only to spend an entire date openly eyeballing Monk’s breasts and commenting on them, ignoring her repeated requests to cut it out. He was then surprised that Monk seemed reluctant to spend time alone with him.

After the episode aired, five women came forward to report that he’d been emotionally abusive both during and after their relationships with him. Not a great role model for young boys, but a terribly common one.  

That’s why the #metoo hashtag has spread wildly and widely. Millions of men victimise women because they are taught from a tender age that they can, or that they must if they are to be perceived as ‘real men’.

And if The Bachelorette seems a bad place to look for the truth, one need only listen in to the other side of this week’s mass, global online conversation, the #ihave hashtag.

Several thousand men, also in a few languages, responded to the overwhelming number of #metoos popping up on their feeds by taking responsibility for their own abusive actions. They described groping women in nightclubs or on the street, using physical strength or emotional manipulation to get sex, insulting women who rejected their advances, taking advantage of inebriated women or even getting them drunk on purpose, standing by while their friends harassed female passers-by, or joking about rape.

It was sickening reading, but it also gave me hope. The men who posted #ihave statuses showed that they know their actions caused pain and long-lasting damage. They showed that they want to be part of a future where women no longer need to fear violence.

To the #ihaves, I say this: I am glad we’re having this conversation. We’ve needed to have it for a long time. It has brought firmly into the spotlight the immense need for boys and girls to learn what respectful relationships look like, from an early age.

Research shows that the younger children are when they begin to learn to treat each other equally and respectfully, the lower the rate of gendered crime later in life.  

To the #metoos – both voiced and silent – hang in there, and be kind to yourselves.

We will stop abuse before it starts, with gender equality. We will stop it by calling out our friends when they mistreat someone, by teaching our children how to behave with each other, by paying women in our employ the same as their male colleagues, and by putting the emphasis on the perpetrator, rather than the victim, when reporting on sexual assault.

This week’s #metoos were a reflection of the huge mission lies that before us, but the #ihaves showed that as men and women we can unite in our resolve to achieve it.