A short dictionary preventing progress
Since October 5th, countless women have come forward to out their perpetrators of sexual harassment and the misogynist working cultures that allow such behaviour to have gone unchallenged for decades.
Despite the ensuing outrage, such revelations are indeed of no surprise to the 1 in 3 women who have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.
The media has reacted with a flurry of excitement at the continuous allegations. A debate has inevitably opened up on the characters of the women involved, an interrogative debate that has no place in the conversation on sexual harassment. However, many supportive articles have been published by the majority of UK tabloid papers, condemning the actions of the perpetrators in exposed industries.
Despite their support, a shared failing on both sides of the debate is found in the language used in media reports. Terminology used by the tabloids invariably has a deeply significant effect on the way we view issues. And the language currently being used is actually a pretty explicit example of why men are able to abuse their power, and women are too scared to report it.
At your handy disposal, we have identified (and are swiftly rejecting) the most popular phrases used in the tabloids to report the systematic sexual abuse of women:
Moment – The ‘Harvey Weinstein Moment’. A title I fear will be used to describe recent reports for years to come. A moment, a slip-up, an excusable one-off. To condense decades of silence on such a universal abuse of power to one single man, and one single moment, is to trivialise the oppression of so many women.
This is not Weinstein’s moment. It doesn’t belong to him. If this is a moment, it belongs to the thousands of women who are bravely taking huge steps towards changing a system built on the backs of their own abuse.
Scandal – a word often associated with the idea of gossip or sordid tales of sleaze, it instinctively makes you want to gasp or say ‘oo-er’. A word that has been used in nearly 100% of articles published by the ‘Independent’ when reporting the sexual harassment. It was even used in their report of Bex Bailey’s rape by a senior member of Labour Party staff.
Succeeding the word ‘rape’ with the word ‘scandal’ is exactly why most women don’t report sexual harassment in the workplace. It dismisses the event as trivial, casually waving away the systematic and institutionalised abuse of women as an event of gossip.
Grey area – We all know why this phrase is dangerous. When we say there’s a blurred line between harassment and flirting, we excuse perpetrators for their behaviour and create a world where women feel they must trivialise traumatic events, to avoid not being taken seriously.
There is no grey area. The man who reacts to news of sexual harassment with such a fearful comment is a guilty man. Men are not stupid. Women are not stupid. There’s a clear difference between a demand from a superior to lift your skirt and a respectful conversation with a colleague that leads to a date. The two aren’t easily confused.
Sexual Predator – A phrase used for both Weinstein and all serial offenders of sexual harassment, the word ‘predator’ is used with intent to condemn. In fact, the word acclimatises us to view sexual harassment as normal. Connotations of biological justification validate such behaviour, and by referencing the food chain we accept it as legitimate practise. The predator eats the prey – that’s simply the way of it.
As the ‘prey’, women are then seen as doomed to their fate. This corrupts public sentiment, assisting attitudes that claim women are soft. Anne Robinson stated there is a “fragility amongst women”, and that her generation had a far more “robust attitude” to men in the workplace. This vitriol is not only archaic, but ultimately victim-blaming. Her entire notion is frankly ridiculous – women are not prey to anyone’s vile actions.
Witch hunt – “You don’t want it to lead to a Salem atmosphere, where every guy in an office who winks at a woman is suddenly having to call a lawyer” – Woody Allen’s comments (recently repeated by Catherine Deneuve and Liam Neeson) demonstrate fear and resistance to progress.
It’s quite simple, really. Witch-hunts between 1450-1750 saw women falsely accused and burned at the stake. 2017-18 is instead seeing men behave atrociously and finally being held account for it. Accept the difference and stop forgetting who the real victims are.
The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of SheFest.