By Yvonne Sam
Now for the sake of the coming generation we must, from here onwards, inspect how we teach sexual respect.
It is blatantly apparent that the time of reckoning for sexual harassment and sexual miscreants has finally arrived. Every day, the name of a new high-powered figure is added to the chorus of accusers and accusations, ultimately bringing, in its wake, shame and career-altering consequences.
Along with Harvey Weinstein; Bill Cosby; Kevin Spacey; Bill O’Reilly; Roger Ailes; L.A Reid; Ben Affleck; Dustin Hoffman; George H. W. Bush; Alabama judge Roy Moore; Charlie Rose; Brett Ratner; Disney Executive, George Lasseter; Comedian Louis C.K.; US senator Al Franken; Congressman John Conyers; and the latest, NBC Today co-host Matt Lauer, an unmistakable sign that methods formerly used by political figures, stars, top executives, directors and producers to cover up their wrongdoings, is just not working any more.
The proclivity for paying hush money to victims, and forcing them to sign heavy-handed, non-disclosure agreements, can no longer buy silence. The veil of secrecy has been rent and a very clear message is being sent.
The latest surge of females, such as Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd, Kate Beckinsale and Mira Sorvino, stepping forward from the Harvey Weinstein fallout, has certainly flipped the script on a culture that has become ingrained in many industries, across the board.
Abuse and mistreatment of women extend far beyond Hollywood. In a survey, conducted in 2015 by Cosmopolitan Magazine, of 2,235 female workers, one in three were victims of sexual harassment in the workplace.
The survey also found that less than a third of women reported the harassment and only 15% felt the report of harassment was handled fairly.
Dating from the 1970’s and onwards, the concept of sexual harassment, in its modern understanding, was a relatively new one, only being brought to public attention in the late 1970’s through pioneer organizations — Working Women’s Institute along with the Alliance Against Sexual Coercion.
The term, nevertheless, remained largely unknown until the early 1990s, when Anita Hill witnessed and testified against U. S Supreme Court nominee, Judge Clarence Thomas.
Now — amid much perturbation surrounding unwarranted masturbation, exposed parts, lewd calls, obscene gestures, sexually graphic comments, groping and not coping — there still remain several unanswered questions, such as what created this environment, and who is prepared to step forward and change it.
Lip service, anonymous accusations, or open scandals are certainly not the answer.
Changes in workplace policies, revised legislation, abhorrence of silence in known cases of harassment, and greater employer demands, among other measures, may serve only as a panacea.
The existing moral atrocities and the ensuing toxic tidal wave have not only aroused an undying hunger for justice, but a countervailing pressure to try and remedy the problem for the next generation.
It is somewhat pathetic, that so many years after the feminist revolution, we have to teach men how to speak and behave in the presence of females, or, in more specific terms, how not to be a cad.
Let us momentarily shift our attention to the ages of the men who have fallen from shepherds in disgrace to becoming mere sheep — they are either nearing retirement age, well past it, or far from being able to set a decent pace in any race.
Our children have been taught to be wary of strangers, no going or showing, and certainly no taking of gifts or lifts. Even now our children are still being taught to shout “’Stranger! Danger!” when they are either in fear of being taken or forced against their will.
With all the displayed silence surrounding the current sexual harassment saga, as our kids transition into adulthood, how do we teach them to speak up and let their voices be heard? Where do we start, with society poised to play what part?
Future generations will look back on this recent tsunami of sexual upheavals and see an industry that allowed the powerful to prey on the powerless, and the multitude that were able to detect but failed to protect.
Grown adults, who used their fame and access to the industry as a conduit in manipulating young males and females into having sex with them, or getting them to do things against their will. And what’s with the locking of females in hotel rooms and blocking of hotel doors.
Yes, the younger generation will most certainly wonder how supposedly rational people could have yielded, so easily, to collective insanity. Adults turned their backs on the sexual morass that was slowly engulfing them, allowing it to enlist them as its agents.
Sexual abuse is a consistent and omnipresent feature of the workforce, and firing or suspending an individual will not stop it from happening again.
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the first Black president of South Africa, said that, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. So from a very young age, the male and female population in our society should be informed of this prevalent problem, and the process of changing the mindset put into effect through the implementation of well-planned lessons.
Parents will now be called upon to play a greater role, and be seen as symbols in whom their daughters can confide, rather than someone from whom they will their secret hide. Be their friend and not their foe, for a lot of secrets you soon will know.
They should also be taught to immediately walk away when inappropriate behavior comes into play.
Sexual harassment will not reach a peak if every victim vows to speak, not many years after the fact, but if unavoidable, immediately after the act.
Yvonne Sam, a retired Head Nurse and Secondary School Teacher, is Vice-president of the Guyana Cultural Association of Montreal. A regular columnist for over two decades with the Montreal Community Contact, her insightful and incursive articles on topics ranging from politics, human rights and immigration, to education and parenting have also appeared in the Huffington Post, Montreal Gazette, XPressbogg and Guyanese OnLine. She is also the recipient of the Governor General of Canada Caring Canadian Citizen Award.