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Making gender equality a reality

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Sometime in the near future, when gender equality has been embraced by all of human civilisation, historians might refer to the events of these last few months as the Great Weinstein Fallout .

What started off as a scandal involving allegations of rape and sexual harassment perpetrated by one of Hollywood’s most powerful movie producers has grown into a defining moment for female empowerment in the workplace. Predatory and sleazy behaviours that have long been whispered about and silently accepted are now being confronted, revealing how some men have used their position, reputation, and money to coerce sexual favours from subordinates and colleagues of the opposite sex.

In the wake of the New York Times’ exposé on Harvey Weinstein, shocking accusations have been made against other famous individuals. The list has since grown to include media personalities, politicians, business moguls, and athletes.

Thus far, the reactions and the consequences have been varied. Some of the accused have accepted responsibility, while others have denied any wrongdoing. Some have lost their jobs or have resigned, while others are remaining steadfast in the hope that it will all eventually blow over.

The larger issue at stake here is the culture of male sexual conquest that permeates the workplace. Men are not only faced with the responsibility of changing their attitudes, but are probably wondering whether certain words or actions from their past might come back to haunt them.

I’m going to go out on a limb to express an opinion that will probably upset a lot of readers, women in particular. What bothers me about this current trend of “coming forward” are the circumstances under which accusations are being made.

Years, if not decades, have passed since such encounters occurred pertaining to inappropriate sexual behaviour that may or not be criminal, and little to no actual evidence is being provided by the accusers. It comes down to “he said, she said.” If it were made in a court of law, the case would probably be thrown out. But in the court of public opinion—adjudicated by the 24-hour news cycle—the accused are convicted and their reputation and careers are subsequently destroyed.

Let me be VERY clear—I am in no way defending predatory sexual behaviour. My concern is that the rush to redress the power imbalance against working women could result in an accusatory climate akin to a modern-day Salem Witch Trial.

I am aware this sounds like a perverse contradiction, to laud these events as justice for women and in the same breath espouse caution for the rights of the men. But erring on the side of the victim must not be based on the assumption that the men involved—powerful ones especially—are guilty. This isn’t about casting doubt on victims, but rather a reminder that an expectation of truth must be applied to both parties.

The right to speak out doesn’t automatically equal the right to be believed.

That being said, some women might argue that it’s only fair for the pendulum of credibility to finally swing in their favour. Taking that position endorses the notion that the word of a man is now worth less than a woman’s, essentially doing to one side what the other has been made to endure.

Of course, criminal deeds should be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law. But when it comes to inappropriate behaviours, the conversation taking place will hopefully result in men exercising better judgement.

Getting caught up in exposing the litany of past wrongs may backfire, and instead of engendering respect create misogyny. Beyond the momentary retribution of “coming forward”, this trend must be the catalyst of “moving forward” as well, towards a future where gender equality becomes a reality. Make no mistake—that day is coming, but we mustn’t jeopardise the journey in getting there.

Ryan Hadeed


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