Why we need a different approach to sexual harassment in Asia
Since #MeToo became viral, following the Harvey Weinstein allegations and all that’s followed, including Cindy Gallop asking the advertising industry to name and shame perpetrators, I’ve been thoughtfully following the conversations and listening carefully.
Please listen to this podcast – Cindy Gallop on Weinstein, Trump & The Watershed For Women
For me, it’s felt like a watershed moment – one where real change is possible. An opportunity to move humanity forward, to move equality forward, and for all of us to up our game. It’s a time for women, and anyone who feels oppressed, to claim our voice and our power.
I believe that #MeToo is very important. So now we must think carefully about how we move forward to ensure this change sticks.
But first, let me tell you a story….
My first job after university was as a Musician in the Australian Army. It was a very interesting experience, and towards the end of my service, I had two very weird incidents (over a period of months) with senior men. Both were acting inappropriately, and it was uncomfortable dealing with it.
Because I was in the military, I was powerless, and so I decided I had no choice but to use it as an opportunity to move into a role I wanted for my future – working in the Defence PR department.
At the time, the second in command could see what was going on and he was pleased (relieved) I came to him with a solution. He knew that no one was going to win – especially me. The two men had distinguished careers, and they weren’t serial harassers, they just decided they liked me. Additionally, by taking the steps I did, I knew I wasn’t leaving other women open to harm – something I could never do.
In my new role in the Defence PR department, I was asked to handle a sexual harassment case that was getting a lot of media attention. A female Private claimed a colonel was harassing her. She lost the case and her career. However, I went through basic training with this lady and I knew that if she said it was happening, then it was happening. I felt deeply disappointed for her and hope she picked herself up and reached her full potential after this experience. Most can not.
The challenge with this case was, I had to take calls from the media and I couldn’t lie to them. It was awful. I knew the claims were true, but it’s not like freedom of speech was my right! So I told my boss I couldn’t handle this case, because of my personal knowledge, and thankfully, didn’t have to. But it was an eye-opener for me. It backed up my own initial experiences and presumptions, plus it gave me a broader perspective on sexual harassment, how the victim is often dealt with/written about, and how the perpetrator is regularly believed/supported.
Lure of the hieroglyphics
During this time, I did my first solo trip overseas. I went to Egypt, Jordan and Israel. My word, what a place to start your international travel as a young, blonde woman! I avoided being raped by the skin of my teeth in Egypt twice, and was grabbed, mauled, leered at and more, the whole time I was there.
But I learned to fight back. I punched a lot of men in those days and I noticed they hate women fighting back – not worth it. Naturally, I don’t encourage other women to put themselves in harm’s way by taking this action, but it certainly worked for me then and later. I’d do it again and again.
By the end of this trip, I was so bloody sick of being grabbed and mauled I tell you. And then, on my last days, walking through the Cairo Museum, a young man came straight up to me and “grabbed me by the pussy.” Absolute RAGE bolted through me, and I punched him so hard, he literally lifted off the ground and flew across the room – my Arnold Schwarzenegger moment.
I can assure you, no woman likes to be grabbed by the pussy.
Abuse starts young
Of course, like most women, this stuff didn’t start in adult hood, there were dirty bastards throughout childhood too. Filthy creeps on the street, and filthier bastards closer to home. We all laughed it off with our sisters and friends, but equally, when we tried to raise it with our parents, they didn’t even want to acknowledge it. It didn’t exist in their mind.
As an example, we played in a concert band run by a convicted paedophile. Every single week my sister and I endured him sitting next to us, trying to fondle our boobs. Our dad was there, so nothing worse happened, although we did learn how to keep our elbows in tight… But we didn’t see him as a threat back then. He was just a dirty old bastard.
However, I often wonder how the hell I got out of my childhood without something very serious happening to me. The majority of my childhood friends were not so lucky. Raped by grandfathers or fathers. Molested by older brothers. Filthy uncles or Dads’ best friend. We didn’t laugh that off with them though, because we didn’t even know it was happening until we were adults. That was never talked about you see.
To fathers of daughters, believe me, it’s hard enough developing as a young woman, without all of that bullshit going on. I mean, can you possibly imagine what it’s like to be playing with dolls one day (a child – simple, innocent and as far away from being sexual as you can possibly get) to literally everything changing overnight – because you have boobs sprouting? One day you are invisible and the next, you are interacting with men you’ve known all your life, but they now have a look of desire in their eyes. It is revolting! It’s also why I took up body building. I hated that look from those men. I would do anything to stop it, even build gigantic muscles.
I learnt to fight
All women have a combination of these types of experiences, so when I look back over my early career, as well as my travel, I think I’m lucky, because it made me strong. I learnt to be tough and to take no nonsense. Maybe beating off a few rapists gave me that confidence, I don’t know?
I’ve also refused to stay silent if I see anything untoward. No one has the right to mess with another person, or use their power over a junior. No one. How those people are given the opportunities and space to rise is beyond me. But then, someone capable of that is always very sly and careful in how they go about it.
Which is why we need to make sure there is the space to speak up, so we can identify the perpetrators and make sure they don’t harm anyone else. Deviants are always manipulative and know how to keep their victims within their control.
It is always devastating to someone on the receiving end.
Starting my global career
After the army, I worked in PR in the Australian aerospace industry, and then tech PR in the UK and US – where clients tended to be the biggest issue, versus colleagues. But I could handle it. After that, I moved to Asia to work in marketing services, which evolved into content marketing, and throughout. I haven’t experienced anything bad.
While I didn’t experience anything bad, I know abuse is happening more than is acknowledged. Too many Asian female friends have told me stories (specifically) of Caucasian men harassing them, which disturbs me. I’m not talking about misinterpreted behaviour, I’m talking about leery, unwanted, undesired approaches. The men in question are always the type of guys that would NEVER get away with such bullshit in their home countries – which is probably why they are in Asia. They are predators after all.
But it is not just Asian women who have told me these stories in this region. All races of women have told me stories of things going on here, and it’s not just Caucasian perpetrators either. There is a bigger problem.
To be clear, most blokes I’ve worked with, around the world, have been awesome, but I’ve had knocks on hotel doors during business trips, married men hoping on some action while away from home, my willingness to engage in conversation and being nice interpreted as something more, I could go on… It happens. It’s always happened.
The difference for me is, I always felt in control. Not everyone has that. Many have never been encouraged to develop it.
So what can we do about it?
All of this makes me think, based on these conversations, should I have done more? Could I? I often wasn’t even working with friends who spoke to me, and as a rule, most of these ladies did everything they could to get themselves out of compromising positions – including leaving jobs, which is not the solution. We must stop these people.
Maybe we need to listen more? You see, women always share with each other who the dirty bastards are, so we can all avoid them. Perhaps that is what we must pay attention to? Think of it as the female version of “locker room talk.”
However, when it comes down to it, women do what we’ve always done – we laugh it off together. Why wouldn’t we? We’ve been laughing stuff off together since we were small.
But it is the ones who don’t talk that we should be most concerned for – as we learnt from our childhoods. I believe this is especially critical in cultures where shame is attached to anything considered sexually “inappropriate.” They are the ones in real danger, because how can they ever speak up for fear of the shame it will bring on them? And if they can’t speak up, how can we make sure they are safe?
Shame is a more unique reality for our region and we must think of these ladies; whose much greater fear is that of shaming their family and community. We have to help them while protecting them from this life-destroying shame, which is much worse than enduring abuse for many.
Please, call me
To those ladies enduring any form of harassment, please know, the perpetrators are weak, and pathetic, so if you feel safe, stand up to them, embarrass them, and publicly shame them. Let go of the polite girl for once. We all have her inside.
If you can’t do it, tell someone you trust who can help you. And seriously, if you have nowhere else to go, call me – and I mean it. Call me.
In fact, shall we gather together and be a champion for women unable to raise their voices? Perhaps the hashtag #IGotYourBack can identify us?
If I could help make sure that the women (and men) in our industry feel they have somewhere safe to speak about what they are enduring, so we can act and change things, I’d feel I achieved something real. I believe we have different challenges in Asia and we must be aware of that. It’s hard enough for Western women to speak up (which is apparent by how Roy Moore’s accusers are being treated), so we must acknowledge that it is even harder in this region, and because of that, it needs a different approach.
I don’t want a witch hunt, I just want to clean out these arseholes from our ranks, so the rest of us can get on with being awesome!
Ladies, please, don’t stay silent. Speak to us.
Because, you know, #MeToo
A shorter version of this was published on Mumbrella Asia.
#MeToo image courtesy of Shutterstock
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