Since the #MeToo movement started, there has scarcely been a week where a high profile male has not been added to the list of the accused for sexual misconduct.
Few of them are publicly defending themselves and the related businesses act swiftly to disassociate themselves from the accused, which seems to indicate prior knowledge of the behaviour.
Many have stated that the business leaders are also guilty, as they put the revenue source above the rights of the women, thereby enabling them to be abused. I agree.
Ensuring a workplace is free of sexual harassment requires that the leaders within possess an inherent capacity to understand the imperative of addressing the #MeToo conversations – a capacity that I believe is on shaky ground for two specific reasons that I can relate to.
The fact remains that creators of profit and holders of power seemingly still get away with bad behaviour. Couple this with the fact that we have an older demographic within the workforce who were raised to tolerate such behaviour, men and women alike, and I suspect those of the younger generation have their work cut out for them in eradicating sexual harassment in the workplace.
I am not saying that only older men behave badly and older women tolerate it, but being of an older generation, I know that a lot of us were raised in an environment of ‘boys will be boys,’ so just avoid them, or suffer the consequences – something I learned at a young age.
My best friend and I went Christmas caroling in the neighbourhood when we were in Grade 5. Yes, this was an era that children still played in the streets unattended by adults and door-to-door caroling by youngsters was the norm.
However, our mothers always told us which houses to stay away from, by simply telling us that Mr. Smith was best left alone.
So, on this night, never knowing why Mr. Smith was best left alone, as sex was not discussed, my friend and I went to his door. After we knocked, we heard Mr. Smith call out to us to wait one minute. He then told us to open the door and come in.
Unsuspecting, we did so, only to see Mr. Smith and all his naked glory splayed out on a chair. Suffice to say, we did not sing, opting instead to run.
Both of us were very upset, but knew that we could not say anything, as we had been told to stay away from him. From that night forward, we crossed to the other side of the street when walking past his house – the first of many experiences as young women that embedded the practice of avoiding and keeping our mouths shut about the perpetrators.
Although the arts seems to be the latest vessel in which the exposure and push back against sexual harassment is being offered, we cannot ignore the fact that we have been watching many public institutions also fall from grace for not addressing sexual harassment.
The RCMP recently settled a sexual harassment class action suit that may involve upwards of 20,000 women. Fire departments and the armed forces are also both in the throes of trying to manage the issue.
Even newly elected politicians now get gender sensitivity training, and having been in that arena, it is long overdue, as it is not without its harassers.
The most powerful country in the world, the United States, elected a self-proclaimed womanizer because he promised to make his country “great again.”
Although millions more Americans voted for Hillary Clinton – a woman who stood by her man when he, too, as president, was outed for being an adulterer – the Electoral College system prevailed and elected Donald Trump into the Oval Office, because middle-class America chose to overlook this behaviour, in part, in hopes of wealth and opportunity.
Every facet of our workforce has men in power positions who can take advantage of women, and too often they do.
You would be hard pressed to find an adult woman who has not had their own experience with sexual harassment, or does not know a woman who has, many of them opting to walk away from a job.
My generation recognized that harassment was wrong, but was programmed to avoid it, as opposed to challenge it. I am not saying that we didn’t challenge it. I took on my boss at a large retail chain that I worked for just out of high school for sexually harassing me and I got transferred to the hinterlands for my efforts. He got promoted.
I am encouraged that the #MeToo movement has given momentum to addressing workplace harassment, in all forms. Good jobs are hard to come by and women are getting tired of being the ones who have to walk away.
But until we un-gender our population, which I have previously written about, we are doomed to ride out the vestiges of earlier generations who harbour a deep seeded belief that power and wealth come with privileges and boys will continue to be boys.
Cheryl Ashlie is a former Maple Ridge school trustee, city councillour, constituency assistant and current
citizen of the year.