Life Health & Wellbeing

Wednesday 18 September 2019

Dr Patricia Casey: Is all sexual harassment equal?

Dr Patricia Casey
Dr Patricia Casey

Patricia Casey

The recent publicity concerning the sexual harassment of women is filled with contradictions and contentions that any debating society worth their salt should discuss. Here are some of the dilemmas and contradictions that have emerged as this debate continues in the media.

I found myself standing for a photo-op at a professional function a few years ago and just as the camera clicked, I felt a sting in my derriere.

A man, unknown to me, looked at me and gave a sly wink. There and then I turned to him and in earshot of the group advised him that his behaviour in pinching me was reprehensible and that he should never treat me, or any other woman, in that manner.

If he ever did it to me again, I told him, I would hit him. I said that I was now heading off to find my husband and inform him of what had happened.

The man followed, sheepishly, behind me, and after I recounted the incident to my husband, the pincher apologised to both of us.

He repeated the apology in person, and also by email.

So, according to the feminist sisterhood, I should be one of the #MeToo community. But no, I'm not.

What this vile man did was unacceptable and I shamed him in front of others.

My robust response to his pathetic attempt at flirtation, or humiliation, or whatever was driving his troubled mind, gave me control.

I did not feel I was a victim. So one question is, what is victimhood - where does it begin and end?

Do groupings like #MeToo help or hinder women's responses to unwanted sexual advances?

The second issue relates to the hypocrisy of some members of the sisterhood with regard to the abuse of underage girls. When Roman Polanski, the darling of the progressives in Hollywood, was accused of child sexual abuse, many turned a blind eye. Now another allegation against him has emerged.

And Harvey Weinstein, a contributor to "progressive causes", is hoping to garner some sympathy from his contribution to these. He has been attempting to deflect from his heinous behaviour towards women by painting himself as a, generally, thoroughly good guy fighting oppression and contributing to women's rights organisations such as Planned Parenthood and anti-poverty groups.

So, why is it that now the progressive ticket may be on the wane among those who previously ignored such crime, even in the face of obvious defilement?

The third question for our debating society relates to the type of harassment contained in recent media reports.

These have varied from having a hand placed on ones knee (journalist Julia Hartley Brewer) to being raped (several of the alleged victims of Harvey Weinstein).

Another MP, complaining of being cold, was told by her male colleague that he knew where she could put her hands to warm them up!

Yet all of these behaviours are being lumped into one great amorphous example of men's misogyny.

People have been sacked and now we learn that one member of the Welsh Parliament may have taken his life following dismissal due to undisclosed allegations of harassment.

But surely the punishment must fit the crime. Touching a knee is much less serious than demanding demeaning sex. Commenting that weight loss has made somebody more desirable sexually is less serious than groping a woman's breasts.

But no matter what the crime (and many of these are potentially criminal offences) all are deemed to be equal, according to the commentariat.

But there are variations in their impact that relate to the emotional strength of the person subjected to such behaviour.

I accept that my assertive response to the pincher comes from my personality and I have not suffered any emotional consequences.

But we live in a world with vulnerable people and for some - such as those previously abused or violated emotionally, dealing with behaviours - even simple comments, or knee touching, could be devastating. I have seen these in my work with victims of sexual abuse.

How can these personal narratives be incorporated into how the law responds to such cases?

Finally, if we accept that all of these unacceptable behaviours against women are responded to similarly by us, as the current media narrative seems to be suggesting, are we endangering women's own sense of our individuality, power and strength?

In so doing is an impression being created that all women are "snow-flakes" and employment opportunities, as well as ordinary social encounters where people chat, flirt and even joke comfortably are likely to be impaired?

Please discuss!

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