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Sexual harassment, abuse – Weinstein’s groping revives a global campaign

CAPE TOWN — It’s probable that the backlash against the #MeToo campaign, revived by actress Alyssa Milano after being sexually abused by Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein, is premised on the falsehood that it’s all feminist propaganda worthy of a “similar” response. But as Marianne Thamm argues with a cool precision fuelled by being born into an angry sisterhood which immediately understands what she’s talking about, anything that disrupts or unsettles a particular worldview or status quo requires labelling. Tags such as ‘hysterical,‘unfair,’ or ‘gross generalisation,’ are confetti thrown by men quick to paint themselves as victims of some feminist campaign. The same responses play out among racists, whatever their colour. So, are men from Mars and women from Venus? Research shows there’s no sharp division between male and female brains – we’re all a mixture. Analysis of the brain scans of more than 1400 men and women found that while some features are more common in one sex than the other, each person’s brain has a unique “mosaic” of these features, as well as others seen commonly in both. What being campaigned against in #MeToo is global, endemic, patriarchal abuse. Nothing less. If you don’t think it’s an issue, you’re probably part of the problem. (This story is reproduced per kind favour of The Daily Maverick.) – Chris Bateman

By Marianne Thamm

That so many men appear not to have noticed the parallel universe women are forced to live in every day is a testament to how much more is needed to keep this #MeToo rebellion rolling.

There appears to be, among a certain set, a sense of utter shock, surprise as well as a measure of sadness at the deluge of #MeToo posts that have gone viral on social media across the globe since actress Alyssa Milano reactivated a 10-year-old campaign after speaking out about her abuse by Hollywood sleazebag producer Harvey Weinstein. The campaign has made visible what women across the world experience daily as casual and routine, and the backlash, muted as it has been so far, has been predictable.

File Photo: Harvey Weinstein speaks with an attendee in the audience ahead of the first U.S. presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York on September 26, 2016. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Perhaps there is a clinical diagnosis for it. That peculiar human affliction that results in the receiver of uncomfortable information which disrupts or unsettles a worldview or status quo, to turn this around and subvert or undermine it through inserting themselves into the narrative, rendering themselves as potential victims. It is either that, or the need to diminish the revelation as either “hysterical”, “unfair” or “a gross generalisation”.

White people do it when black people call out racism. Not content with embracing or learning from the #BlackLivesMatter campaign which attempted to excavate systemic global race and class privilege, some white people whinged and responded with #NotAllWhites or #AllLivesMatter or #Whataboutreverseracism.

This defensive and decidedly narcissistic response shuts down dialogue and is aimed at deflecting and obfuscating an issue instead of embracing a moment, a rupture, in order to strive for more clarity, greater understanding and a longing for change and healing.

Hopefully the #MeToo campaign will gain greater momentum across the world. Maybe it will be a tipping point for priapic predators like Donald Trump, Jacob Zuma, Harvey Weinstein, Bob Hewitt, Bill Cosby, Bill Clinton (there are enough famous names to fill an entire column) as well as the millions of unnamed, ordinary men who daily encroach on our freedom, our space, our very personhood and see nothing wrong with their entitled, violent behaviour.

They do not see or do not care how this diminishes our world. Or perhaps that is the unconscious collective aim of it all. To render us immobile and useless with fear.

All forms of patriarchy, deeply etched on the fabric of societies across the globe, offer men this delusion of grandeur. This is the root of the problem that entrenches this dangerous sense of entitlement over the lives and bodies of women and girls.

It took a bit of time for those men who are unaccustomed to being questioned or called out to raise their thoughts and voices about the #MeToo campaign.

Predator. More of Zapiro’s brilliant work available at www.zapiro.com.

The mildest of responses are captured in comments that the campaign is an “irritation” because it paints “all men as abusers” and that it is somehow the amplification on social media of the issue that has “distorted” the extent of the global scourge.

The crudest and perhaps most visceral response has been from those men who have expressed a terror at being “falsely accused of rape” – a fear that is completely unfounded judging by global statistics.

Well, for these men we offer this advice.

If that is all you have to worry about then count yourself lucky. If you wake up irritated or anxious that you might be falsely accused of rape – because, really, the system for women is so user-friendly – then suck it up. If you are not (a rapist or abuser) then you have nothing to worry about. Besides, the courts are well favoured towards men.

If you feel the need to offload that one incident when a woman passed a “sexist” comment at you or when that one predatory woman made a play for you, be grateful.

We as women, as girls, must each day step into the world and deal with perpetual and constant clear and present danger. As you can glean from the #MeToo campaign, the abuse not only emanates from the unwelcome glances, touches and whispers from men we might know or who are directly in our obit.

The fear is with us always, everywhere.

We have learnt to live with it, find ways of calming it, of training our minds to seek, when out in public, ways of fleeing the threat, ways of retaliating.

The coiled and ready fight or flight instinct for women is a daily reality.

Those of us who have not been crippled by it have learnt to use it as a weapon. And sometimes that challenge will get us killed. You never quite know which way it will go.

Daily there is the threat of the predatory sexual advance, the threatened violence should you refuse or ignore it, the sight of the masturbator lurking near the women’s toilets, the dick rubbed up against you on the train, the whispers as we pass a man lingering in a doorway or who struts past us on a crowded sidewalk.

It is there when we want to jog by ourselves, walk home in the dark, stroll in a forest, linger on a beach at twilight, catch a train, wait for a bus or taxi, travel anywhere alone.

Daily we deal with manspread on planes, other forms of public transport, in the movie theatre or the taxi. We endure the mansplaining by men entitled beyond measure, their confidence undiminished by their mediocrity, lack of talent or modest intelligence.

Read also: Herbst: History of protecting sexual predators exposed, shatters ANC myths

It is having your comments ignored or dismissed only to have these self same ideas welcomed when a male colleague repeats it all a short while later.

If all you fear as a man is being falsely accused of rape or of being labelled or outed as predator or abuser, then this is a burden that should be easy to bear. You most certainly won’t be getting up each new dawn wondering how many women today will randomly accuse you.

If you find it hard to carry this burden, ask one of us for help. We, as women, have found ways of carrying across generations burdens that are not ours.

What the #MeToo campaign has proved is that Harvey Weinstein is not an aberration, he is an example of the norm, of the status quo. He could be you.

That so many men appear not to have noticed the parallel universe women are forced to live in every day is a testament to how much more is needed to keep this #MeToo rebellion rolling.

Bookending. Redi Tlhabi’s ‘Khwezi’ reminds SA what was lost in the fire. More magic available at www.zapiro.com.

Rapists and abusers must be named and shamed. And while many are not shamed or are so powerful they are capable of destroying the lives of the accuser – and we have Khwezi as just one example in South Africa – we hope that we have reached a global tipping point.

In 2016 the #RUReference which list named and shamed male students who had abused women at Rhodes University unleashed a ripple of terror among some.

“But what happened to innocent until proven guilty?” cried critics of the campaign instead of working to stop the epidemic of rape and femicide in South Africa.

Read also: Ed Herbst: Vytjie’s Zuma revelations highlight ANC’s history of sexual abuse

When a group of bare-breasted women came for those predators, one of whom holed himself up in his residence, they were accused of being lawless “vigilantes”  seeking mob justice.

If you have been surprised at the extent of the posts by women speaking out and inspired by the #MeToo campaign, you are part of the problem, you are a wilfully blind bystander, you aid and abet a code of conduct – and it is a code – that threatens the existence of the lives of over half of human kind.

After this you cannot say you never knew. 

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