16 Days of Activism 2017
25 Nov – 10 Dec
#MeToo has become a battlecry platform for women and girls to share their personal stories of abuse and harassment by men across time and place.
A concept, which due to the immediacy and accessibility of social media platforms, spread instantaneously. Yes we can Google the horrific figures, but only when we hear the personal narratives of hundreds of women we truly know, does the magnitude of the abuse pandemic hit home.
I would imagine if you entered a room where women in any numbers were gathered and asked them to raise their hands if they had NOT experienced abuse, rape or harassment in their lives – there would be very few hands in the air.
#MeToo has allowed women who have been silent for decades: embarrassed, uncertain, ashamed and isolated to add their voice and join the sisterhood bond of shared experiences.
The therapy and the cathartic release must be immensely liberating. #MeToo has been an unexpectedly astonishing powerful tool – putting faces and names to the statistics and to open difficult conversations.
As a parallel to our own stories, the outing of high-profile men in powerful places continues. The frenzy of pent -up accusations continue like boiling larva from a long-dormant volcano. Many no doubt authentic and true, but one is fearful of the temptation to embellish in the frenetic “he-said, she-said” volley of accusations in the quest for a moment of fame, or revenge, or spite.
I remember as a journalism undergrad studying the role of the media in the sex scandal which led to the downfall of Fatty Arbuckle – darling of the silent movie era who was the highest paid actor of his time, and is credited for discovering Buster Keaton, Bob Hope and mentoring Charlie Chaplin. In the 1920s he was accused of raping and accidentally killing a young actress – a scandal which was hungrily fed by the tabloid press of the day. After three very public trials, he was found innocent and acquitted, but his career was in tatters, the press unapologetic, and he never recovered.
So as we embark on the annual 16 Days Campaign – the media landscape is awash with anecdotes, outrage and outings – one wonders now what the next step will be.
The danger is that to continue this narrative thread may further shine the spotlight on the problem. I think it is now time to put our creative heads together to begin to work towards a series of possible solutions: “Leave No One Behind” is the theme suggested by the UN.
Many men who have been overwhelmed and marginalised by this torrent of confession need to be bought into the conversation to find their voices and join us in carrying the campaign flag. We need to teach our boys and affirm our men. The only way forward is to hold hands, not cross arms.
One also needs to be mindful that sexual abuse affects men and women – abuse crosses the gender and sexual -orientation lines – there are instances when men are victims; and women are perpetrators. Defaulting to typical gender stereotypes simplifies the complexity of the abuse narrative.
Working towards a solution is a multi-headed hydra. Mechanisms need to be put into place to encourage, coach and affirm behavioural change. Our education system, faith structures, media, NGOs, civil society, government and arts community need to work together to change the way men and women view each other with respect, dignity and restraint.
A solution cannot be found by women alone. The solution lies within society, within community, within neighbourhoods, within schools, within mosques, churches and temples, within shebeens and sports clubs, within offices and city halls. I want to hear the voices of school principals, comedians, imams, sport-stars, pastors, the person who drives the garbage truck, the waitron who pours drinks in the bar, the security guards, bankers, soap-stars, rap-singers, model-bosses, shopkeepers and sports coaches.
We also need to focus on trigger points: sex workers and the industry around them; drug users and dealers and alcohol abuse. Their stories are intertwined with this one.
Simultaneously there has to be justice for victims and effective, swift, efficient punishment for perpetrators of sexual violence.
Let us pause before we post on social media; let’s not default to outrage, let’s not overly-judge; lets craft our words and pictures to help each other to further this narrative.
Women hold your corner, set the tone, be mindful how others may see you, and how you engage with your partners, fathers, brothers, lovers, neighbours and sons. And find your own support groups or advice-givers when it becomes too hard.
We need to put our resources into formally encouraging behavioural change and affirm success stories. Creative thinkers – we need participative campaigns, programmes and events to support this. Corporates, we need your funding to make this happen. Media , give us space to tell the good stories as well as report on the bad. Mental health practioners, faith leaders; community officials and educators, form lobby groups and task teams. Start conversations from the pulpit, in the classroom and around the water- cooler.
Readers – men and women, young and old, gay and straight, share pointers with us during these 16 days. What ONE thing can we do to fix this. We want to hear from you.
Illa Thompson
Director: Publicity Matters – arts, culture, faith and events publicist.
Ambassador: Diakonia Council of Churches’ Thursdays in Black campaign