Me too: It's not just Hollywood, it's Canada - Macleans.ca
 

Me too: It’s not just Hollywood, it’s Canada

Leah McLaren: This is not a witch hunt, it’s the truth. Sexual harassment is dangerous and ubiquitous in Canada and it’s not going away.


 

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This week, as my news feed teemed with the hashtag #MeToo, I was astonished, but not entirely surprised, to read the confessions of so many women, many of them high profile in the Canadian media, sharing their stories of workplace harassment and assault.

Here’s the thing about Weinstein: It’s not just America and it’s not just Hollywood. And it’s not just one monstrous man, no matter how much we might like to scapegoat him.

It is Canada. It’s the office you work in. The school you go to. The cafe you are sitting in right now. It is the streets you walk on each day. It is every industry—including the self-regarding liberal mainstream media. It is many (but crucially not all) men, in many rooms and almost every woman. Make no mistake: Sexual harassment is utterly ubiquitous and endemic to the culture we live in. This is not a witch hunt, it’s a statement of pure, inescapable truth. And maybe if we keep saying it, over and over in larger and larger numbers someday, somehow it might begin to change.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Like almost all women, my personal and professional life has been rife with sexual harassment. Until recently, though, I didn’t really think of it that way. It was so insidious, so normal, that for many years it just seemed an unpleasant yet inevitable thread inextricably woven into the fabric of daily life.

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These incidents were not transgressions that took place in smoky boardrooms where bosses drank Scotch and pinched passing secretary bottoms for sport. This was stuff that happened in this century, in gleaming, enlightened smoke-free offices with HR departments and strict codes of conduct. Not that we complained. Nah, we’d go laugh it off with our girlfriends over cosmopolitans at the bar, because that was what cool, confident women did. We didn’t allow ourselves to be cast as victims. We didn’t complain and we didn’t explain. And in this way, we were complicit in the sexism that riddled our lives.

From the elderly professor who pounced on me after a university dinner party, to the Yorkville restaurant where I was asked to come to work in a bikini top for the “hot tub party” (and fired when I declined), to the never-ending stream of cat-calls, ass-grabs, flashings and random abuse in the street, the bus or the bar. Being treated like a sexual play thing by men, I quickly learned, was just part of growing up female.

When I was lucky enough to get a staff column at The Globe and Mail in my 20s, the flow of harassment did not stop. If anything, it escalated. There was the older male editor who assigned me a big interview with a famous actor “because he’s known to like blondes,” and the older male editor who advised me to “wear something low cut” when door-stepping a rock star. And of course, there was the older male editor who groped me at the office Christmas party. These incidents were so legion as to seem almost unremarkable. They were the air I breathed, the ground I walked on. They were, quite simply, the world.

For years, every Monday morning when I picked up my office voicemail and checked my inbox, there would be scores of men telling me I was stupid, untalented and didn’t deserve my job. Not unusually, they would threaten to kill me or rape me or both. Then the internet exploded and they migrated to Twitter and the anonymous comment boards my employer provided for their convenience.

There was also the media gossip rag whose idea of “satire” was demeaning young female journalists in aggressively sexual ways. They spread rumours about my romantic life and speculated giddily about whether I’d been abused by one of my high school teachers. They relentless sought to humiliate every female journalist who ever raised her head above the parapet. One issue, they depicted my face on the cover super-imposed on the metal-bikini-clad body of Carrie Fischer as Princess Leia held in the clutches of a lascivious Jabba the Hutt.

I tried my best to laugh it all off, even when shame engulfed me like wildfire.

One lesson I learned over and over in my long career at the Globe: When a female columnist is publicly harassed for gender-based reasons, the institutional silence is deafening. You are on your own. Of the workplace incidents, I said nothing. Years later, when I did decide to write about the groping incident during the Ghomeshi affair, I understood what a wise decision my silence had been.

I was called to meetings with HR, lawyers, the editor-in-chief who insisted on editing my column. I was repeatedly urged to make my tone less accusatory and to make my assailant less identifiable. The entire process was bewildering and at times intimidating, especially since my assailant had already admitted his transgression and apologized.

They protect each other, these guys.

And for the most part, even in Canada, they are still running the show.

As the dust settles on the Weinstein affair just like it eventually did with Cosby, Saville and Ghomeshi before it, we would do well to remember that it’s not just about sexual harassment. It’s about how we continually reduce women to sexual objects with the aim of enriching the powerful. It’s about how we silence women by implying that they are stupid or crazy or difficult or all of the above. It’s the reason why women are paid less and abused far more. It’s the whole fetid package.

What Harvey Weinstein did to all those actresses in hotel rooms is like a microcosmic pantomime of the system as a whole. And like those seamy hotel suites, it’s dangerous and sprawling and it stinks. It’s time we walked out the door and left the bullying walrus flailing in his bathrobe forever. But how to do that when he still owns us?

At the very least, it’s time we stood up and let ourselves be counted.

MORE ABOUT HARVEY WEINSTEIN:


 

Me too: It’s not just Hollywood, it’s Canada

  1. In lieu of writing a brochure, and in no particular order,,,,,,

    Karate

    Nail scissors

    Kick boxing

    Raid

    Stiletto heels

    Noise-blaster

    etc.

  2. Canada should point a spotlight at the polygamist community of Bountiful, BC.
    Winston Blackmore, behind the wall of religion, has cult-like abusive control over his
    clan of women, and sexually assaulting underaged girls. Don’t know why this is tolerated?

    • It’s been a long slow process, and comes down to ‘freedom of religion’ and variations thereof.

  3. Leah (if you even read this) I am saddened that you speak the truth. “But I wouldn’t hold your breath” got the most reaction on Macleans’ Facebook post. Perhaps that is true also. Though not because you lacked the courage to stand up and shout. I am happy though to hear your thoughts – as a middle aged man, one who has not consciously been part of the “many” in my behaviour, though perhaps in my lack of behaviour, when I saw or heard other men demean women and remained silent, then or afterward. If I were more honest, maybe I could even recall a time, or two, or ten, when I did say something or did something that disrespected a woman’s sense of self-worth. I am certainly guilty of participating willingly in the sexual objectification of the female form, with every bit of media and marketing or the graphic sexuality present in many movies, all of it so prevalent and readily available in our daily lives. I have testosterone as well as a libido, and almost no amount of civilizing of the human animal will overcome the Id. I am not writing you to make excuses, however, but to acknowledge the challenge ahead. One for which you say that you will not hold your breath as you await a better tomorrow. That is possibly true as well, but I hope instead that you decide to take a deep breath some time soon, for the wind of change is starting to blow. Perhaps you will even be a leading proponent during that shift of consciousness. Thank You for a very informative article.

  4. Typo: it is Carrie Fisher (not Fischer).

    Also, completely agree. Unfortunately men, random men, feel they have the right to a touch, fondle, comment, critique, and otherwise harass women, any woman. Sadly, this will not change in my lifetime. But it needs to. One of the first thing a young girl is forced to learn is that they have no control over their self (body, mind, experience, potential), and it is a horrifying way to live.

  5. There is too much in the ‘metoo’ hashtag that involves just any contact between men and women. Some guy at works asks you out a couple of times and you refuse and suddenly it is harassment. A male and female go for drinks, both get pie eyed drunk and have sex and while both may regret it the next day, only the female gets to cry assault and rape.

    For all the ’empowerment’ messages and hashtags that have been generated over the last number of years, women are actually not empowered at all because they assume that they have NO responsibility for anything that happens in their lives. I’m a 62 year old professional woman who has worked since I was 16 years old. I’ve seen real harassment and I’ve seen women who are just lazy bitches. It is hard to tell the difference, but it exists and unfortunately with the metoo hashtag, I have NO faith in anything that is being reported!

    • And here she is…..the local handmaiden. More than ready to go along with the guys and blame women.

      Get off your knees.