by Sharon Florentine

Stopping sexual harassment: Ready for a ‘witch hunt’?

Oct 20, 2017
CareersIT LeadershipTechnology Industry

If calling out those who participate in or perpetuate sexual harassment constitutes a “witch hunt,” then sign me up.

If you’ve been anywhere near social media over the past few days, you can’t have missed the #MeToo hashtag campaign that’s flooded Facebook feeds and Twitter timelines.

Or if you’ve been taking a social media breather, here’s a synopsis:

The #MeToo hashtag campaign took off in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault allegations as a way to highlight the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault. While white actress Alyssa Milano is credited with jump-starting this most recent iteration, credit should actually be given to Tarana Burke, a black woman who “began the crusade [ten] years ago particularly for women of color,” as Ebony magazine reports. I admit I didn’t know this; as is the nature of white feminism, black feminists often do so much of the heavy lifting only to have their work coopted without receiving credit. But, I digress.

Tired of it: years fighting the sexual harassment battles

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty damn tired of it. I’m tired of fighting these battles

I was tired at 14 years old in 1991, watching Anita Hill bravely speak out against Clarence Thomas. Because even then I could have contributed a “me too” to an anti-harassment and assault hashtag campaign had such a thing existed. 

I was tired in high school and college in the late 1990s, marching to Take Back the Night.

I was tired in my 20s as I realized corporate America, even in uber-progressive New York City, was exactly the same as the patriarchy everywhere else.

I was even more tired when I came out as queer because the LGBTQ+ community is subject to and perpetuates sexual harassment and assault, too.

I was tired in my 30s when I began writing about technology, and I’m damn near exhausted now, at 40, reading and writing about the same old power dynamics and the lawsuits and the lack of justice in the IT industry as I’ve seen everywhere else I’ve looked. I’m so incredibly wiped out — bone tired, trying my hardest to raise a feminist, anti-racist and anti-homophobic son in a country that (s)elected a confessed sexual predator as President. 

And if I’m tired — if you’re tired, as a white person — remember that black, Hispanic and Latinx, LGBTQ+, Asian, Native American, older women, differently abled women, and female-identifying people endure sexual harassment, abuse, and assault and are killed at much higher rates, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), the U.S.’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. 

Sexual harassment ‘witch hunt’

So, when I read Woody Allen — another accused sexual predator — weighed in on the Weinstein revelations, saying he felt “sad” for Weinstein because he was “sick” but that he was concerned: “You also don’t want it to lead to a witch hunt atmosphere, a Salem atmosphere, where every guy in an office who winks at a woman is suddenly having to call a lawyer to defend himself. That’s not right either,” my first (and second, and third) thought was, actually, “Yes, Woody, that is exactly what I want.” 

I want every single person to expend the same amount of energy not harassing and assaulting and raping and terrifying and oppressing and mocking and victim-blaming others as we have all spent — our entire lives — trying to avoid being harassed, assaulted, raped, groped, grabbed, oppressed, mocked and shamed. 

I want every single person to police their behavior and their speech because they fear what a sexual harassment or assault allegation will do to their families, their lives, their mental health. 

Is that harsh? Considering every single woman and female-identifying person I know — and a whole bunch of the men and transgender people I know, as well — has a “me too” story, I don’t think it is. Because the havoc and the horror all of these “me too” stories has wrought upon our lives and the lives of those we care about and care for cannot be understated. 

And while there’s nothing that can ever make whole that which has been broken in us, it would be a pretty good gesture if men could — to be blunt — man up and put forth the same kind of effort to stop sexual assault and harassment as we put forth trying to avoid it. Want to help? Well, you’re in luck, because here’s a list to get started

If that constitutes a “witch hunt,” if actively calling out people who engage in sexually predatory behavior and violence, as well as those who enable it, is a “witch hunt,” then sign me up.