I’m not one for participating in social media exercises, like “sharing posts” so people know I’m paying attention to them, “liking things” to earn a contest entry, or writing “me too” as my status so friends and followers know I’m a victim of sexual harassment and assault – though one of these things is not like the others.
The latter is a trend that started earlier this week in an effort to spotlight the mass number of women, who, like me – and probably almost every single woman you know – have, in fact, been victims.
And not likely just once. Not likely just twice.
It’s an epidemic.
Since it became public knowledge of Harvey Weinstein’s abuse of women and power, sexual harassment has been a hot topic – just like it was with Bill Cosby and Jian Ghomeshi, or when the next leader of the Free World was broadcast suggesting men grab women by the pussy, simply because they can. Understandably, it takes these sorts of revelations for women to feel comfortable coming forward with their experiences (strength in numbers) – the “me too” movement as one example. But the sad reality you’ve probably come to recognize by now (if you’re privileged enough to not have recognized it already) is that these women – we – are not unique. In choosing victims, predators do not discriminate. It happens always, to anyone.
Throughout my career in the travel industry, it has surprised me at the frequency of offences – not only to me, but to so many of my female colleagues. Just like the Hollywood elite all knew about Weinstein before things came to a tipping point, we talk, too. We share experiences and horror stories and names.
In the beginning, I was naïve – men would say things that I’d think to be totally wrong, but instead of calling them out, I’d laugh it off. Isn’t it funny how that happens? We, as victims, are conditioned to feel like it’s our responsibility to make an offender feel comfortable with his advances. We giggle and say something witty and cute, because that’s what feels to be the appropriate response to an inappropriate situation.
But I’ve grown tired: I’ve grown tired of being complacent when men are being disrespectful. I’ve grown tired of letting them get away with it. I’ve grown tired of being a silent victim.
It’s been normalized but it is absolutely not normal…at least, it shouldn’t be.
The travel industry is a social one; it’s an industry of friendships – real, fake or indifferent. It’s also an industry where everyone knows everything about everyone, and God forbid anyone call out this reality because who knows how that might impact our upward climb on the ladder (as if it’s not hard enough already).
That said, it’s important to acknowledge that this is a female dominated space, and I’m proud and lucky to work in an industry with so many successful women who have paved the way for generations behind them to have an easier go. Is sexual harassment a less frequent occurrence now than it was 20 years ago? Some might say. Does that make it OK? Absolutely not.
So where do we go from here? What am I getting at?
I’m going to focus this on the verbal element of the conversation because when it comes to “best practices” in physical conduct, it’s pretty simple: Keep your hands to yourself unless you receive an explicit, non-disputable invitation. (And might I remind you that the clothes I wear, no matter how tight or low-cut or whatever it is that you take notice of, do not represent an invitation.)
Here’s what you ought to know:
- Understand that sexual assault and harassment are about consequence and not intent. If you, in your words, make someone feel uncomfortable and are told just as much, don’t defend yourself – apologize. And then, don’t repeat whatever you said or anything like it. To anyone. Ever.
- Believe it or not, sexual harassment does not always happen in elevators or quiet rooms. In fact, in most of my personal experiences, it’s more often in the company of colleagues. Think industry events, FAM trips, conferences. Things are said to women in front of other women, and in front of other men. We have to start being vocal, as victims and as bystanders. We must also respect that in this sort of situation, it can be difficult – sometimes impossible – for a victim to speak out on the spot. This is where those who witness inappropriate behaviour must speak-up on their behalf. Cue your role here: call people out. Not only does this allow victims to feel safe and supported, it lets offenders know that we’re all watching. There are a lot of good men out there and I hope that this piece doesn’t discredit that point, but being silent can be as problematic as being the offender.
- Wondering if you can compliment someone on their looks without said compliment being misinterpreted? Here’s a simple test: Ask yourself, Would I say that to a man? If the answer is no, then say nothing. Analyze your thought process. Check yourself. Digest the lesson. (Is it OK to suggest that the standard for your actions should be how you interact with other men? Ideally, we could relate the measure to people in general, but it seems there’s still a way to go before we get there.)
There are a million things in business and life that we have different positions on – a million situations in which there is not necessarily a right or wrong answer. But this issue is black and white – there is a very clear line between doing what’s good and doing what’s repulsive. Set an example for your male cohorts by practicing basic human respect. The #metoo movement is important, but what’s more important is putting focus and action on the root of the problem; that’s the type of collective action this industry – and the world we sell – needs right now.
Anyone interested in sharing their story, named or anonymously, can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.