Silence and Selective Outrage - The Solidarity in Sisterhood
The #MeToo movement brought a tidal wave of change. But why is it still so tough to speak up for ourselves, and so easy to be outraged for our sisters?
I have been sexually harassed in the workplace before. I have faced multiple instances - innocuous jokes which led to pressure for a date, and then anger and hostility when I persistently rejected them; comments about the shape of my body, unwelcome advances, and more. My only reaction to these experiences, over years, has been to smile, shrug, and brush it off. It’s never been worth a fight.
My friends have been sexually harassed in the workplace before. They have come to me with multiple instances - men passing off lewd comments disguised as jokes and feeling entitled to a date; then resorting to being vile bullies, reacting with anger and hostility when my friends consistently turned them down. They have detailed instances where their coworkers or superiors have abused their positions of power by talking about my friends’ bodies. Some have even had the audacity to use the work space to trap these wonderful women and make sexual advances at them. My reaction to their experiences has been a spectrum of outrage, from simmering anger to explosive rage. That fight was more than my own; even when they didn't want to react, I wanted to burn their workspaces down.
Here’s the thing - these instances are often very similar. When it happens to one of my sisters-in-arms, it’s so easy for me to be violently angry, to want to seek retribution, to want to get out there and fix the world for them.
So then, why is it so hard for me to fight for myself?
My outrage is selective - always ready for my fellow women, but never deployed for myself. And this is a universal phenomenon for women. It’s one of the factors that is often overlooked in analysing why reporting rates are so low for crimes against women. It’s also why movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp are so important - they created a conversation for women to stand up for themselves, not just stand in solidarity with their sisters. Solidarity matters, it’s what holds us all up. But at the end of the day, self care matters too. And we often put that on the back burner.
The Prevention of Workplace Sexual Harassment Act came into effect in December 2013. Five years later, we are seeing a surge in the number of cases of workplace sexual harassment that are being reported, according to Nishith Desai Associates. They attribute this to greater awareness of rights stemming from the #MeToo movement, as well as to employers being more careful of meeting the requirements under the law, under the cloud of #TimesUp. These social media waves suggest that finally, women are starting to raise their own voices for themselves.
Sisterhood is a beautiful thing. My friends are my sisters, my sources of strength, the hill I’d be willing to die on. However, it’s time for that sense to shift to self-preservation as well. Your assertion need not be loud, or strong, or outraged. It can be whatever you need it to be. Just remember - sometimes, the only person who can raise their voice for you, is you.