On Sunday, 27 January 2018 Hollywood rose for the rights of women, paying tribute to the brave women who have spoken up about being harassed and abused by some of the world’s most powerful men. Women (and men) around the world joined on social media, posting under #WhyWeWearBlack. This initiative was led by “Time’s Up”, a new organization started in Hollywood to not only place the world’s attention on harassment, but also providing financial help to women who have spoken up and need legal help, both in Hollywood and other industries.
On Sunday, 27 January 2018 I wanted to wear black and join thousands of women posting on social media. I couldn’t, however, since I was working until late and thus wearing my navy blue uniform. Later that evening, I sat down on my couch and watched the Golden Globes on my recordings playlist.
I realized firstly how lucky I am. As a young woman working first in the South African media industry and now in the entertainment department of a luxury ship, I have not encountered anything like what these women have. I’ve never needed to speak up, because nothing like this has ever happened to me. The first time I realized how very lucky and fortunate I am was when the “Me Too” movement started in 2017. For days friends, colleagues, and former colleagues added this line to their status updates and I was more than a little surprised. How could I have been this blind to all the bad things happening around me? I came to the conclusion (and I am not speaking for all South Africans – this is my biased opinion, based on my own upbringing and no research or statistics at all) that talking about harassment is still very frowned upon in South Africa. Though our country has a beautiful mixture of local cultures – eleven official languages = more than eleven local cultures) most of us are pretty conservative, living in communities dominated by men of a certain age. You do not talk about sex. You do not talk about homosexuality. You do not discuss children killing their parents, or men killing their girlfriends. And you most definitely do not talk about the wrongdoings of older men – that is just disrespectful.
So when Oprah spoke at the Golden Globes after receiving the Cecil B. De Mille Award (first black woman in history to receive this award), I felt inspired and uplifted and hopeful that perhaps the spirit and passion and openness of these women in Hollywood would in some way also affect people in my country; I hoped that these women’s bravery would tell girls around the world that it is more than okay to speak up; I hoped that speaking up would become the new norm.
And then I had breakfast with a community of international, outspoken women. “Oprah’s speech was good, but all these other people hammering on harassment was getting too much” and “It’s too much – I fell asleep during Oprah’s speech” were some of the phrases being thrown around. One lady was of the opinion that Hollywood stars should stick to what their good at and thank their moms and dads and families for their awards rather than trying to make a political statement. “They have too much power nowadays”. Needless to say, the men at the table jumped at the chance to agree with most of this.
I am ashamed that in that instance I did not speak up.
These people live in the free world. They have free speech and are allowed to have these opinions. But my opinion is not the same.
I think it is wonderful that celebrities are talking about more than the dresses and shoes that they are wearing, or what it was like to kiss that hunky actor on screen (nothing wrong with talking about that either). These women are using their star power to do something positive and good! They are teaching young girls reading the tabloids, tweeting, liking Instagram posts from literally around the world to stand up against people who bully them based on their gender and looks; they are telling girls and women suffering from harassment that they did nothing wrong and that they need to speak up.
Who clicks to read a post written by some politician or activist? Few people who follow pop culture, that much I can assure you. But if Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Viola Davis and other stars write articles about this… a whole generation of pop culture followers click. And click. And click.
It’s about time that we use the star power for something positive. It’s about time that stars set an ethical example with social conscience rather than one of partying, drinking, doing drugs and getting DUIs. What is the example we want to set for young girls around the world – drink, do drugs, party, make sure you always look fantastic, as long as it brings you fame everything is okay… or speak up, make a difference, and use the power that you have for a good cause?
Yes, I know people who have differing opinions about this. But I think they are wrong. And I think saying that they’re fed up with the “whole harassment saga” in the news is irresponsible; it defeats the purpose of everyone speaking up and it scares people into staying quiet when these things do happen.
I’m lucky. I’ve never had a powerful man threaten to not give me a promotion because I won’t sleep with him. Or promise me a job if I do agree to do that.
But I’ve had men look at me like I’m a piece of meat. I’ve had colleagues call me – a 27-year old woman – a “girl”, I’ve had guys not taking no for an answer on the dance floor, I’ve had to pretend to go to the bathroom or a dining hall to avoid them, I’ve had colleagues phone me at midnight after leaving a party and then just saying “I enjoyed watching you dance”. I’ve had men make me feel uncomfortable countless times. And yet, I have never spoken up about that. I am a liberal-thinking person who speaks about things like this openly, and who knows that I’m not to blame for the drunk or dumb behavior of someone else. Yet, I never spoke up.
That is about to change, thanks to the example set by these brave women who have been speaking up for years.
The next time friends or colleagues belittle this important “cause”, I am giving them a piece of my mind. The next time a guy gets too frisky on the dancefloor after I’ve made it clear that I’m uninterested, I’m giving him a piece of my mind too. And taking him straight to the HR Office.
This is an important fight and the fact that we’re only beginning to truly address it now, in 2018, is heartbreaking. But at least it is happening.
Time IS up. Not only for men who mistreat women, but also for women who mistreat women; telling a woman who speaks up that she didn’t seem to have a problem with these “arrangements” when it brought her money and fame is unacceptable, up and if you’ve ever said something like that to or about someone speaking up, you should be ashamed.
As women, we need to love and support each other better. The time to start doing that is now.