Reporting government ministers to the police is something few women do.
There are always risks. Your sexuality is tried in the court of public opinion, and judgment inevitably reflects a sexual double standard that more greatly punishes women. Your respectability is questioned as if only the wrong kind of woman would find herself in that kind of position or the kind of woman who wants to vengefully victimize a man. If you got a car, job or house, and sexual transactions with more powerful men were involved, you have to prove you didn’t cause it or manipulate the situation or can even be believed. Rarely, will you entirely escape blame.
The press gets into your business, your beliefs, your past and your vulnerabilities instead of turning the lens on the wider issue or the legislation or policies that can create change, or the institutions or associations that knowingly enable or turn a blind eye. Don’t mind these things are happening everywhere, the story is reduced to the individual woman, isolating her from other women, the quiet ones, the respectable ones, the grateful ones, the ones who know better than to make front page news.
You can be the wife or the outside woman, rich or poor, a ‘gold digger’ or a flight attendant (or both), a lesbian, a sexually active teenager, a sex worker or a CEPEP worker. Whatever the mix of consent and coercion or power and powerlessness, it’s your right to speak out about exploitation, harassment, discrimination, violence, intimidation or any other treatment you feel you did not deserve, especially from someone more institutionally, politically or economically more powerful than you. It’s your right to go the police for justice. Rather than gossiping, it’s our responsibility to examine the gender and power relations that your broken silence should turn our attention to.
If women, all women, suddenly stopped keeping secrets, stopped fearing the shame we wrongly bear, stopped preferring to hide rather than stand out as the ‘troublemaker’, men’s privilege to repeatedly treat women as they can, as they choose, as women can’t treat them or as they can get away with would not be so free and easy. But, so many of us stay silent, unprotected from the public costs, reduced to protecting the powerful, the predator and the problem.
To this, feminist Audre Lorde says, “I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood…My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you…What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? We can sit in our corners…mute forever while our sisters and our selves are wasted…and we will still be no less afraid”.
I was sexually harassed one night in a television newsroom. When I told my boss and she asked what I wanted to do, I felt there was nothing to be done. I was new and young. I was temporary, I may have been disbelieved or blamed or further harassed, and there were no laws or policies to protect me. Going public would only have felt like greater vulnerability.
So, to the journalist who asked me, yes, Rondelle Laidlow, Sacha Singh and Patricia Singh are setting powerful examples that young women need. It’s irrelevant whether we like, agree with or approve of them. They, like all women, need speaking out to become less risky.