Sunday, 9 November 2014

It's SO not about Jian

It's SO not about Jian. It's about all of us working towards a society where it's *not this hard* to be believed; to give testimony in court; to move on; to feel safe; to see a level of justice that's commensurate with the violation you've experienced. And, it's about making it *not this normal* for women to live and work in environments where sexual harassment and violence is tolerated, enabled, and/or promoted.
~ Pemma Muzumdar

  * 1 in 4 North American women will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime 

* Of every 100 incidents of sexual assault, only 6 are reported to the police

* I found different numbers published on different sites for statistics on sexual assault. 
The truth is, because these crimes are less likely to be reported, statistics are never fully representational...

When I started thinking about this post I wanted to include an apology or disclaimer about how, in exploring my contents and writing about how the Jian Ghomeshi scandel has infiltrated and challenged my own thoughts, I didn't want to take away from the direct key players and turn this situation into something that's all about me. Because I do realize that directly speaking, it's not about me

But then a friend posted a link on Facebook to a story about how difficult it can be for women too report sexual assault/violence. She commented on this link with the above quote, saying: It's SO not about Jian... and I realized, she's right!

It's SO not about Jian.

It's not even (just) about the women involved in this particular story.

It's about all of us.

Last week I read a blog entitled Do you know about Jian? – which talked about entire social communities that knew on some level about Jian. Saw the discomfort of women he approached; joked about the pick-up lines he used; heard whispers about how he treated women; passed along the question and knowing nods.

As I read I couldn't help but think: Why didn't anyone say something?

Part-way through the writer responded to that question, and I felt a little chastised. Because she is unfortunately right to counter-ask: 
Would you?

I realized I haven't.

Not that I have had an abundance of overt need or opportunity to. Perhaps I am fortunate in that regard. Or unaware of the people around me that are not saying something. Naive even, since the statistics suggest that harassment and abuse of any kind is much more prevalent than we like to think.

But I have worked in an industry that is somewhat known for the flirty banter, sexual innuendos, dirty jokes, and (border-line harassment) teasing. I've engaged in much of this at one point or another, either with my own words or by laughing at co-workers' comments. And while I would argue that it is important to consider the setting and audience, and that it is possible to be too sensitive about such interactions... I also have to pause and wonder if some of those interactions made someone uncomfortable? If a setting or audience was judged incorrectly? If boundaries were pushed and lines crossed? If someone felt unsafe to talk, and instead forced a laugh so as not to be laughed at?

Just because this industry is known for such interactions does not make it right or ok. And I know that there is a risk for line-crossing, because I have danced along that line both willingly and not so willingly.

Yet I have rarely said something.

The frustration and chastised feelings from reading that article shifted in me then, towards challenge and inspiration – to say something. To speak up for those who are not yet able to. To be an ally by sending a message of support; by helping to create safer spaces to say something. In a different work environment, I do.

Yet in some moments I still struggle. Because I enjoy the flirty banter, sexual innuendos, and dirty jokes. Some days those interactions among co-workers are what make that job tolerable and enjoyable. I don't want them to stop.

Nor do I want to contribute to feelings of discomfort or harassment.

I realize the flirty banter of consenting parties can be a far cry from sexual harassment or violence. And I know there is a line somewhere in the space between the two that has been crossed far too many times. But how do we truly know where to draw that line when it may well be in a different place for everyone?

Is the issue consent, as some have argued?
Is the issue victim blaming, as others have defended?
Is the issue ensuring we as allies, victims, potential victims, and everyone standing on the side-lines begin/continue to have these conversations – to raise awareness; to create safer spaces; to stand up and say This is Not ok! – so that in the midst of drawing and dancing along the line more people feel comfortable and safe to say something? Without the fear of victim blaming. With peace of mind that consent – or lack thereof – will be respected.

I want those feelings of challenge and inspiration to grow within me. I want to pay more attention to the setting and audience when I engage in flirty banter and innuendos. I want to be aware of and clear about my boundaries, particularly when dancing on the line; to speak up when I fear they may be crossed or, perhaps more importantly, when I sense someone else's discomfort.

I want to be part of these conversations because once I/you/we start to say something it will hopefully eventually become less risky to do so. We need to pay attention to the uncomfortable silences. We need to listen. We need to watch for the interactions and pick up on the cues that something just isn't right. And then we need to say something. And we need to do it together.

Because this is SO not about Jian. It's not even (just) about the women involved in this particular story. It's about all of us.

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