As #MeToo sets the stage for how things should be, rather than how they have been, I’m thinking of how, for so long, prevention of sexual assault has been aimed at women. Don’t walk there, don’t wear that, don’t go out alone, don’t stay in alone. Read the signs. Notice the behaviour. Tell them it’s not okay.
For far too long.
Too late we’re changing the discussion and placing the responsibility where it should lie: with the choices men make. Simple. Just don’t do it. Don’t make up excuses in your mind for why it is okay generally, or specifically, or just this once. Just stop cat-calling, leering, staring, touching, trying your luck, and forcing your will. Just stop.
That said, there is one more responsibility I do want to put on women: act on your gut and act fast. If you don’t listen to your Mentor Within, to your inner wisdom, you won’t be safe. And if you don’t act fast you’re more likely to be in danger. I have been listening to the themes that have emerged over the last few days in the media, and apart from the relief that the secrets are out, and the outrage that trusted men can behave this way, there is another theme that is emerging. Women just want it to stop, but they don’t want anyone hurt in the process.
This is one of the reasons for the silence. Yes, there’s humiliation, and the real fear of losing a contract or a job, or of breaking up the family, but more than anything there is a belief that people are essentially good and if we play fair, surely the men will too. But they won’t. Not these kinds of men. Not the men who are entitled, narcissistic conquerors. Not the men who really don’t care. They’ll sooner throw you under the bus than admit their behaviour, and they’re not about to stop unless they are forced to.
I remember when I was travelling many years back, aged 19. We were being taken back to where we were staying by a taxi driver. Half way to our residence the taxi driver stopped on the edge of a lake. I asked him why he was stopping, and he said in broken English that the car had trouble. I had heard this man speaking English earlier and it wasn’t nearly as broken as it was as he tried to give us a reason for stopping in this deserted spot. I could feel the hair standing up on the back of my neck and a rush of adrenalin, which I knew was there to keep me safe. “There’s nothing wrong with the car,” I told him, as he asked us to move to another car. But he insisted we had to change cars.
He was messing with the wrong woman. “We’ll go with that car, but you’re staying here. We’re not going with two men”, I said. “Also, the guys who put us in the taxi took your registration number and they know who you are. We told them your name. So one wrong move by your friend and you’ll both have a lot to account for. Now make sure he gets us there fast as we are being expected by our hosts and if we don’t arrive by 7pm they’ll be out looking for us.”
I could see his resolve crumble. Whatever he’d had planned was just a bit too inconvenient. He spoke to his friend in a language I couldn’t understand, and with a few nods, the friend took us swiftly back to where we were staying.
Throughout, my friend hadn’t said a word. Like three other occasions I can remember when I was with another woman in danger, if I had not acted fast, decisively and on the front foot who knows what would have happened?
Women won’t always be able to get out of dangerous situations but sometimes by making a scene we can avert atrocious behaviour. Far more often, though, women either panic and freeze or don’t want to draw attention or blame someone when they might be wrong.
At no other time is it more appropriate to “act now and ask forgiveness if you’re wrong”.
Just do it. Trust your gut, and act fast when there’s a threat. Don’t do it the nice way, don’t take your time about it, and don’t be scared to call it out and draw other people’s attention.
So that one day
A hundred years from now
Another sister will not have to
Dry her tears wondering
Where in history
She lost her voice.”
Rosemary Shapiro-Liu is the director of Triple Win Enterprises in Sydney, Australia, and the author of The Mentor Within. She is a facilitator, conference strategist and coach. In South Africa she was one of the National Directors of NICRO, and the national manager for Restorative Justice, and in Australia she works with thought leaders, social entrepreneurs and business authors. She is one of the founding contributors to Smallville.com.au for small business owners who think big.