Politics and Zipper Demons: Why Women Are Reluctant to Speak Out

The #OntarioPCParty is currently grappling with the very real issue of sexual misconduct in the workplace, particularly in the public sector. As outsiders try to catch up, insiders are wondering why it’s taken so long for sexual misconduct allegations to catch up with both Patrick Brown and Rick Dykstra. Honestly, the first thought I had when Patrick Brown announced his resignation was how long will it take Dykstra to follow suit; the rumours around these two men were not whispers, their alleged behaviours were well known, and ignored.

Why did no one speak out sooner?

With the #MeToo and #WomensMarch movements, women’s empowerment is at a public level unseen since the bra burnings of the 1960’s. Women are speaking out about sexism, sexual harassment, and gender based violence, as institutionalized attitudes; we are taking our seat at the table and tackling the culture that continues to persevere around gender in politics and industry.

Social media has enabled women to see how truly ubiquitous unwanted sexual attention is, and how normalized the behaviour is, while at the same time gaining strength from the stories we share; we have found our voice and we are breaking our silence.

Finding your voice as part of a movement is very different from making the decision to come forward with your sexual assault. Calling it sexual misconduct if the offender is a public servant, elected official, or other such authority figure, is facetious at best.

Any time a person is subjected to a depravation of their life, liberty, or security of person, by an authority figure it is an abuse of power.

That’s correct:
unwanted sexual attention
is a form of assault,
when it involves
someone of influence,
it is an abuse of power.

Women, who have worked hard for equality, particularly in the workplace, are reluctant to be seen as weak, damaged, disadvantaged, because of their sex. Rape is about power, not sex; many women see public knowledge as a further theft of their dignity; many women find disclosure and the trial empowering.The usual narrative of entitlement and privilege goes beyond the abusers, it applies equally to those who model antiquated practices and enable the wanton disrespect. The sexualization of women continues to be commonplace in public service, which many forget is a workplace, and comes in many forms – verbal, emotional, and physical harassment. Women who speak out are at risk of being passed over for promotion, losing their job, and face being blacklisted in their industry – just for speaking up about harassment.

Knowing the potential harm, women are reluctant to come forward particularly when a public figure, or one of authority, faces allegations of abuse of power or misconduct. The story will become fodder for the media; it is in the public interest to know. Women are forced to deal with a trauma that is being played out in the press; life decisions like whether to file charges, and who you feel comfortable sharing your experience with, should always be a private and personal decision.

A woman’s name may not be published
but she will be dissected,
motives questioned,
while the accused is
innocent until proven guilty.

I can tell you from personal experience no woman goes public with her rape, sexual assault, or harassment, for attention. The police and medical investigations are extensive, invasive, and traumatic; it is akin to being re-assaulted. Anyone who has undergone this daunting process understands why some would choose to end the investigation, try to pick up the pieces, attempt to move on; not wanting to testify doesn’t negate anyone’s experience.

Even with shield laws, criminal proceedings are Kafkaesque. No matter what we say, as a society is acceptable, the victim is always the one on trial. We live in a society so cynical, the survivor is the one who must defend themselves. We must, at minimum, afford accusers the same rights as defendants and treat victims as truthful; we are all innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

While the judiciary must always proceed independently, politics is, by definition, the court of public opinion. It is in the public interest to know about potential political misconduct, whether in a sexual nature or not.

There is an engrained fascination with the lives of those who we have trusted with our vote to be our voice, as it should; those who choose to put themselves forward for public service do so knowing there is an expectation that they be irreproachable. There is a belief that elected leaders should be role models; forgetting public servants are human and fallible, we are shocked when this illusion of perfection (folie-en-masse?) is shattered.

People can’t wrap their heads around it; the person who won our confidence has broken that trust. We desire all the salacious details in cases of misconduct by public officials, regardless of the cost to the victim, adding a further dimension of harassment, and in some cases assault, towards the victim. The confronter can be accused of hidden agenda’s and political motivations on top of the usual fallacies victims face, creating a climate wherein victims are forced to justify themselves to satisfy the public.

While there perseveres an idea
that boys will be boys
so too does the slut shaming
and victim blaming.

And as long as those in power model disrespect, and a laissez-faire attitude towards institutionalized inequalities, there will continue to exist a climate of discrimination.

Women, who have worked hard for equality, particularly in the workplace, are reluctant to be seen as weak, damaged, disadvantaged, because of their sex. Rape is about power, not sex; many women see public knowledge as a further theft of their dignity; many women find disclosure and the trial empowering.

The decision about how a woman survives sexual assault is her own and the first step to her recovery.

Why is the onus for change on victims
and not those who can’t wrestle their inner zipper demons?

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Author: Emily Spanton

Candidate, City of #StCatharines for #NiagaraRegion Council Twitter: @WhatDoesntKillU Facebook: fb.me/WhatDoesntKillU Contact: whatdoesntkillu@gmail.com

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