Most of us probably noticed the hashtag MeToo circulating on social media. In the wake of the accusations of sexual assault and harassment of the American film producer Harvey Weinstein, people from all over the world share their experience of sexual harassment with the hashtag MeToo. The recent dismissal of Bart De Pauw at VRT because of unacceptable behaviour may also encourage a debate on the subject in Belgium.
The number of witnesses that the Metoo Movement brings up worldwide is enormous and may show the scope of the problem that our society is faced with. In my opinion, this movement can be a positive turning point for more gender equality and a more equal relationship between positions of power where there is no room for sexual harassment. Therefore we need to face the problem and discuss it, rather than ignore it.
The movement also brings up many negative reactions. Without judging the case of De Pauw, the amount of negative reactions on social media towards ‘the victims’ amazed me. Women who use the MeToo hashtag or bring out similar stories are often seen as ‘over-sensitive women’.
Are men no longer allowed to flirt nowadays?
There is a significant group of people who fear that the MeToo Movement will end up in an unnatural forced situation, in which spontaneity and flirtatious behaviour are no longer allowed. Which is definitely not the purpose of the movement and hopefully neither the result. This fear has much do with the ambiguity of the concept of unacceptable behaviour.
What do we understand under unacceptable behaviour?
It is of course difficult to draw a line. Philosopher Ignaas Devisch gives an optional answer: unacceptable behaviour is considered as every behaviour that the victim experiences as improper. In that case it is up to the women to communicate about it. As I see it, communication is a key term to be able to draw a clear line for both parties, wherein spontaneity doesn’t have to disappear.
Unfortunately the communication about unacceptable behaviour and sexual harassment gets lost out of fear to be blamed as the victim. Social media occurs as a court. Opinions are shared at all times and people being easy and quickly judged.
A turning point?
The MeToo Movement can therefore only be a turning point for more gender equality if an open communication and an open environment, in which victims of sexual harassment can stand up for themselves without being blamed, is maintained.