To speak up or not to speak up that is the question?
By Judy Churchill
Weighing in on Weinberg
The Weinberg affair has started a mini tsunami of women from Hollywood to the houses of parliament in London who are coming forward to denounce the culture of sexual harassment/rape that we all know has been going on since time immemorial.
Much has been written about the economics of staying silent and the fact that women are not prepared to jeopardise their careers or lose a vital wage needed to sustain their family by denouncing their abusers.
Such an argument is hard to criticise and yet there is still something that should make us feel deeply uncomfortable about the culture of waiting until you are rich and famous or yielding some influence before you speak out. If this were the case for everything women would still be waiting for the vote!
As a coach I know that there are very few women, if any, who have not been through some form of sexual harassment in their personal or professional lives, myself included.
In my own case the occasions have been numerous. So what did I do about it? The mild cases I nipped firmly in the bud and the severe cases I reported. This resulted in three convictions for the abusers and one restraining order. Was there any doubt in my mind as to whether I should report these people and speak up immediately? No! Did it have repercussions on my career? Yes sometimes. Did that bother me? To the extent that it made my life temporarily uncomfortable while I was an employee and then necessitated me distancing myself from certain clients when running my own business, yes of course. Did I regret speaking up? Never! Did I ever hesitate to report these people? No! How do you change things if you stay silent?
So why in the Weinberg affair have so many actresses remained silent? They knew what was happening to them was wrong. They knew it wouldn’t go away. They knew they were handing their abuser a license to re-abuse and had a set a precedent of ‘you can get away with this’. The argument that it was the only way to advance their careers is an easy one to advance and a hard one to argue away; but then again aren’t millions of women across the world faced with that very same choice every day? Where do you draw the line? Surely you are worth more than a part in a film in the big scheme of things. Was acting the only option? Wouldn’t it have been easier just to tell everyone at the time and form some kind of class action?
At the end of the day the issue is actually deeper and more complex. The problem and reasons for staying silent go way beyond a better job and the economics of providing for oneself or the family. At the heart of the issue is a fundamental female problem of lack of self-esteem and power with its origins rooted in early childhood, through to puberty and young womanhood.
In coaching I see women who have been sexually abused as children and have grown up with a lack of self-confidence and confidence in others. These are the victims that really had no voice. As a child you do not have options when the abuse is coming from those who are supposed to care for and protect you. The damage takes a lot of undoing. What message are we sending out to our children if we as adult women adhere to a culture of silence? The ones who need our help most are the innocent children who feel unable to speak out and who grow up into adults who find themselves over and over again accepting similar situations of abuse and harassment by default.
To my mind where we should be starting is in schools and educating young girls to become self-confident and to understand that they are the only ones who should have control over their bodies. We should be encouraging them to take up opportunities where boys and girls are doing physical and mental activities together on a level playing field; Outward Bound is a great example of this. We should be supporting associations such as She can He can where the idea that a girl can take control of her own destiny and be the woman she choses to be (while at the same time educating boys to understand that), should be mainstream. We should be teaching them self-defence. We should be teaching girls to speak up and out, to say in every case of harassment or abuse: “I’m bigger than this, I deserve better”. Low self-esteem sticks with like glue you and takes a huge amount of work to reverse. We should be showing girls that to progress in their careers they do not have to succumb to giving away a sexual ‘goody bag’. We should be educating them to be strong and outspoken when they are being mistreated, to speak up immediately and to have the courage to walk away from an abusive situation and above all to report it. We should be teaching this in families and across borders and cultures so that it becomes mainstream, because at the heart of the matter this is what it boils down to.
Women should not have feel that they are ‘victims’ they should just be able to view the situation as having come face to face with a perverse individual and then be able to move on. They should not feel they need to flirt, dress or behave in a certain way to get a job. We should be teaching girls to become mentally and physically fit. It is much harder to sexually harass a strong woman and make an impact on her.
Personally I realise now how fortunate I was to have been brought up as a strong, confident person because this is the game changer when it comes to the decisions you make as to how you allow others to treat you.
To speak up or not to speak up - you always have a choice – but that choice has to be offered to you at an early age.
Judy is based in Monaco and specialises in transformational coaching working with both individuals and companies.
Judy is also a qualified language teacher/trainer for adults and children in French, English and Spanish.
If you would like to receive coaching, communication skills training, language tutoring or certified translating from Judy, you can contact her on: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com via Facebook messenger and www.judychurchill.com
Tel : +377 6 40 61 04 87