In late 2017, women around the world shared their stories of violence. Deeply personal and painful stories were shared under the banner of #MeToo. Our collective consciousness was re-ignited – violence is perpetrated against us because we are women, because of gender inequality, because of misogyny. We stood together and exposed the pattern of abuse. At that moment, the scale of violence against women was impossible to ignore.
However, what was missing from #MeToo was the perpetrators of abuse. We cannot forget that for every story shared, there is a perpetrator. In films, television and newspapers, perpetrators of violence are often presented as imaginary monsters – not the white boy across the road who does well at school and helps his parents. Not the working man who is respected in his community with a wife and kids. Yet some of these men and boys do perpetrate violence – and all too often enjoy impunity.
What is #TimesUp
The opportunity to hold perpetrators accountable has come with the #TimesUp movement. Launched at the 75th annual Golden Globes, #TimesUp was created by 300 women actors, agents, writers, directors and executives to fight sexual harassment and violence. Oprah Winfrey’s stirring speech at the Golden Globes explained the initiative: "For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men. But their time is up. Their time is up. Their time is up."
Life-saving initiatives, not witch-hunts
As the spotlight shines on the perpetrators, they can no longer hide behind the privilege that has for too long been afforded to them by governments and communities and we will inevitably (and have already) hear cries of a witch-hunt.
Ironically, those crying witch-hunt, in the same breath describe sexual harassment. For example, a letter signed by 100 actors, academics and writers states #MeToo and #TimesUp promote the ‘hatred of men’ also goes onto describe how men are ‘forced out of a job’ for trying to ‘steal a kiss’.
Trying to steal a kiss in the workplace is sexual harassment. If you have any doubt, then watch this incisive short video from That’s Harassment. I struggle to watch it – the video perfectly captures the power dynamics of sexual violence and that is what makes it such incredibly uncomfortable viewing.
In addition, cries of witch-hunt often hinge on the behavior being seen as normal and acceptable for men. It is this normalization that we need to challenge and the entitlement that men have over women’s bodies. Multi-country studies have found the most commonly reported motivation for rape perpetration, as reported by men themselves, was related to feeling entitled to have sex, regardless of consent (sexual entitlement).
The intersections of gender, race, sexual orientation and poverty
#MeToo, #TimesUp and any other movement that demands justice for women and girls who have experienced violence are life-saving initiatives in societies that have for too long protected perpetrators.
We need only to look at the case of Recy Taylor, who was highlighted in Oprah’s speech, to see a devastating example of how male perpetrators have escaped justice.
In 1944, Recy was raped by six armed white men as she walked home from church. They threatened to kill her if she told anyone, but her story was reported to the NAACP and Rosa Parks became the lead investigator on her case. Oprah poignantly said of Recy’s case ‘But justice wasn't an option in the era of Jim Crow.
The men who tried to destroy her were never persecuted. Recy Taylor died ten days ago, just shy of her 98th birthday. She lived as we all have lived, too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men.’
Recy’s case demonstrates how race intersects with gender, both in the violence women experience and the justice they will receive. Lesbian and trans women, women living in poverty and women with disabilities also face increased risk of experiencing violence and additional barriers to justice.
Oxfam’s work to end violence: #SayEnough
In Oxfam, we too are saying times up. Around the world, we are running our campaign Enough: Together We Can End Violence Against Women and Girls. Over 30 countries will eventually launch the campaign, which focuses on challenging the normalisation and acceptability of violence. Like #TimesUp, we support people to stand up and reject violence – wherever it occurs. We also recognize that as in all organizations sexual abuse happens within Oxfam and this urgently needs to change. We are increasing resources and creating more robust policies to tackle sexual violence.
Pulling again from the inspirational speeches at the Global Globes, actor Elisabeth Moss drew a slightly adapted quote from the Handmaid’s Tale: ‘We no longer live in the blank white spaces at the edge of print. We no longer live in the gaps between the stories. We are the story in print, and we are writing the story ourselves.’
Let’s remind ourselves why we no longer have to live in the blank spaces, at the edge of print: because of the work of women’s rights activists, who have never given up advocating for an end to violence against women and girls.
Speak up, speak out
Follow on social media #TimesUp, #MeToo and #SayEnough (Oxfam’s worldwide campaign) and get involved – share content and add your voice to conversations to end violence. In addition, find your local women’s rights organization or activist group – donate and get involved!
If we do this, then just maybe the next generation of women and girls will never have to say #MeToo.
The entry posted by Bethan Cansfield, Oxfam's Head of Enough/BASTA! Campaign to End Violence Against Women and Girls, on 19 January 2018.
Photo: Richard Potts