We have to start listening to the victims, not the perpetrators like Harvey Weinstein

Harvey Weinstein has now been confronted with dozens of allegations of sexual harassment.
REUTERS

Harvey Weinstein has now been confronted with dozens of allegations of sexual harassment.

OPINION: I almost started this column with a cliché, but I couldn't bring myself to do that, so this is a lead-in to it, because the cliché, which still applies, is this: I really don't know where to start.

I've known the subject for days, yet I've arrived at this point not knowing quite how to put my feelings into words. Maybe they're not yet fully formed, properly resolved, I don't know.

I confess, I thought a couple of times about backing off and writing something easier, but something just wouldn't let me do it, so here I am.

Louisette Geiss joined a growing list of women who have alleged Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed them.
REUTERS

Louisette Geiss joined a growing list of women who have alleged Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed them.

And here's a story: I was with my daughters in Christchurch on Sunday and the older one was looking at running gear in a shop, because she's doing more and more of it. It's a good way to cope with the stresses of a busy degree and she's really started to enjoy it. We compare notes; our times are similar, and we're thinking of doing a race together in the near future.

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What sticks with me about the chat, though, is that as she was looking through the racks, she pointed out she has to be careful what she wears because she sometimes gets cat-called when she's running. And that makes me mad, quite frankly.

She'd mentioned this once before and I was a little concerned – though probably not as much as I should have been, in retrospect – but since Sunday, it's gnawed at me. Because the idea that my daughter is made to feel uncomfortable doing something I know she derives great physical and mental benefit from is really hard to accept.

I feel a little helpless – what am I going to do? Go and run with her in the hope of confronting the cat-callers? Because I so would, but I can't do that on an ongoing basis – we live 200km apart.

And, of course, they wouldn't have the courage if I was with her, because that's the nature of these situations. In the meantime, she and her running friends live with the objectification, and they shouldn't have to.

Then she told me about leaving an evening event recently, going to her car, and hearing someone yelling "Slut!" at her. She looked around and saw a man standing alone on a verandah, shouting it repeatedly. "I've never got in my car so fast," she said.

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What the hell?

Of course, this has been the week dominated by the awful Harvey Weinstein revelations. I was going to say allegations, but I think they're far more than that. There have been multiple sexual harassment settlements, it's reported.

And I don't think the courageous women who have spoken out would have done so if there was no truth to their claims; it's simply counter-intuitive. What would they possibly have to gain by making that up?

Plainly, it's about power, and men who have it thinking they can do what they like with it. Weinstein shouldn't be allowed to simply wriggle off the hook through weasel-worded press releases about the era he grew up in and his understanding of the meaning of consensual.

We've already seen one prominent, powerful man confronted with multiple allegations of sexual assault - including video footage of him denigrating women, which he dismissed as "locker room" talk - who was allowed to bluster his way through them. I don't believe those women would have had anything to gain by making up their allegations either. In fact, it's an eerily similar scenario, but that man's now the President of the United States. Go figure.

The thing that has resonated most for me, though, in reading about, and trying to understand, this whole sordid situation, is that I'm part of the problem.

And I'm trying really hard to get my head around how I can change that.

Despite Sean Plunket's dismissal of its merits, Twitter is a place where many people who feel they don't have a voice anywhere else are able to express themselves. I've "listened" to many voices on this subject this week.

And it's not good enough that I've read how many women feel they simply can't trust men because of the actions of some downright creepy ones, or are frustrated they have to engage at work with men they know have acted inappropriately towards them or colleagues. That women have to worry they'll be belittled, called "feminist", as though it's somehow an insult, or "frigid". Or be laughed at, humiliated, made to feel they're the one with the problem if they respond strongly to inappropriate comments or advances.

It's our fault. Not just the men who make the comments and cat-calls, or far too often much worse, but those who would never do it who don't see it.

It's my fault. It shouldn't have taken my daughter talking to me about this - "you become quite resilient", she told me - to really get the prevalence of this issue.

The most confronting thing I read this week was a thread of tweets written by a woman about "a really frustrating conversation I had today with a really good man", who said he "couldn't believe he hadn't seen" the kind of things that went on at her university. The uni has a big problem with "sexual violence", she wrote, adding: "... because here's the thing about good men - they believe other men are good men. And that creates a kind of blissful ignorance..."

That makes me all kinds of uncomfortable, and I find myself thinking about what I might have missed because I wasn't looking. As someone responded, sometimes it's simply a case of men who behave like creeps being careful not to do it in front of those who don't.

But I've also been wondering how we - I - can be better at helping to address this issue. 

I think it has to start with listening, to the victims, not the perpetrators. With understanding what their reality, their normal, is.

But it has to go further than that. We have to start seeing, and we have to call it out ...

 - Stuff

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