The state of votes
The danger of trivializing sexual assault
Jean-Baptiste Hubert|translated by: Kummer Livia
When dealing with sexual assault no means are trivial
Anna Gwizdek| translated by: Anna Gwizdek
Jean-Baptiste Hubert | translated by: Kummer Livia | 2018. August 22. 22:00
Despite the cultural and moral advancement these days, everyday sexual harassment is a plague. This epidemic cannot be cured by excessive exposure on social networks.
We are currently living in an over-connected society where the least of our actions must be shared via social media, otherwise we lose our essence. That is how, alongside the pictures of freshly ordered dishes of "friends" who cannot enjoy a real meal without feeling "blessed", more and more hateful comments pop up judging everything and everyone without ever linking evidence to claims. And on these same platforms we find genuine messages of distress posted by people who sincerely wish to highlight a form of harassment which is still widely present in our society.
Shedding light on a problem, that has always existed in our society and which can affect us all, shouldn't be anything unusual. Regardless of gender, social status or nationality, anyone can be confronted with the problem of sexual harassment; with forced and repeated smiles, with wandering hands, sexist remarks and sometimes with a frightening lack of ethics; no gesture is innocuous. On the contrary, they reveal a profound sickness in society. The victims, for the most part, remain silent and quietly put up with the situation until a spark comes along: the Weinstein case is one such flame. Weinstein was a film producer who has used his influence in his professional field to force people to satisfy his desires. The public revelation of this affair was followed by an emotional response from all sides. The media were devoted to this scandal to such an extent that they made us forget the numerous other cases that concerned many other individuals at that time. After this media outcry, a wave of indignation on social networks followed. It was like a bomb that had been ticking silently for ages before it finally exploded. Only this time people like you and me decide to actively intervene and denounce the violence and crimes committed to them, as was the case in France with the hashtag "#balancetonporc". Such awareness may seem at first sight beneficial, but it turns out that this is not always the case.
I say yes to the liberation of the discourse on the topic. I say yes to denouncing the problems. But one should know how to do it reasonably without turning it into a witch-hunt harming the innocent. Of the hundreds of charges against perpetrators that have been alleged, 95% is probably well-founded. There is no guarantee, though, that this phenomenon will not negatively influence justice, or that all the rumors will turn out to be truth.
At the time when "fake news" is the truth and when anybody gets to comment on anything, it seems obvious that, at first sight, our virtual canvas does not present itself as a healthy space for deep social debates. When you come across an article reporting an assault that is placed right between two cooking articles and the latest video buzzing in the background, you do not feel as truly implicated in the events. Worse yet, in the midst of so much artificial joy, you unknowingly distract yourself from this "murky", "depressing" article.
Although big names like Facebook or Twitter are now trying to position themselves as the pinnacle of reliable and impartial media coverage, in reality, the information they share is often more than questionable and biased. Is it truly in this deplorable context that victims of assault wish to speak out? This is laughable but not funny. For nothing makes me cringe more than the thought, of the last smoothie recipe having a greater effect on you and me than the distress of those poor people.
You might ask me what could be worse than a testimony of a rape discredited in the public space. The answer is very simple: the trivialization of the latter. A trivial crime is a crime that in our perception becomes a part of our everyday life, that is to say, a daily testimony that repeats itself time and again before our eyes. And I sincerely believe that the disorganized and deregulated overexposure to this phenomenon will lead us to this dreaded trivialization. Indeed, by dint of repetition, like the previously mentioned hashtag campaign on Twitter, the shock of the first revelations is diluted and gradually leaves room for indifference. The paradox is that the people initiating these actions in order to help and to share their messages are the ones causing this banalization. The concept could be summed up by the following French saying: when you want to hit your enemies, you end up beating your friends.
In conclusion, it is not the diversity, nor the multiplicity of a message that is its strength, but its unity and coherence. A warning issued by a reliable and recognized source can have a much bigger impact than an infinite number of testimonies.
Anna Gwizdek | translated by: Anna Gwizdek | 2018. August 22. 22:00
The fight for equal rights has been characterized by symbolic events, in cases of historic feminist “waves”, leading to rapid changes in societies. In the 21st century such a milestone is the #MeToo Campaign that triggered an avalanche across social media.
According to the report of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), Poland is one of the European countries with the lowest rate of gender violence. However, before we start to celebrate our “success” we should have a reality check and compare these results with the research carried out by Polish non-governmental organizations, which indicates that 90% of rape victims in Poland do not report the crime to the police. Why is it so? Amongst the reasons are their sense of shame, lack of faith in public institutions and insufficient knowledge of the laws that protect women and their rights. The #MeToo Campaign showed the world the scale of violence against women and made people realize how many crimes go unreported. 60 women had to testify before they were believed, and Bill Cosby was finally convicted of three counts of aggravated indecent assault. And when victims finally refuse to keep silent any longer and start publicising cases of gender violence, they are being criticized for using the wrong platforms. Let’s finally stop silencing women and dismissing their testimonies and start listening to what they have to say.
If we take a closer look at the feminist movements around the world, we will see that depending on aspects such as cultural background or the country of origin, feminists vary a lot in their aspirations, goals and views. Very often they disagree with each other and object to being identified with some other feminist groups. However, the thing that clearly unifies all of them is the fight for women’s rights. Of course, it would be ideal if feminists stopped mutual criticism, which undermines their trustworthiness, and showed greater understanding and solidarity towards women who consciously make other life decisions – it all comes down to respecting freedom of choice in the end – but that is already a whole different topic.
Similarly, with the #MeToo Campaign, Canadian author Margaret Atwood points out that #MeToo is a symptom of a dysfunctional legal system and asks whether escaping to social media will not cause people to bypass legal institutions and dispense justice online. In France, one hundred French women, including actress Catherine Deneuve, claim that #MeToo threatens women’s hard-won sexual freedom and may lead to the return of Puritanism. In Poland, the movement reveals the understated statistics of violence against women, the divisions of feminists in the country and stirs up discussions on the definition of sexual violence anew.
Many people ask if the movement has gone too far, whether social media posts contribute to the trivialisation of sexual assaults, and if all posts marked with the hashtag "MeToo" really deserve to be called sexual harassment (maybe someone has exaggerated in their assessment of the situation, right?). And whether we should always believe the victim, who has the ability to ruin someone’s life by revealing their name on social media.
All faces of the #MeToo movement have shown that it is impossible for so many women from different cultures to speak with one voice, just as it is impossible for all feminist movements to merge into one. This does not mean, however, that this justifies the questioning of the credibility of the posts on social media, on the contrary - it compels us to listen to all of them.
One thing is also for sure - writing each post, even if it was only a pasted #MeToo, required a lot of courage, was an expression of solidarity and a signal that it is high time to take another step forward in the fight for women's rights.
Even though posts pointing to specific names were exceptional in Poland (the majority of people remained anonymous, often a hashtag alone has been published without any content) a heated discussion on the absolute faith in the victim and the right of the accused to fair trial has also taken place. Perhaps it is difficult for us to admit or believe in the scale of the phenomenon of sexual assault in Europe, but beginning this discussion somewhere is necessary for our culture to move forward, to develop new standards and to be an example to others.
The intellectual debate about what sexual harassment is and what it is not, and whether social media is the right place for this type of action, causes the ideals of the movement to disappear out of sight. The fear that women will suddenly start overusing the hashtag "MeToo" and the definition of sexual assault will become trivialized is also unjustified. Let’s just put it in simple words: if both parties consent, we can talk about flirting of some kind. When consent is lacking and there's a disagreement, it is already harassment. Presenting this problem is not trivial and should not be measured on a scale from better to worse, or in terms of whether the case is or is not deserving of the hashtag "MeToo". No description of a situation in which a woman experiences any form of harassment neither trivializes nor diminishes the action.
Jean-Baptiste Hubert|translated by: Kummer Livia
Anna Gwizdek| translated by: Anna Gwizdek
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