You Can’t Touch Me

Normalization of Sexual Harassment Leads to Bigger Dangers

You can’t touch me on the streets.

You can’t touch me in the club.

You can’t touch me ever without my consent.

Over the weekend, I paid Input, my favorite club in Barcelona, a visit. Not to my surprise, the music was amazing; and not to my surprise, I was touched inappropriately several times. Be it a guy sliding his hand down my back or another tightly placing his hand on my hip, it happens.

It happens often and it happens to many.

And often it is acknowledged with ‘Yea it happens’.

“I did try and fuck her. She was married.” – Donald Trump

The ongoing normalization of such day-to-day harassment is indicative of a larger social problem. One where accounts of sexual harassment and assault reported by women are not taken seriously. One where we as a society are aware of and actively dismiss potential predators. I’m talking about Trump, Weinstein, Cosby, Woody Allen, Mike Tyson, Charlie Sheen

I’m talking about mega-company Uber, which up until the latest scandal harbored a toxic workplace of sexual harassment where 20 employees had to be fired. Earlier this year, former engineer at Uber, Susan Fowler, testified that the management repeatedly dismissed her complaints, hid the offender’s identity, and even threatened to fire her after coming forward with allegations.

Why does this happen and what does it lead to?

One way to identify the source of this disturbing social phenomenon is to explore how women are viewed as independent figures. What is the woman’s value and what is her role in society?

In earlier days, assigned gender roles drew distinct margins between the sexes. The ‘man’ had his job and the ‘woman’ had hers. Generally speaking, women were expected to become wives and then mothers, responsible for cooking, cleaning and taking care of the children.

It wasn’t until the early 1900s that women gained voting rights. Soon after, they acquired the right to drive and work. Back then the majority of women worked in low-income jobs, languishing at the bottom of the economic pyramid. What’s more, the nature of these jobs conformed to previously prescribed gender roles, meaning most women worked in emotionally-catering roles such as teachers, nurses, secretaries, and assistants.

That was her role in society.

Women were not thought of as competent enough to become leaders, managers, CEOs, or presidents. In some sense, they are still not. In 2016, research performed by Fortune Knowledge Group (FKG) suggested that  “a mere 4.2% of the 500 largest US companies by revenue are led by female CEOs.”

As minuscule as the one digit number is, it is considered a slow yet gradual increase. In fact, as of early 2017, only 18.3% of government ministers were women. The most commonly held positions by women were in the ministry of environment, natural resources, and energy, followed by social sectors, such as social affairs, education and the family.

“Women consistently perform more housework than men do,” according to studies.

While women are advancing in administrative and political domains, working women are still expected to do the larger portion of housework. Researchers found that working women worked three times more on domestic chores—like cooking, cleaning, and washing—than their husbands or partners. In 2017, the average woman works at a paid job and does the majority of work at home.

That is her role today.

So how is the modern day woman portrayed in mainstream media?

About 1 in 3 female movie characters is shown nude or wearing revealing clothing. And while 88% of heroes in American blockbusters are played by men, women comprise only 22% of protagonists in the top 100 U.S. films. Even then, the heroine is often depicted in tight, revealing and provocative outfits. Such was the case with the newest release of Wonder Woman (2017).

Objectification theory (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997) posits that women are generally represented as objects of sexual desire to be looked at and acted upon. In this framework, the value of the woman lies solely in her body. She is stripped from emotional depth and dehumanized to inanimate levels. Through the perpetuation of female sexual objectification in media, women are fragmented into interchangeable body parts.

Factoring in the mentioned elements of the article—role, value, and representation—we may begin to discern a clearer image of the modern woman and reasons behind the prevalence of sexual harassment.

Her role, input, and contribution to the workforce and socio-economic structure are still not considered an integral force. Her voice is yet to be considered a moving factor, and is yet to be represented as such in media outlets. Her value lies in her body. The lack of consideration and dehumanization lead to a substantially accepted amount of violence.

In the 2017 Miss Peru beauty pageant, contestants dedicated their time on stage to highlight statistics on women’s safety.  “Seventy percent of women in our country are victims of street harassment,”  proclaimed Juana Acevedo. It’s the normalization of daily coercive interactions that enable levels of harassment beginning with catcalling to escalate to more abrasive and unwarranted advances culminating in rape and abuse. “Thirteen thousand girls suffer sexual abuse in our country,” attested another contestant.

Social media campaigns such as #metoo and #howiwillchange are establishing a construct for change. #Metoo, initiated by actress Alyssa Milano, ignited a wave of statements regarding sexual harassment.

“My hope is people will get the idea of the magnitude, of just how many people have been affected by this in the world, in our lifetimes, in this country,” Milano told The Associated Press.

The hashtag came about through a discussion that was happening about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and the recent allegations against him. He has been accused by more than 50 women of some form of sexual harassment. Those women include famous celebrities and artists like Angelina Jolie, Ashly Judd, Gwyneth Paltrow, Rose McGowan and many more.

In a similar vein, #howwillichange focused on men pledging to stand up against harassing behavior. 

And this is what is needed right now; for such actions to not be considered normal, and for us to speak out when they happen.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the site administration and/or other contributors to this site.
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Joana Aziz is a Syrian Barcelona-based freelance writer. She was the Arts & Culture Editor for Time Out Magazine (Beirut) and has written for Home Magazine, Conatus New, Middle East Eye and Freethought Lebanon.

She has a BA in Communication Arts from the Lebanese American University, an MA in International Studies in Media, Power and Difference from the University of Pompeu Fabra and is currently pursuing her PhD in Communication at the same university.

Aside from having a writing career, her ambitions for the future include teaching, researching, and activism.