Sexual Harassment in The Post #MeToo Age: RAZZ x Recognise Red

-Trigger Warning-

Recognise Red, who are we?

So, who are Recognise Red? We are a team of students who stand behind the anti-sexual harassment campaign at The University of Exeter. We advocate an inclusive form of activism, in which we aim to educate and raise awareness about the forms of harassment, how to combat them, and where to seek support after traumatic events. The focal point of our message being, RED: Recognise, Engage, Discuss. Some examples of our campaigning within the university include the guest speaker Gina Martin’s appearance last year, our collaboration with MWEXE discussing harassment in Westminster, our info-graphic posters on social media and in clubs, as well as our upcoming podcast Recognise Red Presents #Discuss.

The #MeToo Movement

We are now living in what has been referred to as the ‘post Me-Too’ movement era. The women who were at the forefront of the movement ranged from the founder, Tarana Burke to the women who stood collectively against Harvey Weinstein’s news-breaking case of corruption. The aim of the online activism was to expose people in positions of power who were guilty of harassment and misconduct in their jobs, thus giving a voice to those previously voiceless.

The resultant social progression which occurred as a result of the voices behind a hashtag? At least 201 powerful men were bought down from powerful positions due to their misconduct, with over 920 people banding together to form cases against them (NY Times 2018). The consequences of such a reformation in the upper echelons of this business hierarchy is that 43% of the replacements are women: a refreshing turnover of power from those that abused it to others who are deemed advocators of change. This social progression has rippled down into the other tiers of society, not just the top of the business world. People from a variety of backgrounds felt compelled and confident in sharing their experiences and ideas across a range of platforms. The movement has left a lasting mark on the way in which we perceive harassment, and how we review or stand together as a result of such events.

What Constitutes As Harassment?

The problem with the connotations that surround the term ‘sexual harassment’ is that it produces a grey area of behaviours and sequences of events. Often victims feel confused as to whether less severe cases constitute as ‘sexual harassment’ or in more severe instances whether it is right to get the police or authorities involved due to the complexities of interpersonal relations. The reality is that the term ‘sexual harassment’ is an umbrella term which seeks to span the articulation of anything from verbal insults or inappropriate comments, to aggression and rape. There are a range of experiences of varying severity which fall under one category, therefore it can often become problematic when thinking about preconceptions or the weight associated with using such a phrase.

The Personal and The Public.

For the individual, it can often feel like an internal tension between the notion of outrage at harassment in the public sphere, and the internal struggle of choosing to report someone within their own lives. There is a deep appeal in the empowerment of witnessing people seek justice in the news and on social media, yet the reality of dealing with harassment can feel isolating and somewhat embarrassing to actually speak up in your own life. There stands a disconnect between the supportive world of survival or success stories which Twitter, Instagram or cases in the news can often provide, and the personal act of choosing to report or speak out against someone.

As a woman, I have often felt it would be futile or trivial to report someone’s behaviours, or as though I have not had the means to do so. I have been grabbed and aggressively handled in clubs, had advances inflicted upon me against my will, been followed in broad daylight on empty streets and had wildly inappropriate and uncomfortable verbal harassment directed at me in professional environments. I have been catcalled more times than I can recount, had to block multiple people social media, as well as deal with emotional blackmail. The list goes on; yet in none of these cases was anyone held accountable to their actions. Not through ignorance, but due to not knowing the identity of the harasser, who to talk to, or how to deal with such a predicament in a workplace.

What is harrowing about this is not only the scope of these experiences and the different environments in which they can occur, but the fact that I am far from the only person to have experienced such behaviour. The personal vulnerability born of harassment is in constant flux with the ideal of advocation for figures in the public eye who seek justice. When it comes down to you, it often feels far more provoking and awkward to speak up, than leave it and move on. Celebrities and activists appear powerful, yet it can often feel compromising to speak up in low paid job roles, amongst friends, or at university.

Gender And Generalisation.

Contradictory to common opinion, sexual harassment is not gender-exclusive to the female victim. Whilst my personal experience is one of a female perspective, harassment does not happen solely to women. I spoke to a male friend who has chosen to remain unnamed, in an attempt to understand how it impacts men. In recalling a recent event in which a friend of a colleague made unwanted physical advances on him in a public place, he revealed, “Something about that powerlessness was very alien to me. It was a rude awakening as I’ve never been part of that sort of thing before, and therefore never thought it could happen to me.” Disturbed by the incident, he admitted he now carries an air of caution, having realised these experiences are not exclusive to women.

One study concluded that whilst women make up 47% of the workforce in America, they file 83.5% of workplace sexual harassment cases (AmericanProgress 2017). So whilst the data suggests that women are more likely to be harassed, or more likely to speak up about it, it does not mean that men are not experiencing such problems simultaneously.

Speaking Up, Safely.

Through the anonymous confessions we receive via our Instagram (@Recognisered), we allow students and others to articulate incidents which have affected them in a safe environment. Even admins cannot see who has posted their story, and thus there is a barrier of anonymity which keeps victim safe, whilst having their voices heard.

A male student told us he was in a club when a former partner, “pushed me against a wall and began groping me. I pushed her away but I felt so violated, as a guy I didn’t even consider such a situation. But it didn’t feel nice to feel like I wasn’t in control of my body.” This experience raises the common issue of consent. Consent once, does not equal repeated and infinite consent. Two people must be mutually consenting to physical actions in the moment, not based upon previous interest or action. Consent is an ongoing dialogue, not a closed agreement.

One woman who told her story relays how she experienced unwanted predatory behaviour upon returning home from a night of drinking. She admits, “I tried to deny it happened and thought it had to be my fault, but it wasn’t. I felt disgusted.” This is an example of how susceptible to emotions of guilt victims of sexual harassment or abuse feel. It is natural to think how things could have panned out differently, had we had control of the situation, especially when drinking is involved: but the reality of harassment is that often we don’t. This is why Recognise Red aims to educate people, and help them progress.

How To Get Help.

If you feel as though you have been affected by any form of harassment, verbal offence, physical force, emotional blackmail or aggression, then please reach out. You can call the university nightlife service on 01392724000, or estate patrol on 01392723999. Call 112 if you want to report a crime, or 999 if you’re in immediate danger. To talk to rape crisis then call 0808 802 9999, Women’s Aid Federation 0808 2000 247, or 02035983898 for male victim support.

Instagram, Facebook and Twitter: @RecogniseRed

Emily Black

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