Turn the tables on those who harass
It is to be hoped the moment of cultural reckoning unleashed in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal reaches Hong Kong and elsewhere in China and Asia
A moment of cultural reckoning was unleashed with the downfall of Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein in a sea of sexual misconduct accusations. Similar outcries of violence and harassment have since been made against dozens of powerful men. The rising tide has spread to Britain and is making waves in Europe, driven by social media and a sense that a lasting transformation is at hand. It is to be hoped it takes hold and reaches Hong Kong and elsewhere in China and Asia, where the scourge is as endemic.
Weinstein had for decades been known to have used his authority to prey on actresses, but none dared speak out for fear of endangering their careers. The “casting couch” culture is synonymous with the entertainment industry, but unscrupulous, powerful men throughout history have always been able to use their positions to harass, intimidate and assault. Scandals have arisen over the years and laws put in place to prevent abuse, but most victims have chosen to remain silent out of shame or to keep their jobs. Patriarchal societies which idolise strong men have ensured women are too often considered the lesser sex at home, school and work.
Changing such thinking will not be easy. But the circumstances of the Weinstein scandal brings hope. Celebrated actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie gave accusations unprecedented clout and empowered other victims. A sea change had already been building through cases involving other entertainment and business titans, but driving the outrage was the election of US President Donald Trump, who took office despite allegations of misconduct by at least 13 women, a tally made by The Washington Post.
Millions of people, mostly women, have in recent weeks posted their experiences under the Twitter hashtag #MeToo. Their revelations have led to the resignation, sacking and apologising of high-profile men in various industries, among them television presenter Charlie Rose and comedian Louis C.K. In Britain, a dozen investigations are under way into politicians. A similar campaign to that in the US, #MeTooHK, has been launched in Hong Kong.
Studies by the Equal Opportunities Commission show sexual misconduct is almost as commonplace in Hong Kong as the US, with one in five women suffering harassment in the workplace and half of female school and university students being exposed to various forms. But most companies have yet to develop anti-discrimination policies or carry out awareness training, fundamental to changing the culture. No one should be made to feel unsafe at work or school. Society has to make reporting sexual harassment easier and the consequences for those responsible clear and prompt.