Hong Kong’s #MeToo movement needs men, say women, plus three ways to respond to sexual harassment
The second ‘#MeToo. Now What?’ workshop to find community-driven solutions to sexual harassment will invite men to the discussion, with organisers saying buy-in from both sexes is vital for real change
As the world continues to see tangible results from the #MeToo movement that has swiftly normalised advocacy against sexual harassment and abuse, Hong Kong is taking its own steps by holding a series of workshops under the banner “#MeToo. Now What?”
The first of these sessions was held early last month, and brought together women to help identify, respond to and end sexual harassment. A second workshop will be held at community space Metta in Central on January 15 – and this time men are invited.
“It was important for us from the outset to involve men in the discussion, because both women and men have a responsibility in finding the solution to these deeply entrenched social imbalances. It was just a case of timing,” the organisers of the workshops said.
The organisers include Helen Lockey, director of educational and institutional intelligence in the president’s office at the University of Hong Kong (HKU); Karen See, of Embrace Worldwide, which offers personal and corporate behavioural coaching; Karina Calver, a trauma and relationships counsellor; Pascale Bertoli, a stress-management counsellor; and this writer, from Camel Assembly, a Hong Kong network for female leaders.
While much of the conversation around #MeToo revolves around what women can, and should, do to protect themselves against damaging experiences, there is only so much they can do given that men are usually the source of the problem. An approach that includes men ensures they are involved and held accountable in the quest for equality, something that can only happen with support from both genders.
“Replacement of the patriarchy with the matriarchy is useless and actually embodies the very systems we are now trying to undo,” says Yelda Ali, founder of Camel Assembly. “Excluding men from vital conversations absolves them of the responsibility needed to make any hashtag into a society-wide consciousness shift.
“Messages that speak to both sides have the potential to truly shift consciousness, because to change the game you need the buy-in of both sides. Good luck trying to change the world by only speaking to half of it.”
Generating concrete results from #MeToo is being taken seriously, as seen in the anti-harassment initiative launched recently by powerful Hollywood women, Time’s Up. The initiative includes a US$15 million fund to provide subsidised legal support to those who have experienced sexual harassment, assault, or abuse in the workplace, and has the backing of actresses including Reese Witherspoon, America Ferrera and Eva Longoria, and producer Shonda Rhimes.
Calver says the format of the events includes a short panel discussion to provide clear answers to participants about what sexual harassment actually is. Attendees then form breakout groups of roughly five people who share stories and draw up scripts to respond to unwanted advances.
See says the events conclude by drawing from the group’s collective experience of weaknesses that exist in Hong Kong and practical steps to resolve them.
Data gathered from the first workshop showed 55 per cent of women who have experienced harassment did not report it and 75 per cent wanted a pre-formulated response to revert to in situations of discomfort or fear. “Verbal protection” was how one respondent described it.
The workshop also found that while there is no one way to stop sexual harassment, a consistent decision can be made in response to unwanted physical attention: to act right away.
An immediate response is crucial to both empowering the target and eliciting genuine reform in the perpetrator. Whether that is a report to a human resources department, taking the person aside and explaining that a behaviour was wrong and why, or approaching counsellors for therapy, workshop participants agreed that doing something as soon as possible is the best response nearly every time. Harassers and those who make unwelcome advances become powerful if it is treated as an isolated incident and the target of the harassment says nothing about it.
It was data gathered by Lockey while creating a sexual abuse education app for HKU that acted as a catalyst for “Now What?”. One thing she found was that men, too, suffer from unwanted sexual advances. “We discovered that one in six women and one in 10 men experience harassment,” she says, adding that a 2016 US study of 224 respondents aged 18 or older revealed 47 per cent of men who had been harassed reported the incident, compared with 37 per cent of women.
These figures reinforce the conviction of workshop organisers HKU, Embrace and Camel Assembly that while more opportunities and platforms need to be provided for women to report sexual harassment, the next step is to enlist the aid of male allies.
“Everyone needs safe spaces to understand and heal,” the organisers says. “It is crucial that both men and women are part of the conversation so we pave a new path together.”
Three steps to deal with sexual harassment, recommended by the workshop organisers
1. Identify: learn to notice when something is or seems inappropriate. Sexual abuse is non-consensual sexual contact, or words and behaviours implying sexualisation of the receiver or target.
Trust your gut instinct – it is the first feeling of rejection, disgust, fear and surprise, and is a physiological response; your heart may beat faster, your voice or breathing may be constricted, or there is a knot in your stomach.
Do not rationalise what just happened so as to minimise the impact of the event. If you felt it, believe it.
2. Respond: act on what made you feel uncomfortable. This could be by moving away, asking the person what they meant by their words or actions, articulating how uncomfortable it made you feel, telling a friend, or reporting it to your employer’s human resources department within 24 hours. The fact that you find what happened totally unacceptable must be communicated clearly to the perpetrator.
Ask for clarifications if you are in a reasonable trust relationship with the perpetrator and want to give the benefit of the doubt.
3. End: harassment ends when those affected – both men and women – are not ashamed to call out such acts and to educate everyone about the subtleties of those acts.
If the behaviour does not stop, advise your human resources department. Keep inappropriate emails, text and voice messages to use if needed. Seek support from a professional.
Do not let the issue fester, and do not minimise what happened to you. Do not isolate yourself, nor succumb to shame.
Educate yourself and others as to what is and is not acceptable. Promote an organisational culture that does not foster a climate of harassment. Talk to human resources about it.