The deliberating manner in which the predatory culture is calculatively conducted these days is to say the least about how survivors and women are increasingly under the constant harm of sexual misconduct. Our ambitions and our agencies are misplaced within the struggle for justice even when we do decide to speak up about our experiences of abuse. But sexual harassment is not confined to the domestic realms, the professional world remains dark and hidden with horrific accounts of violence against women. But when we do speak up, why aren’t we heard?
Let’s unpack this a bit. Who is abused? Who abuses? Who are the spectators and who can really help? Usually, men are the culprits of this abuse we constantly reveal, but I wish not to confine sexual misconduct to a gendered binary, I am talking from a human perspective of dignity and protection. But what is recurrent in this conversation is power. The culprits and predators have power, something that is very resonate to the world of patriarchy in its functionality. This conversation is impossible without the flare of dominance, sexual violence is more than an infliction of brutality on the victim; it is suppression and silence at its worst.
Surely, the fault lines appear when we start regressing into the conditionalities of silencing women and victims. We are so prone to take harassment and misogyny as something that ‘we put it past us’, that we don’t even know where to start from this. The harsh truth that we will always confront is that the culture around shaming and victim blaming garners more momentum than the actual worry at hand. And this is unacceptable, because sexual harassment is not a hyperbole. And when we do come forward, we are pushed to the back of the heap, where we are threatened a strangle of our hopes and spirit. It strips away our pain, the premier instinct we have vested in us, further humiliating us.
Whenever we speak up, society diverts again, dislocating the ‘victimhood’. Women who sort of support a liberal conform are automatically branded ‘characterless’, women who wish to be more reserved are more of a ‘plain jane’ and women who consent are ‘tarts’. If we carry on this ship with these anchors, we stop nowhere but in the desert of a disgruntled acclaims that we not need nor did we ask for, steering the conversation on to a trajectory that inflicts more pain and suffering. And those who choose not to speak despite having the autonomy to do so are the same perpetuators of this epidemic.
It is assumable for men to practice their autonomy BECAUSE they do have it whereas we can’t speak hence we don’t. Even with the implicity of how women ‘should’ behave before and after harassment. For example, if a woman is harassed, then attention is drawn to her outfit or her reactions but not to the incident per se. Sexual violence itself is normalized in the context of certain occupations, such as sex work. Sex workers are dehumanized, let alone their experiences being legitimized even when there remains an altitude of trauma in their abuses.
Recently, the #MeToo movement has named and shamed many global bigwigs, causing a wave of uproar and unseeded bash against the predatory culture. The Nobel Prize for literature for 2018 was halted after allegations of sexual abuse within the fraternity. It is evident that certain men who have been accused come from a background of wealth and influence, a moral leeway given to them to continue to perpetrate their actions. Something else wrong? Yes, their influence ought not to overshadow the conversation of sexual misconduct and their work must not transgress their boundaries. Their jobs and their riches SHOULD NOT permit their accusations.
Which brings me to my final point; how do we differentiate the art and the artist? Or when do we? My answer: we don’t. Supposing the usual framework that if a sex worker is raped, its in her jurisdiction as she asked for it, why can’t the same be done to perpetrators. If we rest our prowess on disrobing a survivor, can we not invest the same energy in shaming a predator?
A culprit who has committed a crime is foremost convicted of their actions rather than praise be bestowed on them. So when an artist (as the conversation emerged from the entertainment industry) is accused, why are they shielded by their excellence? Can an ‘excellent achiever’ not be capable of such, have we let the accused escape because he has won an award but stripped away a victim of their spirit?
We cannot equate the value of an award or how talented one is to their actions; we need to change this system of assessment if it overshadows the abuse. It may be seen as crude to qualify an individual’s potential through their attributes and not their achievements, but we cannot trivialize abuse because we respect an ‘art’. There is no excellence behind sexual misconduct or deem it necessary for an art, and we CANNOT blur between the artist and the art but we can differentiate between the perpetrator and the victim.
Sumona Bose is a MPhil candidate in Justice and Transformation at the University of Cape Town. She also did undergraduate studies in Political Studies and International Relations and has a Honours in International Relations.