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Spotlight on misogyny


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The past few days have seen the #MeToo movement take social media by storm, with women from all walks of life sharing their stories of abuse and sexual harassment.

The hashtag, which was created by Hollywood actress Alyssa Milano in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandal, was aimed at drawing attention to the sheer magnitude of women who have and continue to face sexual harassment on a daily basis. The response to her plea however, has been greater and more far reaching than she could have possibly imagined, with women from all over the world relating their own harrowing accounts of abuse.

In the days following the Weinstein scandal, many women in Hollywood began to speak out about their horrifying ordeals. While Weinstein was rightfully fired, the conversation the scandal created empowered other women in the industry to take action. Amazon Studios Programming Chief Roy Price resigned earlier this week after a producer accused him of sexual harassment, while Weinstein’s brother Bob is also under investigation following claims of harassment. It’s safe to say the moves would not have come about had so many other women not been so brave in coming forward with their experiences.

Even in Sri Lanka the outcry has been deafening, with women reporting instances of harassment on public transport, at the workplace, or at home. But while the size of the issue is clearly in no doubt, Sri Lanka is still seemingly light years away from dealing with the underlying cause of this abuse.

Abuse at the end of the day is a symptom of the patriarchal and deeply misogynistic society we live in – from overt objectification and catcalling on the road and at the workplace, to more subtle privilege, like a man expecting every woman he helps to owe him her affection in return. These are just the more obvious issues and don’t even touch on the day-to-day workplace instances of misogynistic double standards, where the differences in the way men and women are perceived is jarring.

For there to be meaningful change, women in this country need to be empowered to speak up when their dignity is violated, instead of being shamed and told to stay quiet and “move past it” for fear of bringing shame on themselves and their families. Abuse is in the end about power – more specifically the abusers’ power over their victims – and by not providing victims with a platform to speak out, we as a society are complicit in their suffering.

Even in the liberal bubble that is Hollywood, it took multiple women coming forward initially for any meaningful consequences to arrive for their abusers. So what hope does Sri Lanka have, when the reaction to any woman claiming abuse is to shame and blame her for ‘inciting’ the man?

Do men not have self-control? Are men just animals that have no choice but to succumb to their baser instincts when in the company of a beautiful woman? If so, why are they not scrutinised more?

Answering these questions openly and honestly is not enough. Activists, the Government, friends and family, and society as a whole need to come together and create an environment in which women can come forward safely without fear of negative labels or worse. We simply must do better.


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