What makes a woman rush to dismiss the female victims of sexual harassment?

In a recent Globe and Mail article Margaret Wente enumerated a list of what she calls “the standard menu” of “abuse” women suffer. Her “menu” includes,

sidewalk catcalls, being trailed on the street at night, dates who wouldn’t desist until we got really angry, a few flashers on the subway or in public parks who sometimes also masturbated, men who rubbed against us on the streetcar, bosses who tried to kiss us when we were teenage waitresses, a handful of overly friendly colleagues, someone’s dad who made a pass when we were underage.


For Wente, to whom apparently all these things have happened, these are all just

relatively harmless….. simply part of urban life…. like having your bike or your purse stolen…. a nuisance.

And, for those unfortunate women who have suffered worse… well they really only have themselves to blame –

I do think that predators can spot women who are especially vulnerable.

If you weren’t so “vulnerable” you would not be victimized by the abhorrent abusive behaviour of men who use their power to impose their wishes upon women in an attempt to satisfy their own desires. You better toughen up…. get more like Margaret.

Quite apart from the fact that no woman should ever be forced to witness a man masturbating in public, or be “rubbed against” on the street car, Wente’s determination to diminish the behaviours women have described in the “Me too” social media campaign is hard to comprehend.

What benefit does Margaret Wente gain from diminishing the reality so many women have experienced?

What’s predictable is another wave of claims that sexual abuse is pervasive, that rape culture is the norm, and that most men are complicit in it…. Please, people. Can’t we get a grip? You don’t have to be an apologist for Harvey Weinstein to say things aren’t quite that bad.

How does Wente benefit by protesting that “things aren’t quite that bad”? Is this simply an attempt to generate more traffic to her articles increasing her bargaining power next time her salary is up for negotiation at the Globe and Mail?

The truth is, for many women I know and respect, it is “that bad” when “bosses” have “tried to kiss” them when they “were teenage waitresses”, when they have been subjected to “a handful of overly friendly colleagues,” or when “someone’s dad” has “made a pass” when they “were underage.”

Does Wente fail to understand the systemic abuse that pervades our society? Does she really not see that men have for generations held power over women and felt at liberty to inflict themselves upon women with unwanted, unasked for, and often strongly resisted behaviour?

Margaret Wente would do well to educate herself a little by reading Jackson Katz disturbing account of standing in front of a group of men and women and drawing

a line down the middle of a chalkboard, sketching a male symbol on one side and a female symbol on the other.

Then I ask just the men: What steps do you guys take, on a daily basis, to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted? At first there is a kind of awkward silence as the men try to figure out if they’ve been asked a trick question. The silence gives way to a smattering of nervous laughter. Occasionally, a young a guy will raise his hand and say, ‘I stay out of prison.’ This is typically followed by another moment of laughter, before someone finally raises his hand and soberly states, ‘Nothing. I don’t think about it.’

Then I ask women the same question. What steps do you take on a daily basis to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted? Women throughout the audience immediately start raising their hands. As the men sit in stunned silence, the women recount safety precautions they take as part of their daily routine.

Here are some of their answers: Hold my keys as a potential weapon. Look in the back seat of the car before getting in. Carry a cell phone. Don’t go jogging at night. Lock all the windows when I sleep, even on hot summer nights. Be careful not to drink too much. Don’t put my drink down and come back to it; make sure I see it being poured. Own a big dog. Carry Mace or pepper spray. Have an unlisted phone number. Have a man’s voice on my answering machine. Park in well-lit areas. Don’t use parking garages. Don’t get on elevators with only one man, or with a group of men. Vary my route home from work. Watch what I wear. Don’t use highway rest areas. Use a home alarm system. Don’t wear headphones when jogging. Avoid forests or wooded areas, even in the daytime. Don’t take a first-floor apartment. Go out in groups. Own a firearm. Meet men on first dates in public places. Make sure to have a car or cab fare. Don’t make eye contact with men on the street. Make assertive eye contact with men on the street.

― Jackson Katz, The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help

As part of her crash course in the real world, Ms Wente might also benefit from view Megyn Kelly‘s recent powerful indictment of Bill O’Reilly and Fox News:

I’m sorry Ms. Wente no one is making this up. The problem is real. It is painful. It is serious. It cannot be dismissed simply because it may be less common in the “insurance and accounting” department.

It may trouble you to have to talk about it, but bringing this reality of women’s lives into the open and taking seriously the ubiquitous abuse women suffer is one of the few strategies that has any hope of moving us in a more healthy direction.


Of course there are many women, hopefully most women, who understand the importance of keeping this conversation going:

There are many good men who are distraught about the #MeToo wave, asking what they can do.

First and always, listen to our stories, because we, too, need to see how disturbing it is to the men who love us that we are still having these experiences. We’re worried for our daughters, granddaughters, great-granddaughters.

And then, help us understand. Why do we have these experiences with men? What can men do to change in other men whatever behaviour is going on here? Men, we need you for that part, because such questions are mysteries to women. We have our issues as a gender, but grinding our pelvises up against strangers in public spaces or groping our young nephews is not one of them.

Talk, everyone. If #MeToo is to be anything other than a really rough few days on Facebook, women need to tear back the veil on our routine experiences of sexual assault and harassment. And men have to help us set things right.