Guest Blog written by Shaky Shergill..
When the Harvey Weinstein scandal first surfaced, like other people I was surprised but not shocked, as a society we have learned to dismiss so many things as rumour. However, as the extent of the story was revealed I was outraged and then saddened. How was it that it took something this big and ugly to make me and others sit up and take notice, to acknowledge that sexual abuse of women was still so rife in our world.
My first thought was to distance myself from what was going on; this wasn’t something that happened here in the suburbs of London or any other city or large town. This was something that happened over there, in Hollywood or places like that, places that we’d been told weren’t like the real world we lived in. Something this big and shocking didn’t happen in the nice and safe places where good and ordinary people live.
The #metoo tag would put paid to that idea. The more women used social media to tell their stories the more I, and I judge others like me, had to acknowledge that this was real. And if it was what did it say about us as; fathers, sons, brothers, friends. What did it say about us as men and the women that we love and care about?
Had we unwittingly fallen under the spell of those who told us that rape and sexual abuse of women in ‘civilised society’ was a rare and unusual thing. Those who had a vested interest in maintaining this story so that we could all live for whatever reasons, in ignorant bliss. The more the Weinstein scandal unfolded and the number of brave women came forward to tell their story increased the more the rest of us began to realise that we couldn’t pretend ignorance or that this was a rare occurrence anymore.
I began to wonder why so many who had professed to love, care for and value women had colluded in the Weinstein situation and so many others. What did we get from maintaining the status quo. How many had consciously looked the other way because their livelihood depended on doing so and how many others had looked the other way because not doing so would mean that they had to face their own sadness, shame and other things they didn’t want to look at. How many maintained silence because they didn’t know what to do or who to tell without having to admit their own inadequacy around a situation that no one should face.
As the story has unfolded there have been calls from some quarters that women should not be as angry as they are or perhaps the conversation should shift to include rape and sexual abuse of all women, men and children. I can only imagine the stunned silence of those who have battled their fear, shame and other demons to finally tell their stories.
My first response was to agree with some of these (What felt like) demands. Then it was a resounding ‘hell no!”. I don’t think anyone should try and silence someone because we don’t know how to hear what they are saying or process our emotional or intellectual responses to it. Maybe we as men can finally begin to be honest about our own hopelessness and admit “I don’t know how to deal with what you have lived through and are telling me, but I am willing to listen and learn in the hope that we can work out how to live with this together and stop it from happening again”.
To paraphrase the late Desmond Tutu, if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. We may have done this in the past but don’t have to do it again.