Breaking the silence

Breaking the silence
By Ann Jawin

There has been a series of explosive reports from many women coming forth to reveal painful memories of sexual abuses.

These reports of becoming victims are revealing incidents from men in highly visible places, such as the work environment, all forms of media, television, the industry and government.

As we learn from these witnesses, the abuses come from every level of society, including our military, college campuses and churches.

A recent article in the New York Times carried a huge report of sexual discrimination against female workers that has been tolerated in many blue collar industries. In particular areas of non-traditional jobs, it is not only the superior level of male authority who engage in discrimination or harassment, but male coworkers of equal employment status. They have not only created a hostile work environment, resulting in cruel and vulgar statements or actions; but have also endangered the very lives of women and their well-being.

We have long known that women in traditional jobs as waitresses, domestic workers, clerical and retail jobs, have had to suffer from sexual harassment for years. Why now, after all this time, is there a recent rush of personal accounts of past abuses, along with current accounts?

My personal opinion is that the anger was always there. When and where individual women found the courage to report it, it was usually with highly placed and powerful men, where large sums of money were paid to settle the issue discreetly. Unfortunately, the victims are forced to sign a contract to keep the issue(s) confidential. In exchange, the abuser’s reputation and livelihood would be protected.

The large number of women who felt victimized also felt powerless to do anything about it. Instead they felt shame, humiliation and suffered for years from the incidents – as is now being revealed.

But what has happened to change the climate? Woman after woman coming forth even after 30 years, telling their story? A #Metoo movement exploding throughout the country with women saying that they too have experienced sexual abuse and want to have it stopped immediately.

I believe our current President Trump is responsible. During the presidential campaign, the nation saw his demeaning treatment of women. His ideas about women’s role in society were clearly sexist. His boastful claim of male entitlement as a successful man also insinuated that he could do anything he wished and the release of a video proving his history as a sex predator was the breaking point.

Not every woman is part of the revolt. We know that many women voted for Trump and extremist right-wing candidates in national and state elections. We cannot easily explain why many women stay within rigid roles of their culture and religion.

This latest issue of sexual harassment has many aspects of the struggle against domestic violence. As recently as 30 years ago, the issue of domestic violence was a dirty secret. No one spoke openly about it. It was hidden by the victims and their loved ones, which was considered it a family secret and a shame to reveal it!

Today, domestic violence is still with us and with the increase of immigrants from other countries, many women are unaware of their rights and are, therefore, bounded by their native culture and religious traditions. Gradually, they are learning that in this country, we have developed a large body of laws and nonprofit groups along with courts that protect women. While domestic violence and sex trafficking are still a large problem, we know it exists, and many groups are ready to help. We are also seeing many ethnic groups develop to help their members get help.

In recent years, we have seen the rise of the restrictions on women’s reproductive rights. Male political leaders are trying in many cases, to roll back the freedoms achieved by the second wave of feminist fighting for equal rights. Women who fought so hard during the late 60’s and 70’s, heard Trump, in his presidential campaign saying, women have to be punished if they want to have an abortion.

A very extreme right wing candidate for U.S. Senator from Alabama who proclaimed that women should not have received the right to vote almost got elected with the benefit of women voters.

Some states have leaders who have managed to severely restrict women’s access to contraception and free coverage under health insurance plans. In addition, restrictions have also been made against having all their medical needs met, forcing them to travel to other states to get abortions.

It is up to every citizen, women and men alike, to wake up to the treatment and threat of rigid, authoritarian leaders to save their freedoms and preserve the basic principles of our constitution. Our form of government depends upon its citizens to take responsibility to be and keep informed about the issues and active participation in the government.

We want laws that protect us and guarantee our freedoms. The only way we can keep our society moving forward progressively is to make sure that our leaders reflect our basic values.

The danger is when the culture and media promote unhealthy attitudes which become acceptable and people are passive.

We can hope that this is just an aberration which has been allowed to go on too long. Many men in our society and around us are supportive and have no wish to be part of that misogyny. They are our husbands and sons, colleagues and friends who we are proud of, we love and trust. They are equally horrified to hear of these cases and realize that their own wives, daughters, sisters and colleagues have been under such threats.

However, they have been silent too long. In being silent, the result has led to the atmosphere that it is OK to make sexist jokes, actions are tolerated with a “boys will be boys” attitude of male privilege and being humorous instead of dangerous. Powerful men control the media, production of movies, TV programs and plays that promote stereotyping of women and their place in our society.

It is time to wake up and take charge of our ideals and speak up. As with domestic violence, men have to help change the culture and not accept using power of any sort to victimize any women or man, nor girl or boy, allowing violations of their bodies and spirit. This can cripple them for life.

Look around you and dare to criticize lewd comments about women’s bodies and sexist jokes that violate her dignity and confidence. Everyone can and should play a part, in our family groups, our workplace and our houses of worship, to change this ugly blot in our society. Demand and object to sexist attitudes, jokes that tear people down because of race, ethnicity and gender.

It is most affective to join with others to make change, or take the lead yourself, show the way and break the silence!

The Center for the Women of New York, will be participating again in the Women’s March, to take place on Jan. 20 in New York City. We are joining the #Metoo movement and TimesUp.

To learn more and how you can join us, go to cwny.org or email us at centercwny@yahoo.com or call 718-793-0672.

Ann Jawin

Co-founder of Center for the Women of New York