Not Condemning: Sexual harassment is no bad skylark; it’s high time we changed our tune, T&T

John Lennon had already said it back in the last century. And when earlier this year Jimmy Fallon converted Bob Dylan’s old 1964 lyrics into a 2018 message “Your silence speaks louder than those who condone,” Trinidad and Tobago, you needed to be listening; Messrs Lennon and Fallon/Dylan were speaking to you!

There have unsurprisingly been rampant comments behind hands, behind closed doors and out of the corners of mouths about who slept their way to the top and with whom. But “muted” would be an accurate description of T&T’s response to the rash of unprecedented disclosures spawned by the rapid spread of the #metoo movement, which can now accurately be said to be international. Adjust the context and we can call it the economics of consent.

Photo: Beatles singer/songwriter John Lennon was silenced in December 1980 but this message lives on.

Given the size of our country, the ambiguity of the collective response is understandable. The culture of open secrets which negatively impact women’s opportunities for professional advancement is also a contributory factor. Who, after all, would be so crazy as to say #metoo or to name the perpetrator(s)?

Reference what happened in the Angostura case: in 2016, a woman accused an executive of sexual harassment; she has since been fired and the matter is still unresolved. Despite having women well placed in their hierarchy, Angostura Limited has demonstrated an amazing level of duplicity.

On the one hand, you look at the establishment and see women in management; on the other hand, the company has no sexual harassment policy in place so when the senior executive was inspired to call out the then Chairman, her only option was to use the “Whistleblower” policy, which is totally inadequate for dealing with issues of sexual harassment.

It needs to be said that this duplicity is apparently fully supported by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, which appointed the chairman and has to date spent TT$3.5m to defend him against the sexual harassment charges.

The male decision makers in the instant case all have wives, sisters and daughters, yet they seem oblivious to the fact that there is a good chance that either their wife, mother, sister or daughter will someday be sexually harassed.  If the current status remains quo, she would have to take the harassment and shut up. How’s that for irony?

North American data say that one in four women is sexually harassed in the workplace. Why do we think that the data would be different for us?  The ratio is likely to be higher in our case but we have no empirical data to tell us.   For us, sexual harassment is, at worst, “bad skylark” and is not to be taken seriously lest it negatively impact our culture of great camaraderie and whappen-yuh-cyar-take-a-joke-nowism.

Photo: A young woman protester displays a slogan on her tee-shirt outside the house of Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley on 11 February 2017.

Well, my considered view is that it is high time we women changed our responses. It is high time we tell the men unambiguously that their inappropriate overtures are emphatically unwelcome.

I don’t appreciate your comment about how sweet I am looking this morning. Well-dressed is acceptable; “sweet” is offensive.

I don’t want you to “feel up” my hand; I’m comfortable with your shaking my hand the way you would when presenting me with the Employee of the Year award at the annual function.

I am disgusted by your catcalls! Pssssst, mister, has it ever occurred to you to wonder why they call them ‘catcalls’?

I find your focus on my breasts repulsive!  Please hold my gaze instead of staring at my breasts.

In the updated version of Dylan’s “The times they are a-changing” Fallon sang on his late-night show, he included these words: “Time’s up, our silence we’re breaking.”

And yes, time’s up. It is high time, ladies, we break our silence. It is high time we tell them that doing the right thing is not simply respecting us, it is also protecting their wives and daughters from sexual harassment. Ditto encouraging the locker room talk with the other guys about what “it” was like with so-and-so.

Photo: Boys will be boys?

Frankly, sir, young man, brother, I’d like it if you spoke out against sexual harassment, if you came out in strong condemnation of it. But I stop short of asking you so to do.

What I do ask is that you make a solemn pledge to yourself not to use your position of power and influence to gain sexual favours.

Do that and you would certainly gain the respect from most of the women I know.

And, it goes without saying, from #metoo.

Not condemning, just commenting.

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  1. “the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, which appointed the chairman and has to date spent TT$3.5m to defend him against the sexual harassment charges” this is troubling

  2. “Why do we think that the data would be different for us?” Because Trinidad isn’t America.

    There have been ZERO female presidents in America, we have had a female Prime Minister so we can start there with the vast differences for the landscape of women in Trinidad, vs Women in the United States.

    • different but not necessarily improved – so we cannot rest on any presumed laurels because we had a female PM

    • Antoinette Sankar That was just one example, but it proves that the landscapes for the two countries are very different and we need to stop applying the latest crises in the US to Trinidad society. It makes for an easy news cycle but it is often misrepresentative.

    • Angel Stewart Is that really what we want to take away from this issue: that we need to stop applying crises from one state to another? In this case I think we need to admit a little preventative measure (if indeed it can be called that – we don’t know for a fact if it is preventative at all) can go a long way – so what are we really debating here? Would you seriously question whether we need to look at preparing so that more companies have a policy for dealing with SH from the get go – or whether we need to stop comparing ourselves to the US because, “whew, we are not as bad as they are”? Idk, seems like you’re focusing on something that, while it may be a fact (yes we are different to the US)- is not the most important fact that you have to re-emphasise.

    • Antoinette Sankar Fair enough. I think we need more data from Trinidad and Tobago on this issue.

  3. I agree we cannot only frame the situation as men harassing women as it can go the opposite way. There are also cases of men harassing men. There is also the pressure dynamic of when superiors make sexual advances on subordinates. Those lower in the company with less power may feel unable to say no out of fear of losing their job or being passed over for promotions or other reprisals. Often work is held ransom in exchange for returning the sexual advances of the perpetrator.

  4. As I said many times before, it is the rights of a man to show interest in any woman he likes and its the rights of the woman to say yes or no. If she says NO said man has to respect her wishes and leave her alone. No one should try to stop any man from showing interest in any woman by calling it sexual harassment. Same privilege goes to women and when she uses it, no one complain. Too much double standard

    • Whoever defines sexual harassment as “interest” is doing a disservice to women. Now repeated expressions of interest after a woman has already said no, or a man in the case of interest from a woman or any other combination thereof since we can have other cases, *that* is harassment.

  5. For me, I define sexual harassment as persistent, invasive, unwanted sexual attention under a work environment or a boss that is the perpetrator. There must be fear of losing one’s livelihood or suffering in some way in the work culture, if one stands up to it.

    But our work culture is one of picong, overly-familiar, pet names like doux doux and darlin and rude talk and much of it is innocuous to Trinis but would scandalize a foreigner, who would take it as sexual harassment. So we just have to know how to adapt our behavior when dealing with people from abroad.

    • We have to stand up and raise our voices. Too many women suffer silently.

    • Since 1987 Singing Sandra sang about “keep Dey money, ah go keep my honey and die with my dignity” … we need to speak up.

    • Very true. But without legal/labour code infrastructure in place to offer perimeters and protection and accountability and penalties, it will be just a woman’s lone voice crying out in the wilderness. Many times, the other women in the workplace do not take her side either. There is no #MeToo solidarity. Everyone wants to earn their penny.

    • Dennise Demming Or even if they choose to share they do not share the situation with an authority or anyone who can try and take action on their behalf which is unfortunate. They will not even attempt to use the institution’s procedure of dealing with the situation even if it is something that has been offered. How can they know whether it will help if they have never tried it, is what I want to know and why not choose to seek that kind of help? I’m a lot confused by that, except of course in instances where bosses/supervisors are the perpetrators over their subordinates which as previously mentioned could involve fear of losing one’s livelihood. For some victims, speaking out is a way to get out of the situation – it’s a pity more victims will not choose to believe in it.

  6. Well Singing Sandra was on the case long time, raising awareness about the issue.

  7. Good read…I would love to get a feel for how the majority of persons in authority feel about this issue? The no Sexual Harassment policy was an eye-opener though…what year we in again

  8. Why did you behave like that? Behavior is shaped by positive and negative reinforcement. As we grow up, we learn not only knowledge, but also the way we behaviour in everyday life. Some psychologists believe that our behaviour is shaped by approval or disapproval of other people. But others think that we simply imitate what we see other people doing.

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