Sexual Harassment

It wasn’t until Ashley Judd heroically shared her story a few days ago that I felt ashamed.  If I had spoken up a decade ago, would I have saved countless women from the same experience I had or worse? While I still do feel guilty for not speaking up all those years ago, I’m glad for this moment of reckoning. To the countless other women who have experienced the gray areas: I believe you – Heather Graham

Sexual harassment has been around since biblical times.  Joseph, a handsome young Hebrew slave was sexually harassed and then accused of attempted rape by his master’s wife.   Yes, men as well as women are victims of sexual assault and harassment.  Celebrities such as Kevin Spacey, George Takei, Richard Dreyfuss, Dustin Hoffman and recently, comedian Louis C.K. have had charges of sexual misconduct leveled against them.  This comes on the heels of the allegations launched against Hollywood mogul, Harvey Weinstein.  Stars such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd, Angelina Jolie and more have spoken out against the producer who has been described as “a predator”, “vindictive”.

Celebrities such as Jane Fonda, Matt Damon, Quentin Tarantino, George  Clooney and Ewan McGregor knew of Weinstein’s behavior but didn’t say anything.  Other celebrities are appalled such as Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Gosling.

Sexual harassment is not limited to Hollywood, it’s everywhere.  It’s in workplaces, the military, colleges and other public places.  It’s a form of sex discrimination.  Weinstein’s victims were intimidated because of he had to power to make or break them.  Actress Asia Argento said that she stayed silent for years out of fear and feelings of responsibility and later had consensual sex with him multiple times because she felt he would ruin her career if she didn’t.   Actress Cara Delevingne said that she was hesitant about speaking out because she didn’t want to hurt his family.  “I felt guilty as if I did something wrong. I was also terrified that this sort of thing had happened to so many women I know but no one had said anything because of fear.” 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (ECCOC) defines sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature which explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to the following:

  • The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.
  • The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
  • The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
  • Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.
  • The harasser’s conduct must be unwelcome.

How should sexual harassment be handled?  For Gwyneth Paltrow, it was coming forward so that other women to feel less alone and to send a clear message that “this is over.  This way of treating women ends now.”  Angelina Jolie chose not to work with Weinstein again and warned other women who were going to work with him.

Here are tips on how to handle sexual harassment:

  • Be clear and firm. If the person harassing you is told when it happens the first time that you don’t approve and don’t find it funny, they might back off. Be polite, but firm, and don’t giggle. This might be interpreted as a tacit type of consent.
  • Tell others. Don’t keep quiet; this will only make you more vulnerable. Harassers like isolating their victims – physically and socially. If you tell others what’s going on you might also find out that you’re not the only one experiencing such situations. If more than one person lays a complaint, it significantly strengthens the case against the harasser.
  • Don’t doubt yourself. Harassers often try and pass something off as a joke, however if it’s continuously at your expense, or attacks your sense of dignity, you’re being harassed. Don’t allow harassers to make you doubt your observation, how their actions make you feel or that you’re overreacting.
  • Safety in numbers. Make sure that you’re not alone with this person behind closed doors. Take a colleague with you if you feel threatened, and insist that doors be left open if you have to be in a meeting. Make sure that somebody knows where you are at all times.
  • Report the matter. Follow procedures to lay a complaint – and keep records of all correspondence in this regard. If a complaint has been laid and your employers continue to ignore the situation and take no action, they could be liable for damage claims.
  • Keep records. If you want to lay charges, it’s much more convincing if you can give names, dates, places and the names of possible witnesses, than when your charges are unproven. Anyone who has witnessed any of these events can be called to testify if there’s a disciplinary hearing.

It’s a good thing that the victims of sexual harassment are coming forward as in the case of Bill Cosby.  It remains to be seen, though what will happen to the perpetrators.   It took courage for the victims to come forward.  Let’s hope that they will receive justice that they deserve.  It’s time for those who use their power and influence to intimidate and violate others to be penalized.

Victims should never feel responsible for the actions of the perpetrators.

sexual harassment

 

Sources:  National Post; People; ECCOC; Western Cape Government

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Saving Face

I was thrilled last night when I saw the documentary, Saving Face win the Oscar.  It was a proud moment for Canadian Pakistani filmmaker, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy as she made history as Pakistan’s first Oscar winner.  Chinoy hopes that this Oscar win will ignite a flourishing film industry in Pakistan.

Saving Face is a documentatry about acid attacks. The film follows London-based Pakistani plastic surgeon, Dr. Mohammad Jawad, as he journeys to Pakistan to perform reconstructive surgery on survivors of acid violence. Saving Face also broaches the subject of the under-reporting of acid violence due to cultural and structural inequalities towards women.  The film also features two women attacked by acid and their struggle for justice and healing. The Acid Survivors Foundation of Pakistan, which is featured in the film, had documented over 100 acid attacks a year in Pakistan but estimates far more due to lack of reporting.

Obaid-Chinoy has also stated that the film is “a positive story about Pakistan on two accounts: firstly, it portrays how a Pakistani-British doctor comes to treat them and it also discusses, in great depth, the parliament’s decision to pass a bill on acid violence”. Obaid-Chinoy has also said that the film assisted in the trial and conviction of one of the perpretrators of acid violence on a female victim.

“I am so grateful for the Academy’s recognition of this film and the issues highlighted here. No-one who sees these women could fail to be moved. Each beautiful in their own way, their lives have been destroyed, their faces and bodies disfigured, often by members of their own families,” Jawad said following the film’s success at the 84th Academy Awards.  “They are the real heroes here. They have been ostracised from society following the terrible attacks that have been inflicted upon them. I merely try to restore God’s creation, which has been destroyed by such evil acts of human beings, in the best way I know how. I hope that awareness of the cause will help to eradicate this beast of a man-made disease from society,” Jawad said.

Sharmeen Obaid was born in Karachi attended the Karachi Grammar School. She graduated from Smith College with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Government and fromStanford Uni with master’s degrees in International Policy Studies and in Communication.Obaid-Chinoy is an Emmy award winning producer and journalist.  She won an Emmy for her documentary, Pakistan: Children of the Taliban in 2010. She is also the first non-American to win the Livingston Award for Young Journalists.

Her career in documentary began when she examined the plight of Afghani refugee children in Pakistan for one of her articles. Their situation was so dire, and their stories so compelling, that Sharmeen decided to return to Pakistan and create a film about them. She petitioned Smith College and New York Times Television production division for the grants that would allow her to accomplish her goals. Intrigued by her story, both organizations gave her the funds as well as production equipment and training. She is currently a faculty member at media sciences department in SZABIST (Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and technology, Karachi). Obaid-Chinoy is also on the board member of The Citizens Archive of Pakistan (CAP).

Known for documentaries dealing with life in the Muslim world, Obaid became the first non-American to win the Livingston Award. Her films have aired on such networks as Channel 4,CNN, PBS, and Al-Jazeera.  She began her career with New York Times Television in 2002 where she produced Terror’s Children, a film about Afghan refugee children, which won her the Overseas Press Club Award, the American Women and Radio and Television Award, and the South Asian Journalist Association Award.  Since then, she has produced and reported on more than twelve films around the world.

Obaid produced and reported on four multi-award winning documentary films for New York Times Television. In 2003, Reinventing the Taliban was awarded the Special Jury Award at the BANFF TV festival in Canada, the CINE Golden Eagle Award, the American Women in Radio and Television award, and the Livingston Award. In 2005, her film Women of the Holy Kingdom, which provided an inside look at the women’s movement in Saudi Arabia, won the South Asian Journalist Association Award.

In 2005, Obaid began working with Channel 4 in the United Kingdom reporting on four films for their Unreported World series. Pakistan’s Double Game looked at sectarian violence in Pakistan, City of Guilt explored the Catholic Church’s pro-life movement in the Philippines, The New Apartheid looked into growing xenophobia in South Africa, and Birth of a Nationdelved into the politics of East Timor. In 2007, Obaid was named “journalist of the year” by the One World Media awards for her work in the series.

In 2007, Obaid travelled to Afghanistan and reported for Channel 4 and CNN. Her film, Afghanistan Unveiled/Lifting the Veil, focuses on stalled reconstruction and the repression of women in the country.

Acid throwing (acid attack or vitriolage) is a form of violent assault. It is defined as the act of throwing acid onto the body of a person “with the intention of injuring or disfiguring him or her out of jealousy or revenge”. Perpetrators of these attacks throw acid at their victims, usually at their faces, burning them, and damaging skin tissue, often exposing and sometimes dissolving the bones. The long term consequences of these attacks include blindness and permanent scarring of the face and body.  These attacks are most common in Cambodia, Afghanistan, India, Bangladesh,Pakistan and other nearby countries. According to Taru Bahl and M.H. Syed, 80% of victims of these acid attacks are female and almost 70% are under 18 years of age.

According to New York Times reporter Nicholas D. Kristof, acid attacks are at an all time high in Pakistan and increasing every year. The Pakistani attacks he describes are typically the work of husbands against their wives who have “dishonored them”.

Obaid-Chinoy’s win has been the cause for celebration in her home country.  Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani announced that Obaid-Chinoy would be receiving a civil award for her achievements on Monday, according to the Associated Press. She is the first Pakistani to win an Oscar.

She dedicated her Oscar to “all the women in Pakistan working for change.  Don’t give up on your dreams. This is for you.”

Saving Face airs March 8 on HBO Canada.

Notes to Women congratulates this remarkable woman whose passion for sharing stories of women and children and their plight has earned her the recognition she deserves.  Sharmeen, you made your country and women around the world very proud.

Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saving_Face_(documentary); http://ca.news.yahoo.com/canadian-pakistani-filmmaker-nabs-oscar-documentary-short-acid-160219303.htmlhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharmeen_Obaid-Chinoyhttp://sharmeenobaidfilms.com/http://www.dawn.com/2012/02/27/the-victims-are-the-real-heroes.htmlhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acid_throwinghttp://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/pakistan/120227/saving-face-oscar-winner-sharmeen-obaid-chinoy-ce

Global Renaissance Woman

“I thought, my voice killed him; I killed that man, because I told his name. And then I thought I would never speak again, because my voice would kill anyone…”

Maya blamed herself for the death of the man who sexually abused and raped her when she was only eight years old.  For five years she remained mute until a teacher and friend of her family, Mrs. Bertha Flowers, helped her to speak again.

In her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya touches on her childhood rape.  Rape is used as a metaphor for the suffering of her race. Another metaphor, that of a bird struggling to escape its cage, is a central image throughout the work, which consists of “a sequence of lessons about resisting racist oppression”.  Angelou’s treatment of racism delivers a thematic unity to the book. Literacy, and seizing the power of words, help young Maya cope with her bewildering world; books become her refuge as she works through her trauma.

 Caged Bird was nominated for a National Book Award in 1970 and remained on The New York Times paperback bestseller list for two years. It has been used in educational settings from high schools to universities, and the book has been celebrated for creating new literary avenues for the American memoir. However, the book’s graphic depiction of childhood rape, racism, and sexuality has caused it to be challenged or banned in some schools and libraries.

 The success of  I Know Why the Caged Bird sings hailed Maya as the as a new kind of memoirist and earned her the distinction of being the first African American women who was able to publicly discuss her personal life.  She became recognized and highly respected as a spokesperson for blacks and women. It made her “without a doubt, …America’s most visible black woman autobiographer”.  According to author Hilton Als, Maya made an important contribution to the increase of black feminist writings in the 1970s.  Her writings which were more about self-revelation than politics freed many other female writers to “open themselves up without the shame to the eyes of the world.”

 Angelou is one of the most honored writers of her generation. She has been honored by universities, literary organizations, government agencies, and special interest groups. Her honors include a National Book Award nomination for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a Pulitzer Prize nomination for her book of poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie, a Tony Award nomination for her role in the 1973 play Look Away, and three Grammys for her spoken word albums. 

 In 1995, Angelou’s publishing company, Bantam Books, recognized her for having the longest-running record (two years) on The New York Times Paperback Nonfiction Bestseller List. In 1998, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. She has served on two presidential committees, and was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2000, the Lincoln Medal in 2008, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. Musician Ben Harper has honored Angelou with his song “I’ll Rise”, which includes words from her poem, “Still I Rise.” She has been awarded over thirty honorary degrees.

Maya is dubbed the “global renaissance woman”  She is hailed as one of the great voices of contemporary literature.  She travels and continues to captivate audiences with her words and lyrics.  She is a multifaceted woman–poet, educator, historian, best-selling author, actress, playwright, civil-rights activist, producer and director and an inspiration for many of us.  Notes to Women salute this amazing woman who found her voice and is using it to spreading her legendary wisdom. 

 I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,
When he beats his bars and would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings –
I know why the caged bird sings.

   

Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Know_Why_the_Caged_Bird_Sings

http://mayaangelou.com/

Oscar History Makers

In light of the Academy Awards which are happening this Sunday, I thought I should salute two women who made Oscar history.  The first is Halle Berry.   Her gutwrenching portrayal in Monster’s Ball of a hard-working waitress struggling to raise an obese son while her husband sat on death row earned her the Best Actress Oscar, making her the first African American woman to accomplish this. 

The emotional scenes in the movie were raw.  In the nude scene with Billy Bob Thornton, Halle seemed to be comfortable with baring it all.  In an interview, she was asked about this.  “But with Monster’s Ball, without this scene, I think it would be a very different movie. I think it’s a pivotal moment and from that moment on, you understand why these two people get together.”  What helped Halle to really let herself go was, the fact that “Billy [Bob Thornton] went to the same place I went to.  He was as naked, as nude, as exposed, as I was. You saw everything on him as you did me. Men don’t have breasts so we didn’t get that thrill.  But he was just as vulnerable.(http://www.beatboxbetty.com/celebetty/halleberry/halleberry/halleberry.htm).

In another interview, she admitted that “it was tough, but like I said, not tougher than when I had to abuse my overweight son. No tougher than that. That was probably tougher than the love scene.”

Halle was not director Marc Foster’s choice for the role of Leticia but Halle pushed until she won him over.  She explains how she managed to convince that she was right for the part and why she was so determined to get it.  “I just know that I was relentless in my approach. I just wanted a chance to sit in the room and tell him who I thought she was. My take on the movie. How I thought I could breathe life into her. I wanted a chance to tell him all these things that were brewing inside of me and I finally got that chance. And then I met with him a couple of times, and then the producer, and then Billy Bob, until they just gave in.

“It’s a wonderful character for a woman to play and we don’t see them that often. I think they are becoming more available but not that often. I think I related to her right away when I read the movie screenplay. I was riveted. I wanted to know what would happen to her. Things kept happening, the unthinkable, twists and turns and I started to care about these people (http://www.iofilm.co.uk/feats/interviews/h/halle_berry.shtml). 

Her persistence paid off.  On 24 March 2002, Halle Berry made oscar history.  “I am so honoured, I’m so honoured, and I thank the Academy for choosing me to be the vessel for which this blessing might flow. (http://www.cinema.com/news/item/5850/halle-berry-makes-history-with-oscar-win.phtml).

Eight years later another woman makes oscar history.  Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director for Best Picture winner, The Hurt Locker

“This really is… There’s no other way to describe it, it’s the moment of a lifetime. First of all, this is so extraordinary to be in the company of such powerful, my fellow nominees, such powerful filmmakers who have inspired me and I have admired for, some of whom, for decades. And thank you to every member of the Academy. This is, again, the moment of a lifetime”  (http://www.altfg.com/blog/awards/kathryn-bigelow-oscar-acceptance-speech-494/).

Bigelow was once married to fellow director James Cameron.  Bothwere both nominated for Best Director at the 2010, 82nd Academy Awards.

In April 2010, Bigelow was named to the Time 100 list of most influential people of the year (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kathryn_Bigelow).

Kudos to these two remarkable women who used their talents to make waves in the movie business.  They prove that anything is possible once you set your mind to it.  Each of us can have our “moment of a lifetime”.