Why Hongkongers should say MeToo

January 24, 2018 10:00
Sexual harassment and misogyny are not only wrong, they also represent a serious setback toward a more open and prosperous society. Photo: Reuters

This is a time for revolution in terms of relationship between the sexes. Kicking off in Hollywood, revelations of sexual predation have ended the careers of film producer Harvey Weinstein, comedian Louis CK, actor Kevin Spacey, television host Charlie Rose and fashion photographer Terry Richardson, among others. My former workplace in Copenhagen was swept up in the turmoil when two bosses recently got fired because of "inappropriate behavior towards trainees". The list of fallen men is getting very long and I believe it all comes down to two simple, but powerful words: Me Too.

By posting the #MeToo hashtag on Twitter and other social media platforms, women around the world were seen as taking a common stance against sexual harassment. At least I thought it was universal, but it’s not. It has only spread to some parts of our globe. Personally I was not really shocked to find so many women out there that had been victims of sexual abuse are still silent. Many of them are my friends, and yet we have never really talked about it until now.

That is also why I asked a fairly new Hong Kong friend if the #MeToo social media tsunami was washing over here. She said no one she knew or had heard of had shared the hashtag. Not because they haven’t heard about it, but because in Asia you don’t expose yourself like that. She told me she definitely had experienced sexual harassment in Hong Kong, and many of her friends had too, but it’s an uncomfortable discussion and a sensitive subject especially in Asian culture. It is also uncomfortable where I come from; it has taken years of pushing boundaries and confronting the uneasy truth in public.

Then Hong Kong athlete Vera Lui Lai-yu revealed she was a victim of sexual assault at the hands of a former coach 10 years ago. She shared her story on a Facebook page, holding a sign with the hashtag. I immediately thought that this would stir up some courage in Hong Kong, especially because Lui recently won a gold medal at the Asian Indoor Games in September 2017. While Lui’s post received more than 3,500 comments on Facebook and was shared more than 6,500 times, and most of those comments were supportive, it did not create a tipping point where women felt comfortable enough to join the debate with their own stories.

#MeToo started appearing on the feeds of my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts in October. When I first saw the hashtag, I honestly thought it was a bit dumb. I remember thinking: Who hasn’t experienced some kind of violations; that is not something that has to be exhibited on the Internet. Don’t be a victim. I thought. But then I realized that every little #MeToo is a piece in a very large mosaic of bad behavior that can be changed.

Until recently, talking about sexual harassment at work was something no one really dared to do. In many countries around the world, including my own, we have learned to accept unacceptable behavior. Women have been conditioned to "get over it" and "have a sense of humor". This is especially true at "desirable" workplaces and institutions, such as tech start-ups and media companies, even the Copenhagen radio station where I once worked. If I couldn’t take it, there was always some other young person eager to take my spot.

I experienced verbal disparagement daily, because of my gender. I was told that some issues were "not something little girl brains like yours have to worry about". I received text messages from elderly male colleagues asking inappropriate questions. Male sources would think that personal questions for a story meant I was interested in dating them. On top of that were the guys in bars not taking "no" for an answer. I can say a light #MeToo.

I am not saying that every female on the planet has been sexually harassed, but according to United Nations data, 35 percent of women globally have experienced physical or sexual violence. Hong Kong government figures show that 97 percent of victims in sexual violence cases were women, and more than 1,000 cases of rape and sexual assault are reported to police every year. The Equal Opportunities Commission found that one in five women had experienced sexual harassment at work.

The relationship between the sexes will not be the same after #MeToo. Hong Kong should be a part of this, leading the way for the rest of China to achieve harmony between men and women. One way of getting there is to constantly teach and remind each other that sexual harassment and misogyny are not only wrong, but also a serious setback toward a more open and prosperous society.

– Contact us at [email protected]


The writer is a student at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre, The University of Hong Kong.