Harassment Stories highlight the importance of listening

 
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Photo by Mihai Surdu on Unsplash

At the tail end of 2017 through to 2018, #MeToo dominated almost all aspects of culture. The Me Too movement worked to highlight a pervasive culture of sexism and harassment encountered by millions of people across the globe. This harassment was predominantly—though not exclusively—targeted at women, but also intersected with other forms of discrimination or misconducted such as racism, homophobia, ableism and ageism amongst others. The movement prompted a large social discussion on how these issues come to be, and provided hope that change or reform was afoot, and that these issues may become a thing of the past.

Recent weeks have made it depressingly clear that this is not the case.

On July 20, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against notable video game publisher Activision-Blizzard —who are responsible for some of the largest video game franchises such as Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, Guitar Hero and Candy Crush. The claim alleged that the company—amongst other things—fostered a culture which includes “constant sexual harassment, lower pay for female employees and allegedly force[d] many women to quit”. The lawsuit calls to mind similar complaints made last year about Ubisoft—the company behind numerous Tom Clancy games and the Assassins Creed franchise.

In a similar tone, a probe into New York state governor Andrew Cuomo released its findings on August 3, revealing that he had “a hostile work environment for women in violation of state and federal law”. Closer to home, discussion of the sexism in Australian politics continues in the wake of explosive allegations levelled against members of government at all levels earlier this year.

Unsurprisingly, allegations like these have drawn widespread condemnation from all corners. Activision-Blizzard has faced sustained criticism for both the details present in the lawsuit, and in their response to the matter which many have claimed is insufficient and ignores the core issues. Even in the wake of the departure of Blizzard’s President J. Allen Brack many questions remain over what may happen to the company and if any sustained changes in culture will take place. Similarly, US President Joe Biden has stated that Governor Cuomo should resign—though it is unclear at the time of writing whether this will mark the end of Cuomo’s time in politics.

In addition to condemnation, these examples have caused many to ask variations on the one question: How do things like this happen? People are understandably horrified and seek explanations to help create an understandable narrative that makes these events comprehensible. I can admit that I have fallen prey to the same impulse before. Asking this question, for many, makes sense.

But it’s the wrong question to be asking.

In response to the allegations at Activision-Blizzard, online gaming content creator “Katiechu” posted a tweet claiming “This Activision-Blizzard lawsuit should not be remotely surprising if you’ve ACTUALLY been listening to women and black women the last few years. Welcome to our reality. Welcome to the reality of many workplaces/spaces, even outside of gaming.” She was joined by other voices in the gaming industry noting that these issues are widespread, and not confined to one company or individual

It can be easy when confronted with these examples to view them as isolated instances—be that of individuals working within institutions, or institutions which are uniquely dysfunctional that cause the problems. It’s “Andrew Cuomo” or “Activision-Blizzard” that are the reason how, the reason why these incidents come to light. In conversations on the topic, I’ve heard many argue that this is not a societal problem—that it’s just a few bad apples.

But the saying isn’t “A few bad apples should be tossed when found”. It’s “A few bad apples spoil the bunch.” And unfortunately, the systems in place only work to protect these bad apples.

Stories of misconduct, harassment and bad behaviour have been around as long as mankind. The Bible has multiple stories of rulers lusting over and coveting the women in their time, and this causing a variety of conflicts or consequences – for an example with a particularly brutal response check out Genesis 30. Even people who the Bible may portray positively elsewhere are included in stories where they are complicit in similiar actions, something it works to condemn. King David was a well-respected King of the Israelites, but even he slept with a married woman – and then ordered the death of her husband to cover it up. These issues are ones that have persisted through time, and cannot be solved without listening and addressing the root causes. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen.

In response to the apology email sent to Activision-Blizzard staff, organisers released a statement that criticised the apology for not addressing the four key issues which employees wanted tackled. These issues highlighted the current lack of accountability or transparency in the systems in place to address misconducted or discrimination – instead these systems serve the interests of those in power, who are often the very ones committing the acts in the first place. One such example is the matter of “forced arbitration”—where employees are restricted from taking complaints to court and must instead settle them through arbitration controlled by a company chosen by the employer.

When people ask, “How did this happen?” the answer is all too often the same: the systems in place work to protect the abusers and harassers, and not the victims. Despite this however, we continue to look at these instances as individual problems. It’s about the abhorrent acts that Harvey Weinstein, or Andrew Cuomo, or individual clerics in the Catholic Church committed, and not about the institutions that protect them.

This continues to happen because we refuse to confront the root causes.

So how do we change this?

imageThis is the question that we should be asking. Unfortunately, it’s a question I can’t answer.

Part of why I can’t answer it is due to who I am. It may sound trite, or like the talking points of those online who are often decried as Social Justice Warriors, but as a young, straight, white male, I am blind to many of these issues or events. Many of these incidents are the type which I only hear about in hindsight, or through intentionally listening for them as “Katiechu” advocates for. I don’t say this to make this article about me, or my thoughts on the matter (though as the author, it does ultimately convey my perspective). I say it to highlight an important truth that we should keep in mind when tackling these complicated issues.

Everybody has a unique perspective on life, and the issues we encounter. These perspectives can be a great asset, but they can also mean that due to our position, we are less equipped to understand or deal with certain issues. Admitting this is not a sign of weakness, but a necessary step in working towards the solution to a problem. Conceding ground to those more qualified works to help create a more just and fair solution for all. My voice is not as important to others when it comes to issues like this – but I can use it to highlight voices that are more important.

Unfortunately, one of the other reasons that this question is difficult to answer is due to the sheer scope of the problem. When we see people in positions of power repeatedly facing accusations of this kind, it can be difficult to see what we can do to create change. In comparison to the obvious reactive steps of calling out these forms of behaviour when we see it, proactive solutions can be more difficult to commit to or work towards, especially on an individual level. What can one person do against an entire culture or pattern of behaviour. This is why it’s important to think of this as a societal problem, or a cultural one – and look for ways to change our culture or attitude towards these issues.

Ecclesiastes 4:12 states, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” This verse often comes to my mind when these topics come up. Often I see debates and discussions over the validity of the claims levelled against the alleged abusers or harassers, arguing we should wait for due process to bring justice or even alleging that the victims may be lying (something which is far more rare than victims who tell the truth). Not only does this rely on the justice system working without fault (something that is unfortunately not the case), it also serves to divide and prevent the real issues from being addressed. Instead of allowing the words of those who speak up to highlight the issues in our culture, it shifts the focus into a dynamic where it is the accuser versus the accused, once again narrowing our discussion and perspective on the issue. Instead of dividing and being overpowered by the debates that are brought up, we should work together to help defend victims and work towards true justice – whatever form that may take.

The other verses that come to mind are ones which link back to a previous point. James 1:19 tells us that “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” while Proverbs 18:13 states, “To answer before listening—that is folly and shame.” In these circumstances it is extremely important to take a step back and listen to the voices of those brave enough to speak up, and those who are calling for change.

I cannot solve this problem. No matter how good I am in my own life, no matter how much I try to stamp out these issues when I see them, it’s broader than that. It’s a larger problem than any one person. There’s no easy solution that I know of. But I do know that one of the most important first steps is to stop and listen with empathy and understanding. It’s only together that we can aim to fix these issues.

Ryan Stanton is a PhD Student at the University of Sydney and an Editorial Assistant for Signs of the Times. He’s far from perfect, but is committed to listening and improving when it comes to dealing with the difficult topics.