Sexual harassment and the terror of the “Jolly Good Fellow”
I am the intern that was harassed at age 22 while working with the Liberal Party, the National Post published yesterday. Today two Liberal MPs who reportedly and likely harassed several younger NDP MPs were suspended. Though encouraging, it won’t change anything for young, visible minority women on the Parliament Hill.
My harasser said, “Parliament is not a place for women, it is a mens locker room, where it is about whose THING is bigger” pointing to his erect member, and he was sadly right. I lost years of my life, attempted suicide twice within two years of the incident, and took a while to get on my feet again until I started to work for myself.
“He’s a jolly good fellow” are the most frightening words to any young visible minority or immigrant woman. Harassment is a result of establishment culture, dependant on reputation. Gatekeepers, who are established men, abused this. This is why you see few women in institutions of power. When women start working, the Jian Ghomeshi situation forces them to kill their dreams. This is why only 22% of our MPs are women.
Why was I harassed? Think of someone you trust, a wise person who is middle aged or older, very experienced. Now image a young unknown kid from an immigrant family said he molested them. You’ll believe them over the kid right? This was the case in Canada until the Catholic priest scandals hit the media.
On Parliament Hill , we young women are “unknown quantities”. Yes, I worked for a reputable research firm prior to that, but nobody knew. My harasser lied that I was incompetent, and spread rumours behind my back for not sleeping with him (2006). In 2012, I worked on the Hill again with another party. After my new contract expired, I went to a networking event. I received unwanted inappropriate advances, by a man who pretend to be gay. When I walked from the networking event in the winter, he said let’s wait at his apartment building hallway for the bus, then later said let’s wait upstairs. I thought it was harmless because he was gay. I was shocked when he returned in his underwear. I did say no to his advances and escaped.
He was very popular at work, spread rumours about me that I was a slut who slept with my MP to get my job. I am a traditional Arab Canadian virgin. My applications weren’t accepted. While I respect my friends’ bedroom choices, I am proud of my choice to save it for marriage and am happily engaged. When I worked on the Hill as an intern, I dressed and behaved conservatively. That did not protect me from false accusations of being an incompetent slut. Everyone believed my popular accuser to be a “jolly good fellow.”
Finally, if you work for Progressives, you are lulled into a false sense of security from men like my harassers who espouse to be feminists like Jian Ghomeshi. They didn’t believe their left wing politics, but used it as a cover for their abuse. They often worked to be a valuable player and the most effective advocate for the cause. Same as molesting priests who advocated the Vatican’s views loudly to hide their un-christian actions. Some of their colleagues want to bury the truth and live in denial rather than lose an advocate for the cause.
How can abuse be prevented? Stop "establishment" culture. Never believe anyone who says a young woman is unreliable or sleeps around. Believe youth. When reporting sexual violence to the police, young women are dismissed at 10 times the rate of any other crime. The women most affected by abuse are immigrant and visible minority women, since there is no one to defend them, speak for them, but everyone is there to spread the latest lies and rumors of harassers.
What happened to me and other women who lost their job, in addition to post traumatic stress, with our student debt we fell into the world of under-employment. No one regulates how many hours you have, so minimum wage doesn’t matter. Virtually all minimum wage employers require open availability, and fire you if you get a second job. One week they give you 30 hours, another week 4, and you have no control over it no matter how hard you work. The result is no one can pay their bills, workers are pitted against each other to squeeze the maximum and employers usually over-hire to keep employees on their toes. Its next to impossible for a woman to make a living minimum wage, and men always beat you at construction and security as they are stronger.
We studied hard in school, worked hard, spend tens of thousands of dollars to get a university degree fair and square just like the boys. The boys in my class, unharassed, lead institutes, while immigrant girls are relegated to precarious minimum wage work that won’t cover their rent because they were unfortunate enough to be born with a vagina.
We have to understand that unscrupulous men will use the lack of work experience of young women against them. Any workplace or institution that says “reputation is everything” promotes its abuse and becomes a breeding ground for harassment. Try women out, regardless of reputation, for two weeks, and see. If a young woman has a bad reputation, its more likely because she said no to a Jian Ghomeshi like popular man than it is of her own doing. There are some unscrupulous LGBTQ men who also abuse their authority and the importance of reputation as a gatekeeper in an "establishment" culture.
My harassers felt they never had to learn social skills to get a woman, because they could just abuse their position as a gatekeeper. We should stop gate keeping, be ashamed and not proud how elite anything is. Give young, visible minority and immigrant women a fair chance. In fact, give all youth a fair chance, see them for the merit of the work, and not some rumours that preceded them because they are well connected if positive or said no to sex if negative. You can only know how good someone is by having them work a couple days as a trial. Believe what you see, not what you hear when it comes to a young person you have never heard of before.
* Read my first post on this subject: My story of sexism on Parliament Hill