Maria Lutgarda Glorioso
On Wednesday, January 23, 2018, The New York Times released an article about censorship of the Me Too movement in China. China, a communist state, fears social unrest and consequently censors any speech that can potentially mobilize the public. Although China claims to embrace gender equality, the Me Too movement highlights the overwhelming sexual harassment and gender disparities in China’s government, workplaces, and universities. Authorities and enforcement agencies rarely investigate women’s claims against overt harassment. In one case, a woman took pictures of the man that groped her on the street and reported it to the police. They refused to take action because the perpetrator was “too old.” She was subjected to online attacks which were later censored by the government, with the harassment still unaddressed.
So why highlight sexual harassment in China? The Me Too movement is one of solidarity. As Americans, we pride ourselves for being a political, economic, and social culture entirely opposite of China. We are American and we value our freedom of speech and our ability to engage in civil discourse. But are we so different in the way that we handle sexual harassment? The recent outpouring of women that stepped up with #MeToo in blogs, social media, and mass media forced the world to recognize that sexual harassment happens to women in every environment no matter her age, ethnicity, religion, political belief, level of education, income, and so forth. Women and girls from all facets of life came out to expose the reality of power dynamics, sexism, control, and authority.
It is all too easy to blame and, consequently, shame women for acquiescing to a man’s request for sex and intimacy, assuming that she openly consented because this is the USA- we have the freedom to do as we please, right? China, although a stark opposite to the USA, is just one of many reflections in the mirror of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment and violence against any person is the same no matter what country or society it takes place. Coerced silencing and shaming simply reinforces and reproduces these cycles of violence.
Why is the Me Too movement important for freedom of speech and civil discourse? The forces that caused this movement stifled victims’ ability freedom to speak out. Fear of judgement and social and or economic punishment relegated victims to personal shame and silence. Implicit disengagement is equally an enemy of civil discourse. For those that choose to turn a blind eye decide that this cause is unworthy of action or, at the least, interaction.
We must reflect on reality and the ways we interact with others. Simply, open your ears and listen.