#MeToo to #HimThough: Why active language is so important

Can I tell you about when I was 15 and woke up to find a friend of my cousin’s groping me? My younger cousin was asleep in the bunk bed below.

How about when a university lecturer asked me out for a date. He marked my grades down when I said no. It cost me a first class degree.

Let’s talk about the workplace: a male team had a bet to see who could sleep with me first.

(Answer, none).

How about the CEO that called me on a day off to say I needed to sack my co-manager because the business didn’t want working mums as “they’re not committed.”

(I didn’t sack her and Kerry that was at your wedding. I’m sorry).

Always and everywhere

It happens whatever stage you’re at in your career.

Two years ago while running my own business, a client grabbed my buttocks at an event. There were more than 200 people in the room.

I brushed him off and said we’d talk about it later.

He subsequently avoided every call and request for a meeting and fired my agency from the account.

It removed the opportunity to discuss it face to face.  Thing is, he’d almost certainly have laughed it off as a bit of fun anyway.

You’re almost certainly in wild agreement that these stories are unacceptable. You’ll almost all have versions of your own. We haven’t moved on that far from the seventies.

Sexual harassment and gender discrimination are endemic in the workplace.

The news about Harvey Weinstein might have opened up the conversation, but talk now needs to lead to genuine culture and behavioural change.

#MeToo to #HimThough

The #MeToo campaign flooding social media is only the tip of the iceberg but it shows exactly how widespread sexual abuse is. The experiences are not ‘just a joke’ and affect women across all walks of life.

Some people are better able to raise awareness about it than others – for example it’s arguably easier for me as a white, middle class professional to speak up.

Whether it’s a lingering touch of the arm, outright proposition or much worse, being hit upon is downright unacceptable.

Turning down someone’s advances should also not affect your chances of success in life.

In her interview with Emily Maitliss on BBC Newsnight, actress Emma Thompson said: “Does it only count if you really have done it to loads and loads of women or does it count if you do it to one woman, once. I think the latter.”

She has a point. If you’ve ever behaved this way to someone in the workplace, you’re guilty of inappropriate behaviour. I’d argue the same about complicity.

If you’ve watched it happen and haven’t stepped forward, you’re equally as guilty.

We all have a role in speaking out

So what’s the answer to this complex issue? One route forward is to stop using passive language.

Liz Plank created #HimThough in response to the #MeToo campaign: “How many women will it take to say #MeToo before men talk about #HimThough? Imagine a world where the burden was on men to share their shame rather than women.”

Using active language is more important than you think.

News reports that talk about the number of sexual assaults on women rather than the number of sexual assaults by men take away the onus from the perpetrator.

As Jackson Katz, the co-founder of Mentors in Violence Prevention, said: “The use of the passive voice…shifts the focus off men and boys and onto girls and women.

“Blaming victims and minimizing the harms they have suffered is much easier than holding people accountable — especially the powerful and well-connected.”

Professional communicators, take note. It’s a lesson for us all.