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Media personality uses his position to gain sex

The #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns are empowering women to step forward to try to stop sexual misconduct, and to shape a better world for our children. To do this it requires that guilty men fall.  The question that many are asking is do these men need to fall so harshly? The court of public opinion can ruin careers, it is unforgiving and the media stokes the flames with every dirty little secret uncovered. Is this public shaming a necessary part of the change our society is going through?

I hope we will get to a day when it isn’t needed, but think, as the beginning of social change sets in, the public shaming is a necessary part of the social change. And I say this as someone who has experienced public shaming. 

By taking on the Mayor of Toronto in 2013, and being the first to talk about his drug use and sexual misconduct, I became a target for Ford nation. And I admit that I wasn’t prepared to go up against a very savvy and strategic campaign (led by Rob’s brother Doug Ford) to bury the truth. From the moment the news hit social media, Doug Ford was on the phone with all the media personalities in Toronto, calling in favours and working to gain their support for his brother. His goal was to get them to discredit me, to turn the public against me and make the Mayor out to be the victim.  A friend of mine was, at the time, hosting a talk show on Newstalk 1010 and he warned me that Doug Ford was calling all the key commentators and trying to get them to discredit me. Doug was able to manipulate many of them. Even those who knew me to be a legitimate community advocate turned against me.  They spent a week questioning my background, my authenticity, and making Mayor Ford out to be the victim. Doug Ford succeeded at manipulating the media to work on his agenda, and for a time they were so busy attacking me, they ignored the legitimate stories swirling around the Mayor. Ford’s strategy to deceive the public through the media worked – until it didn’t.

But the public shaming was a terrible experience and I understand now why so few came to defend me. I am thankful to the men who did – Mayor John Tory and Greg Sorbara – were two men who stood up in a sea of accusations to suggest that I wasn’t one to exaggerate. But for a week or two I couldn’t get on the subway or walk through a grocery store without a Ford fanatic following behind me screaming that I was a lying bitch.  So I know very well what the court of public opinion can do to someone. And I also know that eventually the truth comes out – as it did on Mayor Ford.

Today women are finally uniting and using their voices to shine a spotlight on the sexual abuse and misconduct of some very powerful public figures. The guilty need to fall. And I for one believe that the truth will protect those who are wrongfully accused, as it did me. I went through hell, but I am stronger for it. The time has come for men who abuse their power to pay for their actions.  

There is still one man whose actions haunt me. In 2010 when I was running for Mayor of Toronto, I was on a political talk show with the other top four candidates.  The show was widely watched and it helped my numbers in the polls, so the next time I saw the host I asked if I might get on his show again. Always kind and friendly, he suggested we meet over lunch to discuss.  My assistant and I met him at Grano’s on Yonge Street, and the three of us ordered our lunch. Not five minutes into the lunch the host asked me if I would sleep with him. My assistant almost spit his drink all over the table. I politely told the host that I loved my husband and would never do that. I then excused myself, went to the washroom and called my campaign manager. My manager was at first angry that I was alone with a talk show host, but when I explained that my assistant was actually sitting there with us and had heard the entire thing, his anger turned to shock. He was great at calming me down and  joked that if I didn’t want to “take one for the team” then I should excuse myself and leave.  I followed his instruction, and later asked my EA what he and the host had talked about while I was in the washroom. He told me he questioned the talk show host to see if asking directly for sex actually worked for him. The host said that it worked 50 percent of the time. I hope he was just bragging, but I’ve always wondered if the women who are frequent guests on his show have slept with him.

Back in 2010 this meant that some of the male candidates had extra exposure on his show that I couldn’t get. They didn’t have to sleep with him to get on his show.  It was frustrating but in a busy campaign we didn’t have time to address it.  When I talk with younger women, they are shocked at the way the world was back then.  I realize that women of my generation were programmed to accept how it was. We had to joke about it because getting mad every other day wasn’t healthy. I remember a woman saying to me once when I complained about an editor who slept with interns that “boys will be boys.”  It wasn’t until I met my husband that I learned that some boys turn into caring and compassionate men concerned about building a fair and just society. 

In 2010 the host  made it harder for me to compete with the men I was up against, because they were invited to appear on his show while I wasn’t. He didn’t give a damn about how he impacted my future.   In the years since he’s approached me several times, usually at political functions, to suggest we “sleep together” and he always laughs about it.  I wonder if he does this so that if he is ever held to account he can claim that he was only joking? I also wonder how he would explain why he has never had me on his show, in a climate where talk show hosts complain that they can’t get women to appear on their shows?  And I wonder how many other women have had the same experience I did with him? How many women have not been invited back to his show simply because they won’t sleep with him?

I wonder too what our next steps should be? My assistant who sat with me at the table when I was propositioned by this host, remembers the conversation well. But my gut tells me we will need to gather a few other women who have shared a similar experience in order for his CEO to take this seriously. With two elections coming up this year the host will have many opportunities to prey on women candidates. I hope my words will stop him from abusing his power. So I shout them and warn women to be careful – avoid lunching with the host of a talk show!  If you have experienced the same situation, and know whom I am writing about, please contact me – sarah@sarahthomson.ca. We will protect your identity. 

And I warn him: we are coming. We aren’t rushing, but we are slowly gathering our facts and we won’t let up.  Do the right thing, and step down from your job.

And they all come tumbling down

Politician after politician are resigning amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

It started with Ontario PC party leader Patrick Brown, who resigned in the early morning last week following allegations made by two women. Around the same time, Nova Scotia PC leader Jamie Bailie was forced out of his party following an investigation over “inappropriate behaviour”. The independent third-party investigation found that Braile had breached the Nova Scotia House of Assembly policy on the prevention and resolution of harassment in the workplace.

Details on the allegations were not released to the public.

And then, Sunday night, Ontario PC party president Rick Dykstra resigned. “It has a wonderful experience to watch the party’s renewal and over the next couple of months we will see the party coalesce around a new Leader,” Dykstra on Twitter “As this process unfolds, I have made the decision to step aside as President and take a step back for someone else to lead us through the hard work.”

The announcement was made a few hours before a story came out in Maclean’s Magazine alleging that Dykstra sexually assaulted a staffer following a party when he was serving as an MP in Ottawa.

Of course, not all of the resignations have come from the PCs. Federal Sport and Disabilities Minister Kent Hehr resigned from cabinet over the weekend after allegations of sexual harassment popped up on social media. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the resignation a “leave of absence” while an investigation is conducted.

“As a government, we take any allegations of misconduct extremely seriously, and we believe that it is important to support women who come forward with allegations and that is exactly what our government will do,” the statement read.

Every single politician and political leader is saying the same thing. They use phrases like “it is never okay” to threaten or make a woman uncomfortable or “we take any allegations seriously”. It’s as if my saying this phrases out loud, they are waving a magic wand and saying “nothing to see here.”

This influx of resignations is just the tipping point of a broader, more wide-spread issue — the old-boys club of politics. While the federal cabinet may be gender-equal, the rest of the political arena is not. Of 308 seats within the House of Commons, only 88 are women, a measly 26 per cent. For decades, Canadian governments were led by powerful, white men, and while that is slowly changing, attitudes are not. I imagine there will be numerous more allegations made in the next few months.

Municipal, provincial, and federal governments have all indicated a need for change. Gender lenses are being attached to budgets and trade documents — and yet, our government can’t seem to get a handle of the sexism within their own backyard. The simple solution is to elect more women, especially in leadership roles. But, it’s going to take more than that. There needs to be an attitude check on parliament hill. Enough with that “it is never okay” statements. It’s time to practice what you preach and weed out the old boys club and replace them with fresh faces who are willing to respect everyone equally.

Why consent should be included in #MeToo movement

A woman has made allegations of sexual misconduct against television actor and comedian Aziz Ansari. In her claim, she says the two went out on a date and when she indicated, using “nonverbal and verbal cues” that she wasn’t interested in having sex with him, he tried to seduce her over and over again. Eventually, he called her an uber and she went home.

Ansari has told the media that “it was true that everything did seem okay to me, so when I heard that it was not the case for her, I was surprised and concerned.”

While the allegations may not be as serious as those against Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey, these kind of stories do expose an important issue of consent, or basic respect, on the dating scene. The criticism this woman is receiving online is reason enough why this story is so important. People are saying this woman should have been clearer about her sexual desires, and that it wasn’t fair to Ansari to ruin his career over something he didn’t know he did wrong. An opinion columnist in the New York Times actually said the only thing Ansari is guilty of is not being a mindreader.

Essentially, those responding to this story are saying that because this woman didn’t cry out “no” and push Ansari away, this story has no value to the #MeToo movement. I disagree.

This story is one many women, and probably a few men, are familiar with. Their date indicates a need to slow down, and are promptly ignored. You kind of like the person, so you try to express your consent in a different way. You do this by joking around, distracting your partner, suggesting alternative activities, and finally, by saying you aren’t in the mood. This can result in anger, frustration, embarrassment, and sometimes lead to dangerous situations.

I was dating a man for a few weeks I met online. He was funny, smart, and nice — pretty much exactly what I was looking for. During conversation at dinner, my date invited me back to his apartment. I said that while I liked him, I wanted to take our relationship slow. I like to really get to know a potential partner before jumping into bed with them, especially considering the dangers of the online dating scene. I was about as clear as a person could be about my romantic intensions, and my date seemed understanding. He said there were no strings attached to the invitation, and we could simply watch a movie, drink coffee, and spend more time with each other.

Isn’t that sweet?

Of course, once I arrived at the apartment, there was no coffee. He did put on a movie, but as soon as the opening titles started scrolling along the screen, he was blowing in my ear (is that a thing!!??). The next thing I knew, his hand was on the back of my head, pushing me towards his face. I broke away a few times, joking about how we were going to miss the movie. A few minutes later, his hand was on my cheek, guiding my face back to his.

I consider myself a strong and independent woman, but when I was confronted with such an uncomfortable situation, I am ashamed to say that I lied. Instead of telling my date that his behaviour was unacceptable, especially considering our conversation at dinner, I looked at my phone and said “my dad just called me. My dog is badly injured and he needs help lifting her into the car. I’ve got to run.” And out the door I went.

All that is to say it is not as easy to say “no” as people may think. When you are alone with a person in their home, you are vulnerable. Your partner has the advantage.

It’s also important to remember that consent is not the absence of the word “no”. Consent, according to the Oxford dictionary, means to give “permission for something to happen.” In the case of a sexual relationship, both parties must clearly agree to a sexual act and each person has the right to say no. Consent should never be assumed or implied.

Again, let me stress, consent is not defined by the absence of the word “no”. And that is why this conversation should be a part of the #MeToo movement. Understanding this definition is part of that patriarchal mentality women are trying to change. It is something that will take time and needs to be exposed in order for people to learn.

Could Ansari really not understand this woman’s non-verbal cues? It is absolutely possible. Should he be punished professionally and personally for his actions? I’m not too sure. His reaction is probably similar to hundreds of thousands of men out there who were in similar situations. Men who don’t understand what those non-verbal cues mean and are subject to retaliation in the media.

For those men, here is a very simple guideline: just ask. Ask your partner if it is okay to kiss them. Ask if they want to go to the bedroom. Ask if they are willing to have oral sex. Always ask. When you ask, you will get a firm answer. And continue to ask! Is this okay? Are you okay with me touching you there?

It’s really rather simple. And no, it doesn’t detract from the mood. Trust me, it’s actually quite attractive to have a man stand by your door, saying “you look absolutely beautiful, I would like to kiss you. Can I?”

Sexual assault and sexual harassment within industry and the workplace may be the foundation of the #MeToo and TIME’S UP movement, but it shouldn’t end there. Let’s add consent to the discussion.

Why is no one describing Celine Dion’s stage mobbing as assault?

Iconic Canadian singer and businesswoman Celine Dion was mobbed by a female fan.

In the middle of one of her concerts in Las Vegas, a fan rushed the stage and grabbed the singer, gyrating against her body with her legs wrapped around her waist. The woman was obviously drunk and it is unclear how she got past security.

Dion handled the fan like the magical woman she is. She calmed the woman down, sent security away, and proceeded to speak with the woman. “I’m glad you came up on stage tonight,” Dion said. “I’m glad that you wanted to come closer to me.” The exchange took about five minutes before the woman was escorted off stage.

“Some people go through a lot,” Dion tells the crowd. “And some people need to talk, and I want to say thank you to all of you, because for maybe five minutes we have given this lady a moment to talk.”

Dion is an incredibly classy and kindhearted woman, so it’s not surprising that she handled this challenging moment in such a dignified way. But, what was surprising is the media’s description of the event.

“Celine Dion uses the power of love to deal with drunk fan”. “Celine Dion is a model of kindness”.

While it is true that Dion was a model of kindness, she was also a victim of assault — something no one seems to be talking about.

In an age where women are standing up and telling their #MeToo stories, the media needs to be harsher in exposing instances, no matter how small, in which women and men are being harassed. This fan did not have Dion’s permission to touch her or gyrate against her body.

Sexual assault is described as sexual contact that usually involves force upon a person without consent. Sexual harassment is defined as unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks. Gyrating against another person’s body would absolutely fall within these definitions.  

In the video, at one moment, Dion asks the woman “can I touch you”, and she takes her hand and walks her to centre stage. There was consent in that moment for that particular form of physical contact. There was no consent for this fan to start humping Dion on stage, even if Dion was open to keeping her on stage. Just like an invitation into someone’s house isn’t an invitation for sex, an invitation on stage is not an invitation for physical contact.

I also wonder if these headlines would have read differently if the fan was a man? Is it less of an incident because it was a woman gyrating against another woman?

If 2018 is the year of TIME’S UP — it has to be universal. Just because you are a celebrity or an entertainer, doesn’t mean it is okay to be attacked by a fan. It doesn’t mean you should have to handle it with dignity and class. And it doesn’t mean the rules are different for men and women.

This incident, no matter how compassionately it was dealt with, was assault — and it’s time to start describing it that way.

Featured image by celebrityabc.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!

5 kickass moments for women at the Golden Globes

Who watched the Golden Globes Sunday night?

I’m not a big fan of award shows. Honestly, I only watch them to enjoy the entertainment or the fashion. I like movies and television, but often I sit down to watch my PVR shows months, or even years, after they were cool. This year, however, I watched the Golden Globes for another reason — I wanted to see the impact of the TIME’S UP Campaign.

Last week, women within the entertainment industry joined forces with activists, lawyers, and farmworkers, to form the initiative TIME’S UP, which will fight systemic sexual harassment in Hollywood and in blue-collar workplaces. They called for everyone attending the Golden Globes to wear black in solidarity.

It was also the first award show to be broadcast since the #MeToo campaign picked up force last year. This led to some highly political, and inspirational moments. Even host Seth Meyers began his monologue with the following statement: “Good evening ladies and remaining gentlemen. It’s 2018. Marijuana is finally allowed, and sexual harassment finally isn’t.”

Here are the top moments for women at the Golden Globes:

Oprah’s speech: Oprah Winfrey was honoured with the Cecil B. DeMille award for lifetime achievement, making her the first black woman to receive it. If this wasn’t enough, in typical Oprah fashion, she stood up and presented a 10-minute speech about race, women, and inspiration that resulted in numerous standing ovations.

I want tonight to express gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault because they, like my mother, had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue. They’re the women whose names we’ll never know. They are domestic workers and farm workers. They are working in factories and they work in restaurants and they’re in academia, engineering, medicine, and science. They’re part of the world of tech and politics and business. They’re our athletes in the Olympics and they’re our soldiers in the military…For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men. But their time is up. Their time is up.

Here are all the male nominees: While presenting the award for best director, Actress Natalie Portman added in a very poignant line: “And here are the all-male nominees.” Female directors don’t often get nominated for their work, and this year was no exception (surprising considering TIME’S UP). There were three female directors who helped produce some amazing films this year — Greta Gerwig; Ladybird, Des Rees; Mudbound, and Patty Jenkins; Wonder Woman — who at least deserved a nomination. Portman’s unexpected ad-lib was the talk of the Internet.

The Handmaiden’s Tale: Elizabeth Moss won best actress for her role in The Handmaiden’s Tale, based off the novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood. The series takes place in a dystopian future in which America women are enslaved and forced to act as child bearers following a fertility pandemic. Women are treated as lower beings, torn from their families, raped, and forced to serve higher men. Season two of The Handmaiden’s Tale is set to be released in April. “Margaret Atwood, this is for you and all of the women who came before you, and after you, who were brave enough to speak out against intolerance and injustice and to fight for equality and freedom in this world,” she said. The show, which was filmed in Toronto, also won for best television series. The director thanked everyone for working hard to make sure the show doesn’t become a reality.

A sea of black attire: TIME’S UP called for celebrities to wear black to the Golden Globes, and they responded in force! I can count the number of people not wearing black on one hand — at least from what I saw. This also included men, many of whom were wearing the TIME’S UP pin, the must-have “political accessory” of the awards show, as the New York Times called it.

The anti-celebs: There were some faces on the red carpet most people didn’t recognize. They were the activists, lawyers, and farm workers. They were the women who don’t typically get their photo taken or have their names printed in the papers. A number of celebrities chose to bring one of these women as their special guest, providing them with a platform to discuss their causes. Here were the activists present on the red carpet:

  • Marai Larasi, executive director of Imkaan, a British network of organizations working to end violence against black and minority women.
  • Tarana Burke, senior director of the nonprofit Girls for Gender Equity.
  • Saru Jayaraman, a workplace-justice advocate for restaurant workers.
  • Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance.
  • Monica Ramirez, who fights sexual violence against farmworkers.
  • Rosa Clemente,  Puerto Rican activist & journalist.
  • Billie Jean King, founder of the Women’s Tennis Association.
  • Calina Lawrence, a Suquamish Tribe member, singer and activist for Native American treaty and water rights.

It did feel a little strange to be honest, to have celebrities parade around with an activist on their arm, almost as if they were saying “see, I’m helping too!” At the same time, it provided these women with a platform to speak during primetime.

All in all, not too shabby for a few hours of late night television.

Featured Image provided by NBC.

What did you think of the Glden Globes? Let us know in the comments below!

Is it ‘TIME’S UP’ for the 2017 feminist movement?

Women in the entertainment industry — including actresses America Ferrera and Eva Longoria; lawyer Nina L. Shaw; actress Reese Witherspoon; producer Shonda Rhimes; and lawyer Tina Tchen, to name a few — have come together to form an initiative that will fight systemic sexual harassment in Hollywood and in blue-collar workplaces.

You may be thinking: sure, a whole bunch of famous people have come together to do some fundraising, big deal?! This happens a few times a year. But, in reality, the initiative TIME’S UP is much more than a pet project spearhead by a select number of privileged people. Instead of focusing on the sensationalist media coverage of the #MeToo movement, the initiative provides real support for victims and calls for new legislation that will penalize companies that tolerate sexual harassment.

As the initiative’s website says, “TIME’S UP is a unified call for change from women in entertainment for women everywhere. From movie sets to farm fields to boardrooms alike, we envision nationwide leadership that reflects the world in which we live.”

After the social campaigns and the marches — this call for political and legal change is the next logical step. Ironically, it was a group of victims rather than those elected to lead our nations who stood up to call for this change.

TIME’S UP will provide a legal defence fund, based on $13 million in donations, to help less privileged men and women protect themselves from the fallout of reporting sexual misconduct. The fund will be administered by the National Women’s Law Centre, which has a network of lawyer and public relations professionals available to provide assistance.

The initiative is also calling for an increase of women (including members of the LGBTQ community and people of colour) in positions of power across all industries, as well as equal representation, benefits, and pay. Perhaps North America can follow Iceland, who made equal pay mandatory on Jan. 1. Every single company in Iceland now has to obtain a certification saying that men and women are being paid equally in similar positions.

Can you imagine every company in North America needing to obtain proof of pay equality? It’s the stuff of dreams.

TIME’S UP was formed after 700,000 female farmworkers sent messages and letters to celebrities throughout the entertainment industry following the allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo social media campaign. “Even though we work in very different environments, we share a common experience of being preyed upon by individuals who have the power to hire, fire, blacklist and otherwise threaten our economic, physical and emotional security,” they wrote. “In these moments of despair, and as you cope with scrutiny and criticism because you have bravely chosen to speak out against the harrowing acts that were committed against you, please know that you’re not alone. We believe and stand with you.”

The TIME’S UP website leads with a letter written to show support for those farmworkers, in which over 300 people within the entertainment industry acknowledge their suffering and stand with them to try and help change the system.

The initiative is volunteer-led and doesn’t have a leadership team. It is comprised instead of smaller working groups, each one tackling a certain area. For example, one group is creating a framework to end sexual harassment in show business while another is reviewing legislation that will tackle abuse within businesses, including the use of nondisclosure agreements to silence victims.

About half of men think women are well-represented in leadership, despite the numbers that show otherwise. When the #MeToo campaign started to trend, most men couldn’t fathom how many women had been sexually assaulted.

2017 may have been labelled as the year for feminism and women’s rights, but nothing actually changed. Perhaps more people are aware of the situation than before, but there was no legislation promised by politicians and no guarantees made by industry management.

There is still a lot that needs to change in order to ensure gender equality — and our time is not up!

 Featured Image by Vini.