The #MeToo movement has now officially reached Hawaiʻi. For the first time in millennial women’s memory, we have a high profile sexual harassment case against a sitting legislator. The president of the largest hotel workers’ union, inspired by #MeToo, is demanding panic buttons to protect women housekeeping staff against abusive hotel guests. Activists are criticizing the state for renaming our international airport after Hawaiʻi’s most famous “alleged” sexual predator just months before the #MeToo outbreak.
Some local commentators, from attorneys to journalists, have trivialized the #MeToo movement by claiming that the real problem is women being unable to tell the difference between innocuous social salutes and inappropriate behavior. These voices are part of the culture invested in ending the #MeToo movement because they benefit from the status quo. As feminist activists, we too hope to see the #MeToo movement end. The only way to end the #MeToo movement; however, is to end sexism as a system.
On Feb. 12, we held the first public discussion on #MeToo in Hawaiʻi. The conversation was centered on what the media might consider “low-profile”–Native, immigrant and working class–women. The goal to emphasize the need to create a new system rather than limit ourselves to individual takedowns of well-positioned men.
To end sexism and sex discrimination, which includes sexual harassment and sexual assault, we must examine the conditions that make a culture of sexism in the workplace and campus commonplace. Then, to co-create a new culture, we must train our peers and youth to understand the ways that male attitudes and violence towards women work to keep women workers inferior, silent, and excluded.
The only people who can hold men accountable are other men. First of all, patriarchal society teaches men to feel superior to women. This means that listening to women means risking one’s manhood and being socially shamed by other men and even women.
Second, women in the workplace should not be expected to stick their necks out for victimized women co-workers unless male leaders do the same. Even powerful women have a lot more to lose then their male peers by standing up against sexist behaviors. Both leadership and rank-and-file workers must be committed and vocal about their intolerance of sex discrimination in the workplace. Without these ingredients, sexism is likely to continue to create a less than dignifying workplace for women and, at worst, a violent workplace.
Third, we need to educate all generation, especially young children, to participate in a different gender system where men are not privileged over women. They must learn that men are not naturally superior and different in intelligence and emotional capacity.
Women who are experiencing sexual harassment need to understand the basics of where they can go and their pathways to legal justice or, what’s usually sought, making the abusive behavior stop. The best place for women in Hawaiʻi to turn is the Hawaiʻi State Commission on the Status of Women, which is the state agency committed by law to serve as the central resource center for women and girls. There are many other confidential sites of help such as the Hawaiʻi Civil Rights Commission, Sex Abuse Treatment Center, and the Hawaii State Ethics Commission. Last but most important, women who are ready to heal through resistance should connect with AF3IRM Hawaiʻi. You can contact AF3IRM Hawaiʻi by email ([email protected]), Facebook, Instagram or Twitter (all @AF3IRMHawaii).
Nadine Ortega, JD is AF3IRM Hawaiʻi’s founder and chapter coordinator.
Photo, left to right: Nanea Lo, UH Manoa graduate student; Gemma Weinstein, Local 5 President; Jennifer Solidum Rose, Director of the Office of Institutional Equity at UH; Paola Rodelas, Local 5 Communications Specialist.
Photo courtesy AF3IRM Hawaiʻi