Recent hints emerging of the less-than-wholesome corporate culture in the ABS-CBN newsroom have brought to fore this confronting topic. Women have always been seen to be the “victims” of society’s power games — an idea that owes its persistence to the position of power men commanded over much of human history. But with the expansion of liberal ideals and the successes chalked up by feminism and other equality initiatives, the paradigm of women as the default victims and the men the default oppressors is fast becoming obsolete. Newly-established social conventions and new technologies have accelerated the the ability of women and other traditionally-disadvantaged groups to overcome natural and biological barriers to compete with the strong and traditionally-powerful to a point where society now finds itself at a crossroads.
It seems that the narrative that women are necessarily victims is becoming less and less able to fly — an irony in light of the social advances their movements have been making. The idea, however, is not without precedent. William Goldings’s 1954 novel Lord of the Flies suggests a scenario in which a group of children, left to fend for and govern themselves in an isolated environment, quickly degenerate into warlike cliques. This finds its parallels in organisations dominated by women — a relatively recent phenomenon thanks to affirmative action in women’s favour that, over the last several decades, slowly crept into corporate HR and brand management policy. The recent whistleblowing incident surrounding Gretchen Fullido reveals such a possible environment in ABS-CBN raising speculation of what it might be like in that other woman-dominated media organisation, Rappler.
This is not to say that such scenarios don’t happen in male-dominated organisations. That they do more as a rule than the exception has long been a given. This fact has, until recent years, been an accepted feature of organisations considering men have, for centuries, dominated organisations and undertakings that require scale and complexity in these. What is new — and coming to light — is the reality that modern women-dominated organisations are not immune to the same blight. Even more interesting, organisations with the “right” gender ratios (i.e. organisations with an equal number of male and female leaders) can now potentially be beset by an occurrence of sexual harassment in which the probability that perpetrators are men or women is 50-50.
In short, it is high time that gender bias be scraped off the the sexual harassment conversation. The conversation should now be made gender-neutral which means the once non-negotiable idea that women are its victims should be rendered obsolete. Recent events have proven it. Statistics may one day show it. Indeed, the possibility that the “weaponisation” of the Internet has disproportionately benefited women should now be explored. The Internet, and its application in social media, has enhanced the ability of “activists” to amplify emotionally-charged issues and notions and, as a result, made even more potent the ability of various agents to direct vitriol against unwitting subjects. The #MeToo movement rapidly gained traction on the back of the emotionalism spun around it. And while many perps have been outed as a result of this movement, disturbing instances where much of the noise created by this frenzy were revealed to be gross and unjust overreactions also came to light.
The key here is the exercise of prudence. Prudential minds need to govern the irrational exuberance that characterises media circuses (both social and mainstream) and Internet-fuelled “activist” movements just as measures are in place to govern financial markets and temper the effects of boom-and-bust cycles. Here we come back to the basics of responsible consumption. Whether it be of alcoholic beverages (for example) or of information and media, consumers need to be accountable for their choices and, in the absence of mature prudential governance such as in the new digital free market of ideas, more sense is expected of said consumers.
In the case of the feminist movement, there is mounting evidence that the empowerment of women, while perhaps not yet as complete as some feminists would like to see it, is undoubtedly creating a pressing need to re-evaluate concepts of victimhood. This is a challenge that needs to be stepped up to by society’s more level-headed minds and it is time that the dominant voices that drive traditional “activism” learn to tone down the shrillness a bit to allow the more sober conversations to gain some traction and attract a bit more of the attention these deserve.
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