#metoo and the power of discourse

In November 2019, Karlshochschule International University hosted a “#metoo workshop and lecture on sexual harassment” with vice president Professor Ella Roininen. This event demonstrated the need for awareness on the topic of sexual harassment as well as for the improvement of ourselves. The #metoo workshop is aiming to enhance our sensitivity on the topic and to strengthen in the fight against sexual harassment. Furthermore, this workshop produced an intimate and eye-opening experience for its numerous participants.


Hosting a #metoo workshop can be a model for other universities to follow

The audience was introduced with an explanation of what consent is with a metaphor of tea. The video clearly demonstrated what is consent and what isn’t. Professor Roininen covered topics such as what sexual harassment is, how it affects a person, how to recognize sexual harassment and what you can do about it. When the lecture ended, Professor Roininen opened up the floor for an intimate discussion pertaining to sexual harassment. Hosting a #metoo workshop here at Karlshochschule can be a model for other universities to follow. Faculty, students, and guests all participated in discourse after the lecture to discuss what sexual harassment is, why it happens, and what can we do. Karlshochschule stepped down and handed the microphone to the audience.

Can I just speak my mind?” Someone asked.

Well, it depends. It depends on what is your main intention. Don’t use your gender as a prerogative to neither speak whatever you think is true nor to deny you the right to name misconducts and mistakes when they happen.

And why to talk about gender and freedom together now? 

Because we’re negotiating spaces and drawing new lines between and around us. Because no one has the fixed position of being stronger, protective and in charge of taking care of the other one. Nor to remain silent, resilient, supportive. We’re all strong and supportive and we’re all responsible for ourselves and the others, mutually.

And how do I know what is appropriate now?

Use your own genuine sense, consider your attitude and someone else’s by the contexts you are in. If someone oversteps, you’ll know and if you know, tell it. If I overstepped, I can always apologize and learn something more about myself and the other. Because we all make mistakes. 

When these new lines are blurred, we use our power and sensibility together.

Speak and hear, be brave and embracing we have all inside and if the outside is what we make of it, we can do it there too. At the eye level, we acknowledge each other’s spaces and limits and can work on a common ground of respect.

As we learned about binaries, gender roles, and power relations, we deconstruct tensions and from Franka’s, Rebeca and Lily’s poems, speaking their voices and claiming new spaces we ended up on Alexander’s experiences and empathy and Rojano’s support and encouragement.

Again we found a place where most of all we built new relations and create together new understandings.

The most powerful thing we can do to change is to talk about it. When we are no longer silent and share our narratives, we become empowered.

How did #metoo become a global movement?

According to the official #metoo website the movement was established in 2006 by Tarana Burke, it was originally her mission to support survivors of sexual violence, with particular attention towards Black women and girls, and other young women, from lower-class communities. It is only years later that the movement became viral on social media, therefore it would be helpful to go back and create a timeline of the main events which contributed to making the #metoo movement so widespread.

The spark that ignited the fuse was an article published by The New York Times on the 5th of October 2017 with the title “Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades”. Various female celebrities alleged that one of the most influential Hollywood’s moguls had sexually abused, molested and intimidated them. This was just the first and biggest development of the whole vicissitude, from this moment on the press, social media, associations, political authorities and more, we’re all concerned with the topic and a global debate started.

A turning point for the debate was when Alyssa Milano, an American actress, producer, and activist, shared a tweet with the #metoo hashtag, where she encouraged women to write Metoo as a status if they had been victims of sexual assault or abuse. The hashtag was used around 200.000 times on Twitter just on the first day, October 15th, 2019. More scandals on sexual abuse came to light in the following months, after the first tweet. Since then the #metoo movement has become unstoppable.

Today it can be stated #metoo has affected public discourse and also had concrete consequences in politics, social media, film industry, related industries, even the everyday lives of thousands of people. Even though two years went by, the matter is still remarkably relevant and as far as it can be observed it will be for a long time. Therefore the post #metoo times are uncertain but the movement has spread a call to action which will not be taken away for a long time.

What is sexual harassment?

According to Equal Rights Advocates, Sexual harassment is defined, “offensive, unwanted, and unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature”. Someone who is being sexually harassed can feel offended, humiliated, and intimidated as well. Sexual harassment can also extend comments based on stereotypes or groups of people based on their sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation. Behaviors of sexual harassment can be but are not limited to:

  • unwelcome touching staring or leering
  • suggestive comments or jokes
  • comments made about someone’s appearance or body
  • unwanted requests for sexual favors or dates
  • sexual assault
  • rape
  • sending inappropriate pictures or messages through SMS
  • unwanted touching of any body part, clothing, face or hair (this includes hugging or kissing)
  • blocking someone’s movement

For any of these behaviors to be considered sexual harassment, it only matters what the person who is being harassed thinks. It doesn’t matter if the comment the harasser made was harmless or welcomed, it still can be considered offensive or not wanted if the person being harassed deems it so. Even if the person is being harassed doesn’t say “stop” or show the harasser what they’re saying or doing is appropriate or unwanted, it is also sexual harassment. 

Sexual harassment differs from flirting. Flirting is done between consensual parties. It is mutual and wanted. Sexual harassment is when one party is persistent even though the other party has made it clear that they are uncomfortable, not interested, or offended.

Given the sensitivity of the topic, if you feel the need for help here is a number from the Federal Association of women’s counseling and rape crisis centers (bff) in Berlin.

If you are interested in more events like the #metoo workshop, you should check out the university event page.

Article by Camille Amberger *CA, Chiara Pratticó *CP (KarlsStorytellers) and Danusa Colares (Voices@Karls)
Video by Seungyeon Lee *SL (KarlsStorytellers)

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