Friday, December 21, 2018

Fearless Friday - Yael Stone

I'm writing this on Tuesday, after watching the 7.30 Report last night and the interview Leigh Sales had with Yael Stone. If you haven't seen it, this link to the ABC article might help.

I was completely blown away by the composure, intelligence and articulate way Yael Stone addressed a terribly complex and divisive issue.

The #MeToo movement has been welcome, but it's caused discomfort too. I don't know that I could have articulated my feelings as well as Ms Stone did last night.

So many things she said were incredibly well thought out and thought through.

She said she has to forgive her 25-year-old self for not behaving in a way that she would now.

This is such a powerful message. It's something that came up at the RWA conference too. We're all reflections of society, our upbringing, the times we were in, the things that were expected of us at that time. 20/20 vision in hindsight is something everyone seems to have - but when you're in the trenches, dealing with the life you're trying to work out, sometimes you can't see over the edge, much less far in front or around the corner. Sometimes you don;t act as you wished you had. Admitting that is such a powerful thing.

She also said she could forgive the man who made her feel uncomfortable. In fact, she seemed to have had a friendly relationship with him for years afterwards.

This too, is okay. I think it's a mature way to cope with the situation. She was uncomfortable in the workplace with this man's behaviour, with the imbalance of 'power', and with the way she felt. She was uncertain how to deal with this, but in her quiet way, she put in boundaries and in the most part those boundaries were tested but not significantly crossed.

This is how I've dealt with similar workplace circumstances. If you have to work with someone, you need to have a line, but you also need to mark that line in a way that doesn't alienate the work colleague. Once you know how the person reacts, you can have more confidence with that line, so long as you work hard at making sure it doesn't creep from where you placed it.

Her overall messages seemed to be, these things do happen, but rather than ignore them or challenge them in a court, maybe we need to sit down and have a conversation - person-to-person, and well as as a society. It's not just a single issue, this is a systemic change that needs to happen.

For me, this was the most powerful part of the interview. This is what I believe MUST happen. Court cases are fine... but they're all about taking sides, dealing out justice. They aren't about social/personal change. Unless issues are understood, I don't think change happens.

Ms Stone's examples of her discomfort in the workplace, and other similar behaviour reported, along with the man's denials, seem to show a type of behaviour that was allowed to develop over a long time. There's a generational age gap between the man and Ms Stone, and I think in that time a lot has changed with the power balance between colleagues.

Fifty-two years ago, my mother had to leave the workplace when she married. Her sister, who is a little younger, could remain working after marriage but was expected to leave when she was pregnant. Women didn't have anywhere near the 'standing' in society that men had. This is the time that the man in question would have been learning his craft, from older men. Respect for women was not high. Wives were commonly beaten in Australia. Women were allowed to vote, but there was an expectation that they voted for the same party as their husband. Women's rights were slowly changing, but not in a fast way.

Today, women vote for who they want to. They have the ability to work when married, pregnant, with children, and to keep their surname. They can lobby for equal pay. They can speak out against violence. I'm not saying any of that is perfect yet - far from it - but in the lifetime of these older men, women have gone from silent doormats, to outspoken, strong humans who expect equality.

The behaviour that this man probably saw and learned as a young man, is not tolerated now. But sometimes older men are the hardest to change. They don't see what they do is 'wrong' because 'that's how it's always been done'. It can be very difficult to argue with an older man who is adamant that you're a young woman who'd know nothing (or a middle-aged woman who still knows nothing) and shouldn't have a place or a voice. It may not all be older men too, sometimes it's a cultural aspect that has men believing the same things as the older Aussie men.

That's why we need a conversation about these things. That's why we need to open the discussion on a large, societal scale.

Awareness and education are keys to change. If we can talk - articulately, intelligently, respectfully, and logically - about circumstances and events that made us uncomfortable, then people may begin to see patterns and see a way of changing these patterns. In themselves, and in society as a whole.

I admire the fearlessness that allowed Ms Stone - and so many others - to speak out.

As she said, it's not easy to speak about these things, and many aspects had to be weighed up before she said a word. Bravo, on an incredibly moving interview, Ms Sales and Ms Stone.

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