How long must the ink bleed?

Challenges faced by women in the workforce show feminism is just as important now as ever

Simone de Beauvoir, renowned feminist theorist and avant-guard philosopher, compelled us to consider in the preface to The Second Sex, whether we had spoken enough on and about the subject feminism.

“Enough ink has been spilled in quarrelling over feminism, and perhaps we should say no more about it,” she wrote in 1949.

It is 2014. And while the quarrels continue, in the classes of academe and on the pages of journals and newspapers, more can be said. More should be said.

Feminism. Though heterogeneous and contested, the movement is committed and the philosophy is grounded in equality and justice, particularly for women.

More ink can be spilled.

In the past two months, women have come forward about questionable and sexually violent acts by former Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) radio host and celebrity Jian Ghomeshi outside of the workplace, a matter now before Ontario courts. Reports of sexual harassment and unequal treatment of women in the workplace on the part of Mr. Ghomeshi have also emerged.

In an on-camera Fifth Estate investigation of the issue, a CBC official said that no complaints were filed and no problems were identified following the Corporation’s internal investigation involving 17 employees. Employees say that they were not, in fact, contacted for information.

And long before these allegations and internal probes, a lecturer at the University of Western Ontario’s journalism school knew that all was not right at Q. According to reports, the lecturer and the school were aware of Mr. Ghomeshi’s overly flirtatious ways. Female students were discouraged from interning at Q.

As this story continues to unfold, it is in many ways nothing short of shocking. At the same time, I can disappointingly say that it is not. Women have been subject to abuse and sexual harassment in the workplace.

In the midst of the Ghomeshi revelations came other allegations of sexual harassment on Parliament Hill.

South of the border, allegations that Bill Cosby has been drugging and raping women for decades have emerged (or reemerged depending on with whom you speak). Recent reports that Mr. Cosby demanded that young girls, assistants and interns from the Late Show with David Letterman silently sit and watch him eat pre-show curry are nothing short of odd.

And more recently, FHRITP has come to our backyard. Young men shouting unmentionable obscenities to on-camera (or about to go on camera) female journalists.

And in the middle of all of this a suggestive rendering of Kim Kardashian’s ass on the cover of Paper Magazine while Andre Picard argues that we need to pay more attention to eating disorders, particularly among women.

The pressures are great. Their origins are everywhere. They know no bounds. Their implications are real.

Women in the labour force face significant challenges.

Women are disproportionately precariously employed. They make less than men. They struggle re-entering the labour force. And they are often faced with a lack of choice when faced with sexual harassment in the workplace.

A former female producer of Q has come forward to explain that, amidst ongoing sexual harassment from Mr. Ghomeshi, she went years without reporting it because: “I feared for my job and my career: getting asked to be part of the original production team behind Q was the biggest break I’d ever had. It was my first permanent, full-time job. I had stability, many excellent colleagues and a dental plan. The show became a conspicuous success with a known celebrity at its helm. If I quit, where else was there to go?”

Janice Dickinson, who alleges that Mr. Cosby drugged and raped her in 1982, has said that her reasons for not coming forward were because he was powerful, she was young, she trusted him and she was embarrassed.

 Where does the responsibility lie if women are terrified to come forward, fearful to jeopardize the stability of their jobs and their careers?

Like the former Q producer, she was a woman attempting to make a career.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook CEO, has received attention for her book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. In it, she argues that, among other things, women need to participate more fully in the decisions and actions that surround their careers; that they should ‘lean in’ to discussions, advocate on their own behalf, and seek mentors to help them advance where they need to be.

I love this book. While this is good advice and indeed important for many women, it occurs to me that leaning in is difficult if what you are forced to lean in to is an erectile egomaniac.

Another favourite read of mine, Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor, discusses the need to find advocates for career advancement. What if your advocate demands sexual favours? Sadly this scenario is not shocking. It is reality, and unfortunately, silently so.

The ink does not stop here. But where else must it bleed? And for how long?

I ask, where does the responsibility lie if women are terrified to come forward, fearful to jeopardize the stability of their jobs and their careers?

I don’t think I have the answer. We have been voicing these concerns for decades. It is not as though the Ghomeshi or Cosby revelations should offer us additional clairvoyance, despite the insistence that these come-forwards are calls to action.

After all, it was 25 years ago that Marc Lépine killed 14 women at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal. A massacre because they were women. In a place where they should have been safe, on their way to becoming part of the labour force.


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