The waves of workplace sexual misconduct show no signs of abating as a quick scan of today’s news headlines yielded yet more reports of such behaviour both in Canada’s civil service and private sector. Following the footsteps of Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Patrick Brown, Calgary MP Darshan Kang, who resigned from the Liberal caucus, is the latest casualty after an investigation into a staff member’s harassment complaint against Kang concluded that Kang had violated House of Commons rules.
Politics is dirty, but the cultural sector did not escape unscathed either. In an eerie echo to Soulpepper Theatre’s artistic director Albert Schultz, a long-time conductor of two choirs in Ontario was placed on a leave of absence in early March after both organizations received letters of complaint alleging sexual misconduct spanning several years.
The frequency and volume of these revelations are mind-numbing. There are a couple of ways in which one can try to make sense of this senselessness that seems to have taken a life of its own. The first is to see this as the Second Coming of the feminist movement, an unequivocal statement from women to people who have behaved dishonourably that “their time is up,” in Oprah’s words.
The second is to interpret the banding together of women from various walks of life and speaking out against their alleged harassers as a social movement made possible by the Age of Instagram and Selfie Sticks. In his book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell defines the tipping point as “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point” when an idea, a trend or a social behavior crosses a threshold and spreads like wildfire.
In many ways, we are increasingly living in the Age of Tipping Point, socially and technologically. Digital technology has not only transformed the way we communicate, shop and live; it has also hastened the pace of social change. Like the 15th century invention of the Gutenberg printing press, which democratized access to knowledge and altered the power and social structure in Europe, digital technology has demolished barriers to mass communication. Increasingly frequent hashtag movements like #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter are shaking up the status quo; they also speak to the inherent volatility of our times.
This may be 2018, but the workplace is far from a level-playing field for women. Ontario’s announcement on March 6 of its plan to introduce legislation to close the wage gap between women and men in the province shows that gender equality at work remains an ideal, not a reality. The disparity in earning power could be a contributing factor to creating workplace dynamics conducive to harassment, which is ultimately a symptom of power abuse.
Workplace wrongs in its myriad forms must be righted, but the approach of presumed innocence until proven guilty should remain top of mind and in practice. Brown’s fall from grace is a cautionary tale that allegations should not be deemed facts until proven so, in particular given the hindsight we now have that a key accusation against Brown has been proven false. Preventing the miscarriage of justice aside, nothing takes the wind out of a cause as effectively as wrongful accusations. And that’s the last thing I want to see happen to the #MeToo movement.