Author: Marilyn Simon

#NotMe: On Harassment, Empowerment, and Feminine Virtue

In the summer of 1991, I was a very innocent 15 year-old with the remnants of childish plumpness on my face and the suggestion of womanly plumpness on my figure. I had just completed grade 10 at a private Christian school and was starting my first job as a hostess and cashier at a local 24-hour restaurant. Over the next few weeks I was subjected to relentless sexual harassment: comments on my figure, sexist jokes and innuendo, and outright sexual propositions. The kitchen was staffed by coarse young men, all around their mid-twenties, who were clearly gratified by teasing a sweet young girl with their vulgar running commentary. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, women’s stories such as this one have become a familiar narrative. With one important difference: after recovering from my initial sense of awkwardness and embarrassment, I found the sexual banter empowering, exciting, and even—gasp!—funny. I started to realize that if the line cooks threw a sexual joke or comment to me, I was invited to throw one back to them. …

Feminism’s Dependency Trap

Reading the news stories about #MeToo and sexual harassment, and the barrage of social media posts that accompanied these headlines, I became saddened but also increasingly frustrated. It wasn’t the reports of men behaving badly that angered me, but the despair that seemed to be the expected response to these stories, and the helplessness that my female friends appeared to attach to femininity itself that I found troubling. The unintended and painful irony of recent feminism’s preoccupation with overcoming male oppression has been to place men at the centre of female identity. This makes the feminine experience something like an echo; women’s voices seem to be little more than a response, or a rebuttal, to men’s voices, which are taken to be primarily an instrument of patriarchal oppression. But, in my own experience, men aren’t interested in maintaining power and control over women—they simply don’t see women as a group that they are oppressing, or that they would like to oppress. We hear a lot about “male privilege” but historically it has been the “privilege” of …