Sexual Harassment, Me Too, and the Minister’s Disturbing Giggle

June 27th, 2020

Our Minister of Justice, Delroy Chuck, is what I would call a “jolly” person, with a good sense of humor. Jamaicans frequently use the word “jovial” – a rather quaint expression meaning good-natured, in a harmless kind of way. For some reason, the adjective is often used to describe a person who has recently passed away.

Well, I am glad to say that Minister Delroy Chuck is still with us. However, he is not having a very comfortable weekend, riding the crest of a wave of hurt, angry and disapproving tweets. This is in response to the Minister’s off-the-cuff remarks at a meeting of the Joint Select Committee of Parliament examining the draft Sexual Harassment Bill.

The Minister observed that victims of sexual harassment should hurry up and file their reports within twelve months, implying that any longer delay would somehow smack of dishonesty. Sometimes I wish public figures would not pursue their thoughts. I held my breath…and Minister Chuck did pursue that thought: “We don’t want the situation that now happens in the #MeToo Movement in the US, where 30 years later you talk about I was harassed in the elevator.” With a little chuckle, he added:“If you don’t complain within 12 months, please – cut it out.”

Minister Chuck mentioned the #MeToo movement, founded in 2006 out of a crying need. It is now established not only as an advocacy group, but as one that supports and empowers survivors of sexual violence (yes, Minister – violence) through mostly community-based action. So Minister Chuck was not only disparaging Jamaican women and girls who have suffered (often over extended periods) from sexual harassment and violence. He is also trivializing the goals of #MeToo itself. If, for whatever reason (and we can think of dozens of reasons) a report of sexual harassment or violence is reported some weeks, months or years later, this does not and cannot detract from its importance. Minister Chuck seems to be implying that a hurt or offense that a woman may have been struggling with or living with for many years and has finally brought out into the open is somehow not to be taken seriously. Trauma has an expiry date. The same would apply to murder or some other crime, surely.

Time is a funny thing. The #MeToo movement did not come out of nowhere. It came out of something that had been happening over decades, and that finally needed to be dealt with openly and confronted – like Black Lives Matter. It was  wrong to belittle the movement, the women who made it happen, and the survivors they support.

Women’s activist Linnette Vassell’s words ring true, to me. Ms. Vassell pointed out that the legislation under discussion has been languishing in Parliament for an astonishing thirteen years. It’s time to bring civil society on board, she writes in a Letter to the Editor, and to be guided by the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and to the 2011 Jamaica National Policy for Gender Equality (NGPE).

By the way, why is it that racists, misogynists and others with particular biases often protest that they were joking, after making a particularly offensive statement? People with these inbuilt prejudices often betray them while making a “light” remark, which they insist afterwards was not to be taken seriously. Those who are hurt by the remark are then made to feel that they have no sense of humor. Moreover, their feelings don’t matter. Get over it. But words (and the attitudes behind them) do hurt, and if one realizes that one has offended, then the best thing to do is simply apologize. In a straight forward, unequivocal way, acknowledging that hurt and not ascribing it to some people who may have been hurt or offended.

Minister Chuck has now apologized “unreservedly” (and curiously, in the third person), “to anyone who found my remarks inappropriate.” He also stated that no disrespect was intended either to #MeToo or to survivors of the trauma of sexual harassment and violence.

Oh, dear. What a tangled web we weave. I always listen closely to the unscripted comments of politicians and other public figures. They tell you so much more than what is on the printed page in front of them, which is likely composed by someone else, anyway. Sometimes their frank opinions and considered thoughts are valuable and worthwhile. At other times, it would be best if the speaker were to – well, “cut it out.”

I would suggest that Minister Chuck get out his best suit of sackcloth, fill up a bag or two of ashes, and try to meet not only with women’s groups (because not only women were upset by his words), but men’s groups too. He should meet with educators, parents, and perhaps most importantly – young men and women (from early teens upwards) for what is called a “frank, open discussion” on gender-based violence and human rights/women’s rights in general. This may be difficult on Zoom (not the easiest communication tool, as it turns out). Sitting down face to face would be better, with plentiful supplies of coffee and cake. And he should spend most of this meeting simply listening.

Otherwise, I fear Mr. Chuck will be relegated to the ranks of the dinosaurs, and calls for him to step down will grow louder. That would not be the happiest of endings to his political career.

 

 

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8 Responses to “Sexual Harassment, Me Too, and the Minister’s Disturbing Giggle”

  1. Donna I Gentles says:

    Mr Chuck over the years I have known you, respect for people especially women has always been displayed by you. It is just unfortunate that while making a presentation you chuckled,which is understandable you being such a jovial person.There is no doubt in my mind that this was because of lack of respect or insensitivity towards women.This is furthest from the truth, You have always shown great respect for women.This is so unfortunate, I know you are sincere in your apology, and being a woman I accept your apology. I trust you will continue to serve your Constituent of North East St. Andrew as you have done with such kindness, care and love, especially for the many single mothers in your constituency. I hope you will continue the excellent job you have been doing as Minister of Justice. Apology accepted,we need more politicians like you with such good character and love for people. Take heart Sir, this too will pass.

  2. EmmaLewis says:

    Thank you for your comments, Ms. Gentles. I do understand your feelings, because I have always found the Minister to be a kind and warm-hearted man. I honestly don’t know what happened – and yes, I have heard that chuckle before, but this time it was at the wrong time and place. I think that rather than wait for it to pass, though, this is what we call a “teaching moment.” We can all learn from it and move forward in a more positive way. I look forward to seeing the legislation passed as soon as possible!

  3. Ava Anderson says:

    I have always known sir to be a gentlemen. However, sir there are times when this type of violence happens to a woman and Its easier to dig a hole and bury everything even self. I do not think a man would understand, well not all men. It is unfortunate what happened. An apology has. Been tendered but now we need a tender heart and a listening ear… the revelations may shock along with the reasons for silence.

  4. Ava Anderson says:

    I have always known sir to be a gentlemen. However, sir there are times when this type of violence happens to a woman and Its easier to dig a hole and bury everything even self. I do not think a man would understand, well not all men. It is unfortunate what happened. An apology has been tendered but now we need a tender heart and a listening ear… the revelations may shock you along with the reasons for silence.

  5. EmmaLewis says:

    I have to agree with you, Ava. As I did say, lending a listening ear, and therefore developing greater empathy and understanding, would really be the way forward. You are right, many men do not “get” it and need to acquire that empathy. The way to do that is through dialogue with victims, survivors and listening to their stories.

  6. […] I wrote down my thoughts on my Social Impact page on the Jamaica Gleaner website, on June 27. Gender activist Linnette Vassell’s Letter to the Editor rang true, with me. Ms. Vassell, a veteran of the women’s rights movement, stressed the importance of consulting with civil society on this matter. She emphasized: […]

  7. Mr Chuck should be investigated. Because a lot of times unbeknownst to anyone these persons are of exactly the opinion they exhibit, but we are too busy making excuses for them and too quick to forgive that we miss the bigger picture.

  8. EmmaLewis says:

    I agree with you that we must never lose sight of the bigger picture, Kimberley.

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