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Weinstein case demonstrates cultural differences

By Sava Hassan | | Updated: 2017-10-16 10:43
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Harvey Weinstein and wife Georgina Chapman ararrive at the 89th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California, February 26, 2017. [Photo/Agencies]

Unless one is living on another planet, one must have heard the latest sexual harassment scandal surrounding Harvey Weinstein the Oscar winner and film mogul.

Numerous women, including Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan came forward to accuse him of inappropriate behavior, including unwanted sexual advances and rape.

One may wonder what causes these frequent occurrences of sexual harassment in the US, and compare this to its limited incidences in China. One may pose an uncomfortable yet crucial question, which is: "Does sexual harassment occur in Chinese society in general, and in the workplace in particular?"

An honest answer would be affirmative, yet one must be objective and state it is not as common as in the West. The follow-up question should then be: "What prevents sexual harassment from becoming a common phenomenon in China, as it is in most Western societies?"

A frank and straightforward answer would be, "Chinese traditional values and conservative attitudes tend to safeguard women against inappropriate behavior from members of the opposite gender."

It is a well-known fact that China is a traditional society based upon commendable values and virtues that respect the dignity and humanity of its citizens, regardless of their gender.

Chinese men are taught to be protective of their women. Behaving inappropriately toward women, including harassing them sexually, contradicts every Chinese traditional value and custom.

During my residence in China, I was able to affirm my preconceived notions — Chinese do possess conservative attitudes in their daily conduct, including dealing with members of the opposite gender.

Having the opportunity to interact with the Chinese youth through my teaching assignments, I discovered most of my male students were too timid to make sexual advances toward their female counterparts, and the same stood true for young ladies in dealing with male students.

When discussing the issue with some of my Chinese acquaintances and students, most of them were repulsed by the notion cases of sexual harassment might have happened to them or their friends.

They emphasized the fact they would not subject anyone to the humiliation of being regarded as a sex object, taking care to mention they would not like to have members of their families receiving that despicable treatment from others.

They stressed the Chinese authority deals harshly with those who disrespect themselves by behaving inappropriately toward others.

A few individuals asked me about my own experience, considering that I have been residing in China for a long period of time. They wished to know if I noticed any inappropriate behavior toward me or toward others that could be interpreted as sexual harassment, to which I replied negatively.

When I touched on the subject of Weinstein with them, their views ranged from condemning his disgusting conduct to partially blaming the ambition of some women, who were willing to sacrifice their dignity for lucrative positions or movie roles.

I emphasized the fact that regardless of the circumstances, he had no right to use his powerful position to make advances toward them.

When I asked them about their views of the women who came forward, they indicated they respect and admire their courage. And when I pressed further, by asking them about the possibility of Chinese women facing similar dilemmas coming forward, most of them indicated their doubt.

All women, regardless of their nationalities, must acquire enough courage to expose the despicable acts of their harassers, to abolish the chauvinistic attitude of men who think they have the right to behave inappropriately toward women — a right they believe is granted by their status.

As for men who behave in that heinous fashion, shame on you. Have the courage to seek help to avoid the embarrassment and humiliation of being exposed by your victims.

Lastly, I must emphasize that my article reflects my own views and is not intended to offend anyone.

Sava Hassan is a Canadian Egyptian educator.

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