Staff at Google offices all around the world have abandoned their desks in protest of the treatment of women by the company. The series of walkouts by both women and men were initiated by the alleged news that senior executives have left the business with huge pay outs despite “credible” accusations of sexual misconduct.
For this revelation to be brought onto the world news stage so soon after the Kavanaugh hearings in the United States throws up a serious question that feminists have been debating for years, why are men’s careers being valued more highly than women’s lives?
With Donald Trump describing that the allegations against his Supreme Court nominee had ‘left his life in tatters’ before the FBI investigation had even been completed, the ‘leader of the free world’ made it very clear that the sympathy should fall firmly on the shoulders of the accused, without a second thought for the victim. When people were quick to spit out their criticisms of Dr Christine Blasey Ford, asking why she hadn’t spoken out sooner, one of the many answers to that question can be found lying in plain sight, in the news headlines. If employees at Google were witnessing those accused of sexual misconduct walk away quietly with huge pay outs (one high profile executive was alleged to have pocketed $90m), why on earth would they speak out? Over and over again, men are having their careers and their reputations protected and women are being silenced.
There’s something engrained into the way we approach issues of sexual harassment, assault and misconduct, which means that the consequences of discovering the man has been falsely accused are far more terrifying than the possibility that the woman is telling the truth. As Chitra Ramaswamy succinctly summarises, “the future promise of a young man’s life is held in higher regard than the past, present and future of a woman whose life has already been marked by great trauma.” Aside from the fact that we should be having more conversations about how to stop these sorts of crimes happening in the first place, we desperately need to foster a culture where woman feel safe enough to step forward and report incidents without fear of ridicule, shame or violence.
And for anyone still bleating the ridiculous argument that any woman would cry rape in order to bag fifteen minutes of fame, I would pose the following question: can you name one single victim who accused Bill Cosby? Can you name one of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers who wasn’t already a household name?
Didn’t think so.
So that ‘fame’ idea doesn’t seem so credible after all, does it?
What can this week’s Google walkout teach us about how to create real change within archaic patriarchal infrastructures in the workplace and beyond? Only time will tell whether this protest will have any long-lasting effects (the walkout organisers have made a list of six formal demands), but what we do know is that the big guys set an example for everyone else. They are the ones who will make the headlines, both good and bad, and the actions of those within these giant corporate companies can hopefully steer shifts in the tide for the better.
Let’s not forget that the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, launched back in March, was #PressForProgress, and that is all about actions speaking louder than words. The actions taken by individual Google employees who realised that they could make a difference if they joined together is a significant one. It sends a powerful message to the big wigs in their comfy leather chairs who feel untouchable that people will not be silenced any longer, and the truth will out eventually.