Maria Gutzeit: For fewer victims, we need an offense, not a defense


The movement that opened our eyes to how many women have suffered assault or sexual harassment, #MeToo, has morphed into #TimesUp, a legal defense fund to help women fight not only the assault, but also the often related retaliation. Given that, out of 1,000 rapes, only 6 perpetrators are jailed (per RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), it is certainly clear that the legal system isn’t helping women out of horrible situations. Sure, some celebrities, politicians, and household names went down. Most harassers aren’t CEOs or Senators or the face of a talk show with a worldwide audience. There are plenty of creeps who aren’t famous enough to be deemed worthy of investigation, news coverage, or even our own time and energy. Yes, #MeToo. To stop this cycle, we need to ensure women find themselves in a spot other than “victim.” I’m not talking defense, I’m talking offense.

1. Do we really need guidelines? If it wouldn’t be OK to do to your mom or your daughter, then just say no. Truly, if you can’t figure this out you have a very poor character, complete lack of judgment and self-control, and likely a delusional ego. Why should you be in charge of anything, exactly, and why should a company or institution tolerate this?

2. Get women in leadership roles. Recently, Tina Brown, author and journalist, said the answer to sexual harassment “is more women in power. I was a boss lady from the age of 25.” She pointed out when you’re the boss you don’t have to consider putting up with harassment for the sake of your career and that, for example, the now-infamous Weinstein Company had no women on their board.

Start small. If you are asked to be on a speaking panel, don’t agree unless there is at least one woman on the panel as well. If you’re in the position to promote or hire, give a woman a go. There are plenty of qualified ones out there. Find them. Likewise, quote them. For a recent speech I gave, I literally looked for hours trying to find good women’s leadership quotes. Nothing about feelings or tears. Just leading. And there are not too many of those quotes out there. Make more, ladies.

3. Always be in a position to walk away. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said her mom taught her to be independent. My mom taught me this too. An educated woman, she, in the end, felt she had no options other than putting up with an abusive marriage, until she was left behind anyway. She didn’t want us to repeat her mistake.

This is tough for some. We need to support each other’s rights to live in dignity, without having to put up with harassment and threats. Help if you can. Be an encourager.

This is strongly tied to women’s access to education and family planning services. Support those.

4. Say something. Not only #MeToo but, diverging from Ginsburg’s advice to “pretend you don’t hear some things”….it’s time to point out what we do hear, heads held high, with the “bad guy” label firmly landing where it belongs. To the guy who deflated me last week with a double dose of mansplaining: just “sigh.” I explained I was looking for a vendor that took that data from data loggers, (which are often ignored until it’s too late) and transferred that data into a user friendly web-based dashboard for upper management and the public to track environmental performance and chemical process limits. This can enable a business to prevent accidents and gain more community support. Yet all he heard was some lady who, he thought, didn’t realize we have had data loggers for decades, and he needed to inform me of that. To which I said, “yes, I know, I’m a chemical engineer.” This was followed by him telling me, “wow, you must be pretty smart for a girl if you are a chemical engineer.” Gee, thanks?

Like Ginsburg, many of us ignore this for the sake of being pleasant. However these ongoing subtle implications of women’s lack of skill do harm. These are put downs dished out only to women. They affect the recent grads just starting their career and they also affect women holding their husband’s business together, launching a political campaign, leading a nonprofit, or COOing their households with aplomb. Here’s the bottom line: there’s plenty of sub-par guys in professional roles. They don’t get this treatment. Nor should women. Stop it. #TimesUp

Maria Gutzeit is a chemical engineer, business owner, elected official and a mom living in Santa Clarita.

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