When I first heard about the fate of the young men who made disrespectful and obscene comments to on-air CITY TV reporter Shauna Hunt who was covering a Toronto FC soccer match, my initial reaction was ambivalence. I thought that Shawn Simoes was treated a bit harshly by Hydro One when he was fired from his $107,000.00 per year job. Could they not have just given him an unpaid leave for a few months and hope he learned his lesson? In their defence, the young men cited British soccer fans as being even more disgusting.
Then, as more opinions on the issue came to light I realized I was reacting like a typical woman who has witnessed this kind of behaviour from men for most of my life. The frequency and openness of these displays does not make them acceptable, tolerable or excusable. Would his mother really have been amused? Would she have been proud of her son? I doubt it.
I loved the reaction of the mother of a sixteen-year-old boy in Baltimore who watched her son on the television news looting and vandalizing stores during the recent riots. That mother immediately got herself downtown, confronted her son and physically dragged him off by his hoodie, all the time yelling at him that she hadn’t raised him to do such terrible things, and employing rather colourful language made it quite clear that his behaviour was totally unacceptable. I expect he’s still smarting from her reaction and will think twice before doing something like that again. Sometimes it takes something as dramatic as watching your offspring make asses of themselves in full public view on television before parents are convinced their own are not as perfect as they believe.
Listening to veteran women media hosts Christine Bentley and Kate Wheeler on Sirius radio this week relating their own personal stories of similar incidents going back decades, it became clear that Shauna Hunt was not an isolated case. It seems many street reports require several “takes” to eliminate the background idiots jockeying for their few seconds of fame. Kate Wheeler described reporting once from a high school, with full permission of the school staff, when she had the c-word flung at her from several fifteen-year-old girls. Wheeler was so disgusted she later showed the video to the parents of the girls, only one of whom apologized and none of the girls apologizedâ€”a sad testament to parenting by some people. I had not realized how prevalent this kind of harassment was, particularly for women in the media.
Now, I’m absolutely convinced Hydro One did the right thing by firing Shawn Simoes. His performance was a form of bullying and personal assault that showed a complete disregard for common decency and respect for other people. I know I wouldn’t want someone like that working for my company, perhaps wearing a golf shirt out in public with my firm’s logo on it. Hunt was simply trying to do her job. What would Simoes’ reaction have been if Hunt had turned up at his cubicle at Hydro One, called him a f#$@!$% dick and yelled for all his coworkers to hear that he liked getting it in his a#@$%$#&? He would have been justifiably offended and would have demanded recourse, appealed to his union for support, perhaps even taken legal action.
I personally know of women who endure daily psychological or physical/sexual abuse on the job and fear that raising a flag punishes the victim and they’d lose their job. The Jian Ghomeshi issue is a perfect case in point. Many women silently leave their jobs every single day to escape the abuse and no one comes to their defence. Simoes’ actions were indefensible and he deserved to be fired.
Sadly, women are so accustomed to these verbal assaults that we need to be reminded that they should not be tolerated. We’ve become desensitized and hope that by ignoring them they’ll go away. Hopefully this incident will increase awareness of the extent of the problem. It has absolutely nothing to do with humour. Bullies need to be called out, identified for exactly what they are and made accountable. Only then will we start to change the psychology that permits this kind of abuse. So I am no longer ambivalent.