Q&A: Women pushing back against harassment are drivers of change that needs to happen, crisis worker says

Young women are driving a change that's bringing people like Cliff Graydon to account, Angela Braun says. Graydon is the Manitoba MLA who was kicked out of the Progressive Conservative caucus over allegations he asked a woman to sit on his lap during a meeting.

Angela Braun, executive director of Genesis House in Winkler, Man., answers questions about MLA Cliff Graydon

Emerson MLA Cliff Graydon says he is not a sexual harasser, even if he has been portrayed as such in the media after allegations arose of inappropriate comments he made to female legislative staffers. (CBC)

Young women are driving a change that's bringing people like Cliff Graydon to account, Angela Braun says.

Graydon is the Manitoba MLA who was recently kicked out of the Progressive Conservative caucus over allegations he asked a female legislative staff member to sit on his lap during a meeting.

Other allegations of inappropriate behaviour surfaced, but at a news conference late last week, Graydon defended himself, saying he wasn't a sexual harasser — he was simply guilty of "having a bad sense of humour." 

Braun, the executive director of Genesis House, a women's and children's crisis centre in Winkler, Man., says such actions by people in power leave many women feeling such behaviour is so pervasive and condoned, they have no power to stop it.

She spoke with Marcy Markusa on CBC Manitoba's Information Radio about how behaviour like Graydon's affects others and why it needs to stop. Their conversation has been edited for length.

Marcy: What is your reaction to Mr. Graydon and what he's had to say?

Angela Braun: Hearing his comments, and recognizing that I think the person who has made the allegations is really correct, he does not have an understanding of sexual harassment. Recognizing that he's also not likely made those types of comments to male colleagues in the workplace, it's definitely demeaning and objectifying women for sure.

How do you think this incident might be affecting people in rural Manitoba?

Leadership sets the tone in any organization, in any business, and in this case, the tone was that that type of behaviour was OK. It gets to quite a slippery slope, because if leadership is behaving that way, it condones the behaviour or even more serious behaviour in other people in the work, and so I think it is quite a serious issue.

Where do you think that attitude may come from, in a wider way?

This was not a discussion we were having for many years. That's part of the issue as well. That behaviour has been going on for so long, [it's difficult] to try and switch gears and try to get people to recognize that they will be believed if they come forward — like empowering them to speak out.

And I think that's one of the messages that will come out of this, is that if something like this happens to you, and it can happen in any type of environment … people will be empowered to speak out and know that action will be taken.

Graydon now sits as an Independent MLA. (Ian Froese/CBC)

How do attitudes like Mr. Graydon's affect women who come to your shelter, for example?

I think it really does perpetuate that whole victimization and recognizing that you can come forward.

It makes it so much more difficult when that behaviour is pervasive, that women are being demeaned and victimized over and over again, and it seems to be condoned in the workplace. In this case, it's been probably going on for many years, but I would expect that that's the case in a lot of places, because we have only just recently started openly talking about this.

What do you suggest is a response going forward to a man that may say, 'I didn't mean it. I didn't get it'?

I think there needs to be concrete examples. Most men have women in their lives and if you thought about somebody speaking to your spouse or your daughter that way in a workplace, it gives you an icky feeling, and so I think there needs to be some concrete feeling attached to not just the sensitivity training or policy in the business or organization, but some actual meat on that to know what that actually means, what that looks like.

Do you think attitudes like Mr. Graydon's affect the policies and actions that we see coming from government?

I do, and I think that the more diversity we can get in places of leadership, the better chances we'll have that these types of things come to light and make some positive changes so that these things won't won't continue to happen.

"I came from a different era,': Cliff Graydon

4 years ago
Duration 1:54
The embattled Emerson MLA ousted from the Progressive Conservative caucus, says he is no sexual harasser, although he made inappropriate comments toward female legislative staff members.

What do you hear from women in your part of the province about understanding such things?

What we hear is that young women are more likely to push this envelope forward because they're more involved and they're more engaged with social media and all of that MeToo movement. I would say that they would be quicker to identify something like this. Whether they would necessarily move ahead with it or feel empowered to speak to somebody at this point? That I don't know. But they certainly would be faster to identify it.

Why do we often see an implied forgiveness before an accountability is called for?

As we get younger people in leadership and we get more diversity and a greater understanding, I think we will see some changes, but I imagine that that's going to be a fairly slow process.

And going forward, whether in this case or in general, there's a lot of risk, often, to the person that has been the target of this or a different type of abuse. The person that's been victimized often has to weigh that out and in a case like this, where there's sexual harassment and the person looks around and no one else is reacting, they might think if no one else is reacting maybe they're overreacting.

Does intent matter?

I didn't intend to hurt you, but ultimately I still did hurt you — and there lies the accountability and the responsibility — not only to say I'm sorry in this case but that I'm sorry and I'll do better next time. I think that's the next step of this. Saying sorry is just a piece of it, acknowledging it is just a piece of it. What we need to see is an overall change in behaviour.

With files from Sam Samson