Melanie Baker, like many women, sits and chats with girlfriends, has a few drinks and the topic inevitably turns to sex. Then it turns to the not-so-pleasant aspects.
And then, Baker notes, “You realize statistics about rape percentages are awfully low.”
Do I have your attention yet?
I sat down with Baker to talk about assault and abuse in our community, both Waterloo Region and in the tech industry. This isn’t the first time we’ve chatted about it. We’ve shared stories about harassment, inappropriate situations and vulnerability before – often over wine.
But this time, the conversation was a little different. This time, Baker is looking forward to the community coming together to share in this conversation and build something good from it.
When allegations of sexual assault were raised against comedian Bill Cosby, who is scheduled to perform at Kitchener’s Centre in the Square tonight, there were concerned citizens who didn’t want to see the show move forward. Due to contractual obligations, the Centre is moving ahead with the Cosby show.
But Mike Farwell, morning radio co-host on Country 106.7 FM and passionate community supporter, saw an opportunity to make something good from the controversy.
What can we get out of this that is positive? Farwell asked his Twitter followers.
Baker had lunch with Farwell that day. She instantly offered to help. They very quickly formed the framework for an event that would be called Voices Carry.
The musical event, being held tonight at Dallas nightclub in downtown Kitchener, will raise money and awareness for Women’s Crisis Services and the Sexual Assault Support Centre.
Baker sees the night as an alternative to the Cosby show, but instead of encouraging protests and boycotts, the event will encourage community building and conversations, she said.
Food, drinks, live music and door prizes are all on the agenda for the evening.
“The news has been full of people in positions of power abusing women,” Baker said. “And it ties in, frankly, very closely with a lot of the stories of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) that have come out this year.”
Baker says she’s been lucky to have worked for companies generally free of harassment and intimidation. And she wants to keep it that way.
“It’s something we don’t want here,” she said. “If you are in an area of a community, whether it’s Waterloo Region or tech, if you’re not seeing it yet then you want to make sure it doesn’t show up. We see umpteen articles about Waterloo becoming Quantum Valley or the next Silicon Valley; let’s adopt what works and what’s fantastic and avoid the pitfalls of what’s gone wrong and how it got there.”
Baker hopes to avoid the so-called “brogrammer” culture that encourages sexual harassment and assault in some tech companies, like Tinder and Zillow.
“We’re having this conversation: what does abuse look like? What does assault look like?” Baker said. “Because abuse takes many different forms, it’s not just bruises. Assault takes many different forms; it’s not just straight-up rape. It’s that and other things. We want people to know what it looks like.”
It’s systematic and doesn’t discriminate. Baker notes that when she talks to her girlfriends about assault or abuse that they are professionals and executives who aren’t in what we are traditionally thought of as high-risk groups for abuse. Abuse doesn’t have one definitive type - a CEO or a waitress can both be just as affected.
“It happens to everybody and it happens everywhere, including in this community,” Baker said.
“Women in tech have a history of harassment and marginalization,” she said. “You learn to shut up. It’s how things are done, and you stop thinking of it as abuse.”
As Baker and Farwell are learning, it can take the courage of just one person to start something and change the conversation.
Tickets to Voices Carry are available online and at the door at Dallas, 312 King St. W. in Kitchener. Doors open at 6 p.m. and the event will begin at 7 p.m.
Don’t get lost in the post-holiday blues… there’s lots to do this week in Waterloo Region. I see and hear that… the Kitchener-Waterloo Poetry Slam is holding a spoken word music showcase this Sunday, Jan. 11 at The Boathouse in Kitchener’s Victoria Park. The pay-what-you-can show starts at 7:30 p.m. and will feature artists from Kitchener, Regina and Vancouver…. HackerNest Kitchener-Waterloo is hosting the January tech social at D2L in the Tannery this Monday, Jan. 12. A $10 donation is recommended for the laid-back social. And yes, drinks are provided… Waterloo-Wellington Webmakers is also hosting a social this upcoming Wednesday, Jan. 14 at McCabe’s Irish Pub at 352 King St. W. in downtown Kitchener.