By now, you may have heard about the case of investment firm, 500 Startups Co-founder Dave McClure resigning after sexual harassment scandals against him surfaced. For those who haven’t, you might wanna find out more about it, since 500 startups is co-managed by Malaysian entrepreneur Khailee Ng, AND another Malaysian startup hero, Cheryl Yeoh of MaGIC, claims to have been one of the victims.
The whole incident started with startup founder, Sarah Kunst who alleged that Dave wrote: “I was getting confused figuring out whether to hire you or hit on you,” in a Facebook message to her, when she was seeking a job at 500 Startups. This prompted other women to come forward as well.
In response, Dave McClure resigned his position voluntarily and wrote a blog post ‘I’m a Creep. I’m Sorry‘. However, following that confession, former MaGIC CEO Cheryl Yeoh was compelled to share what happened to her in a blog post.
In brief, Cheryl hosted a casual group discussion with drinks in her apartment (in Malaysia) discussing the startup Distro Dojo, with Dave and a few others. As the night progressed, she noticed that Dave was keeping her whiskey glass constantly filled. When the others began to leave, only he remained behind…
“I quickly asked if Dave wanted to leave like the rest of them but he said no. Perplexed, I offered him to crash on the couch or the guest room and proceeded to show him the guest room. Then I went into my own bedroom but Dave followed me there, and that’s when he first propositioned to sleep with me. I said no. I reminded Dave that he knew my then-boyfriend and that we’d just talked about him earlier that night.
At this point, I led him to the door and told him he needs to leave. On the way out, he pushed himself onto me to the point where I was backed into a corner, made contact to kiss me, and said something along the lines of “Just one night, please just this one time.” Then he told me how he really likes strong and smart women like me. Disgusted and outraged, I said no firmly again, pushed him away and made sure he was out my door.” – Cheryl Yeoh on her blog
Since Dave’s and Cheryl’s blog posts went live, they have been getting a lot of engagement from the public, and the reactions are noticeably different on both sides. So we looked at the different perspectives on the incident based on 5 comments on Dave’s page and Cheryl’s post.
1. “You are NOT A CREEP and this public neutering is a JOKE… You are a man and hit on a woman or women… That is NATURAL…” – on Dave’s page
Nolo, a legal website in the US, states that while many in the workplace believe sexual harassment consists of a direct proposition, such as, “If you want to keep your job, you will have sex with me,” this is very far from the truth:
In France, the law previously defined sexual harassment as “obtaining favours of a sexual nature” and was punishable by up to a one-year prison sentence and €15,000 fine. It was also defined as repetitive acts. However, an update was introduced in 2012, which defines harassment as “imposing on someone sexually connoted words or actions”. This now means in France, a single act can be considered criminal.
2. “The factor that makes a situation like this really suck for a woman is the underlying fear that the man will simply not take no for an answer…” – on Cheryl’s post
‘No means no’ has become a phrase when it comes addressing to sexual harassment/assault/rape. In Germany for example, a new law was passed, clarifying that verbally saying no is enough:
“Germany’s parliament has passed a new law defining rape, clarifying that “No means No”, even if a victim did not fight back.” – reported BBC
Women are sometimes tagged with the behaviour of not saying what they mean, or not meaning what they say. Sometimes people think that when a woman says no, she actually means yes and that she’s probably just trying to jual mahal or whatever, but by many countries’ laws, if it happens a few times, then there might be a case.
Things get more complicated when victims still try to be polite when saying no, so instead of giving a direct no (eg. “No, no, a thousand times no, I am not interested in you”), they try to hint at it politely (“Err, sokay, I’m not that hungry today”), which does not help their case.
3. “The line between social/professional in Silicon Valley is so blurred. It’s confusing for everyone involved…” – on Dave’s page
Workplace romances can be tricky and awkward, but they happen, and it can be a wonderful thing for both parties if it turns out well. However, when mishandled, they can disrupt teams, departments and careers. Monster, a global online employment company believes that it’s fine to ber-roman, but suggests that it would be better for everyone in the workplace if the couple keep their hands off each other at work.
“Public displays of affection cross the line. It may sound harsh, but when couples get used to showing their feelings and emotions in front of colleagues, it can be hard to control them next time there’s trouble in paradise.” – Howard Davies, Senior Career Expert at Resume Writer Direct
Some companies even require employees to sign ‘love contracts’ to establish in writing that the relationship is consensual and entered into voluntarily, and that they will refrain from retaliation if it ends, says Beth Zoller, Legal Editor at XpertHR. The contract may also lay out expectations of appropriate and inappropriate conduct.
However, in Silicon Valley, alot of this happens between investors and startups, so there’s no contract protection – it’s more difficult to enforce anything. and the fact of the matter is, women are statistically disadvantaged (with female entrepreneurs receiving $1.5 billion in funding last year versus $58.2 billion for men), according to the data firm PitchBook. Therefore the pressure is greater on women and coercion is stronger.
4. “In what world is what he did sexual assault? To call it that is an INSULT to all the women who have been assaulted.” – on Cheryl’s post
Again we see the example that different cultures and people have different shades of grey. In this case, the nuances would be even more lost in translation coz you have someone who may have been brought up with the Asian propriety and then you have someone from the US – and what’s more he’s from the Silicon Valley where, as victims have recently revealed, sexual harassment is apparently very ‘normal’.
Commenters were saying that she should not have branded it sexual assault because the word ‘assault’ constitutes something worse than ‘harassment’. But to Cheryl, it was as good as outright sexual assault. In the legal sense there is a big difference between the two and especially for their respective punishments, explained the Daniel Jensen legal firm in the US.
“While both are punishable under California law, sexual assault carries much more serious consequences.” – danieljensenlawoffice.com
Here are some definitions from the Daniel Jensen legal firm.
Forms of sexual harassment:
- Unwanted touching/grabbing
- Physical intrusion into personal space
- Comments about body parts
- Sexual jokes aimed at a person
Forms of sexual assault:
- Unwanted contact, as in kissing or touching (We’re guessing Cheryl’s case falls under here, altho her exact words were “made contact to kiss me”)
- Sexual battery
- Statutory rape
- Lewd acts
- Inappropriately touching a child
*Source from Daniel Jensen legal firm
5. “You can get counselling all you like, stop drinking, or whatever… but this is bad for 500, for minorities you support…” – on Dave’s page
Several commenters said Dave McClure has contributed so much to women and people from minority backgrounds in helping them form startups. And it’s true. 500 startups has a USD25million fund set up specifically for Black and Latino minorities. Aside from that, they also invest in ALOT of other companies (thus the name), and many of them are arguably benefiting society – such as Safe Shepherd, which helps users remove personal information from the internet.
But do his achievements offset his actions? To be fair, an apology does go a long way, but sometimes it might not be enough. One immediately obvious case is Bill Clinton, who’s variety of sexual harassment cases ended up in impeachment proceedings. However, this was overshadowed by his job performance, particularly with the economy, which led to consistently high approval ratings despite his harassment scandal.
“After his impeachment proceedings in 1998 and 1999, Clinton’s rating reached its highest point at 73% approval.He finished with a Gallup poll approval rating of 65%, higher than that of every other departing president measured since Harry Truman.” – Wikipedia
On an arguably much worse scale, Mark Foley, Chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children, built his career as a protector of children. But he was caught sending emails to teen boys asking for sexual favours and pictures of their penises.
“He deceived the good men and women in organisations around this country, with whom he worked to strengthen our child predator laws. I have known him for all the years he served in this House. He deceived me, too.” – Dennis Hastert, House Speaker
Following that, Mark Foley resigned, however because he was an expert on law concerning sex with minors, his pursuit of the teen boys carefully avoided illegality. Officials closed the investigation, and Mark eventually became openly gay, sober, and is actually planning a return to politics.
In Malaysia, a line was drawn when our top court sided with a victim of sexual harassment
Prior to June 2016, we did not have clear sexual harassment laws in our country. Victims could only complain to their company and hope they do something.
But in a historic court case, a Tabung Haji manager who kept telling his employee Asmah Mohd Nor that she should be his second wife, along with vulgar jokes and advice to pray for sexy dreams and how to measure a man’s sexual prowess using a coconut (?!?), was ordered to pay Asmah RM120,000 in damages.
And Asmah isn’t alone… 35% of Malaysian male and female workers surveyed experienced some sort of sexual harassment in their workplace. Yep, both men and women have reported sexual harassment, although in most of the cases, women are the ones who kena. Importantly, it isn’t only physical. It can be verbal and psychological as well. Here’s how it is defined in the Employment Act:
“Sexual harassment means any unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, whether verbal, non-verbal, visual, gestural or physical, directed at a person which is offensive or humiliating or is a threat to his well-being, arising out of and in the course of his employment.”
An interesting finding from a Malaysian study revealed that men usually see dirty language and jokes as ‘normal guy behavior’, while women aren’t always happy with it, however they usually have to tahan because they’re ‘already immune to it’.
Even at the CILISOS office, we had a discussion and we could not come to an agreement on what constitutes sexual harassment. However, with sexual assault, we could. At the end of the day, it goes to show that every person has different tolerance levels and ideas of what sexual harassment or assault means, and how those ideas change in time together with societal norms. And at least for us, the only way to work in grey areas is to have open discussions like this one.
Speaking of changing times, after our discussion, one of our staff pointed out that 1944 jazz duet “Baby It’s Cold Outside” (which won an Oscar) could be viewed as sexual harassment. Most of us agreed. Take a look at the song’s debut from this 1949 Dean Martin romantic comedy and tell us what you think…
Co-written by Jo Lyn and Chak