I have spent the last few days on holiday in deepest Perthshire, but have seen glimpses of the #MeToo social media campaign highlighting the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment directed at women. I was discussing this with a friend today and my resulting thoughts ended up being too long for a Facebook post, so I thought I’d dust off the old blog.
Before I start – a couple of points:
- If you have clicked a link and are hoping for some salacious details about an incident – jog on
- I have not followed the campaign in great detail, so these are preliminary thoughts based on what I have considered so far
- I am aware of the nuances around gender, that sexual assault and harassment can happen to and be perpetrated by, people of all genders but for this blog post I will refer broadly to “women” and “men”
I have never experienced a serious sexual assault or incident of harassment. I have, however, experienced a multitude of minor incidents and, like all women, spend a great deal of my time guarding against and working out how to minimise the risk of incidents. And I don’t consider myself lucky to have escaped. I consider it remarkable that it hasn’t happened so far, when it has happened to so many women around me.
And all those minor incidents and evasive manoeuvres are an ever-present feature of my life. Of all women’s lives. All women. Yes, all women.
It happens at work
When colleagues warn me to watch out for certain male members of staff. I don’t need to ask why, I just know. When I choose to arrange some meetings in cafes, rather than in enclosed offices. When men make jokes of a sexist nature, and when called out on it, accuse me of lacking a sense of humour and forevermore labelling me a stern mistress/hard taskmaster, giving further opportunity for innuendo-laden remarks.
It happens in the street
When I carefully consider where to walk, when to walk. Is it safer to call a cab? Is it even safe to call a cab? When I get into my car and immediately lock all the doors. When I walk fast, head up, look confident even when my heart is racing.
It happens at gigs
When I go to a gig alone and avoid the bar, because there will inevitably be guys there offering to buy me a drink, expecting something in return. Even if all they expect is a flirty conversation, I don’t want that, so I don’t go there, I go thirsty and sober. When I look for groups of girls or couples to stand beside, because they won’t give me any bother, and they might offer some protection. When I only ever raise one arm in the air, because even in the midst of joyous singing, jumping and dancing, I know I might need that other arm to fend off an advance or protect my personal space. When I am in amongst a crowd and feel someone pressing against me but don’t know who or what it is, and whether it is intentional. When it happens again and I am convinced it is intentional but am too scared to look around because I don’t know who, or what I will see. When I make a decision about whether to wait for the band afterwards based on who else is waiting. When I strike up immediate friendships with other solo girls, because we have an unspoken understanding that we need safety in numbers.
It happens on public transport.
When I get on a busy train or bus and will always look for a spare seat beside a woman. When the bus is empty but a man comes and sits beside me, then proceeds to rub his thigh, the back of his hand rubbing the side of my thigh. When this happens and I stay put, because moving would necessitate getting out past him, which could give him more opportunity for inappropriate contact. When groups of young men, or drunk men decide to rate all the women in a train carriage and declare that I am a “miserable looking dog”. Yet if I smile and look friendly that leads to requests to perform sex acts on them. And if I ignore them I am labelled gay and subject to homophobic abuse.
It happens when I make friends with men.
Did that guy stop wanting to be friends because I made it clear I only wanted to be friends and he wasn’t prepared to “settle” for that? Did that other guy stop wanting to be friends because although we had the potential to be something more, I was too terrified of being too forward, because it is ingrained in me now to close myself off, that he thought I wasn’t interested at all?
It happens everywhere, at all times.
At all times.
Dealing with it becomes second nature, but it is also exhausting.
The most depressing aspect is that I have seen little change or progress in my lifetime. Language, jokes and comments are less overt, but the underlying imbalance of power, gender inequality and associated behaviours have not changed.
I have seen some men respond to #MeToo stories with comments like “I have never behaved like that, I don’t understand blokes who do”. Well great. But I think we all need to understand people who do behave like that. First, we have to call them out, report them, but we also have to understand. We can’t hope to change attitudes and behaviours if we don’t understand what motivates or encourages those who harass and abuse.
As a point of interest – when I googled “MeToo Campaign”, 3 of the top 5 results were on how men had responded to the stories told by women, and the other 2 were pointing out the flaws in the movement. This is perhaps a natural point in the life cycle of a social media phenomenon after a few days, however, it is also indicative of what happens when women speak out. Their voices are silenced in favour of the male view, and flaws are found in their message.
Plus ca change