So we have another sordid tale of a sordid man. In actual fact it’s the sordid tale of many sordid men and there have been lots of articles written on the horrible and offensive behaviour of powerful men. The focus of these stories on the Entertainments Industry, on Hollywood, on actors and powerful men can have the effect of compartmentalising this issue. Allowing people to say that it’s not real life, dismiss it like it’s not an experience shared by women everywhere, that somehow it’s restricted to that crazy world in Hollywood.
Thank goodness then for the #metoo which has been circulating on social media and which has told some of the stories and shared experiences of ordinary women. These are women who aren’t superstars, aren’t always glamorous and aren’t living a Hollywood lifestyle. They are girls and women going to school, work, college. They are women doing the shopping, walking along a pavement, travelling on the bus, going to the laundrette, going to the doctor, the cinema, their workplace. Women everywhere in their everyday lives dealing with this shit every single day.
I haven’t met a single solitary woman who has never been assaulted, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed, touched inappropriately, touched without her consent, threatened, scared, offended by a man. Every woman I have spoken to about this has felt at some point like it was her fault, like she was in some way responsible for this behaviour of men who sometimes she liked, loved, looked up to, sometimes didn’t like and often didn’t even know.
Think about that. Wherever you are reading this, whoever you are, look around you and see those women, those girls. I’m pretty sure that EVERY single one of them has experienced what I’m talking about at some time in their lives. Whether they are white, black, Asian, Chinese, whether they are lesbian, trans, straight, bi or queer, whether they are young and beautiful or fat and menopausal like me, or old and graceful, they will all have a story which they may never have shared with anyone.
Sometimes women might not even recognise what they experience as harassment. As a teenager with large breasts, I never thought that boys grabbing my breasts, putting their hands down my top, trying to undo my bra strap was any sort of “harassment”. It was the 70s and 80s – it was what boys and men did. I just learned not to ever, ever, ever go without a bra and to turn away quickly whilst the boys laughed.
Dirty jokes around my name were common and usually accompanied by a twang or a deft unfastening of my bra strap by a boy who thought it was a sign of his maturity. There was a particularly charming older lad who nicknamed me “Jugs” and who would wait for me getting off the bus on my way home from school and take great delight in repeatedly shouting after me “Hey Jugs, show us yer tits”. He waited for me, hid from me so he could spring out and humiliate me. Every. Single. Day. I was 14. I’d like to say “How we laughed” but we didn’t. We didn’t really talk about it at all. We didn’t share these stories as we passed Jackie, or Oh Boy around. We didn’t talk to our parents. What we all did was put our heads down, blush, often cry and feel shameful about it all, each in our own way. Because we felt it was our own fault. We held ourselves responsible for their actions.
As I grew older, I learned ways of dealing with these unwanted behaviours. Quick tongued, sharp witted and learning from experience, I earned myself the label of frigid bitch, snob, slag for calling out the men who behaved this way. I learned to avoid situations, to change my behaviour so as I could minimise the risk. This still happens today. In the workplace we are told that no one will believe us, nothing will be done so don’t rock the boat or we are asked what did we do to make him behave so badly. Or we are told that we should dress differently, stay away from him, perhaps even find another job. When we talk about it like we are doing now, we see #notallmen, like we don’t know it’s not all men. This just so completely misses the point. Women, still today have to act like it IS all men, they have to be prepared, change their behaviour, stay one step ahead and not because of some weird man hating crap, but because we have learned by experience after experience, what happens when we don’t. If these men are defensive about this, then they are not listening. If they are suggesting we should shut up, then they are part of the problem.
Shutting us up, keeping us quiet about this type of behaviour, not listening to us allows it to continue. And it IS continuing, every day, every town. My experiences are less awful than many other women’s, they are certainly no more special. Despite my being so old they could almost being historical, they don’t date and could actually be contemporary. My stories are in fact boringly mundane, but in being so they are so much more than that – they are every woman’s story.
It’s time we changed the ending.