The Time’s Up and Me Too campaigns have been bigger than anyone could imagine, and the women standing together in solidarity during last night’s Golden Globes, was a sight to behold. However, it is important to remember that these campaigns cover not only entertainment, but every other industry and walk of life too. I have spoken to a great many women recently who all have one thing in common – they too have been the recipient of unwanted (and often aggressive) actions from the opposite sex. For instance, one friend told me that in the 1970s – when she was just a teenager – she was groped in the workplace by two middle-aged, married, male managers. My friend did not feel that she could tell anyone about this disgraceful behaviour, so instead she stayed quiet, and dreaded each and every time she encountered either of them.
It is also important to address the fact that women do not just experience harassment in the workplace. Often it takes place outside work too, while we are just casually minding our own business…
When I was seventeen years old, I was walking with a friend of mine, chatting and putting the world to rights in the way that all teenagers do. In order to go between her house and mine, we had to walk down a road which consisted of a school on one side and a dense wood on the other. It was not a walk I ever cherished, purely because of the lack of houses and safe places, but since I was with a friend, I actually felt perfectly fine.
As we went past the wood, I noticed a man standing in a small clearing, facing the path. I wondered what he was doing there, but then all became clear. The man had a pale blue sweater over his head; a large hole cut into the top of his jeans, and no underwear. I think you can probably imagine what he was doing, and for a split second it was as though time stopped and I had no idea what to do next. Luckily my friend grabbed my arm and we ran down the desolate road to her house. We were shocked and upset but we didn’t tell our parents because we didn’t want to cause trouble. Take note of that – A man had pleasured himself in front of us, but WE didn’t want to cause trouble.
There is something extremely screwed up with that way of thinking, but I blame it on the fact that we were in the 1980s and sexual assault (and I do consider this to be an assault), was rarely spoken about. Unfortunately, this was just the tip of the iceberg. The notion of date rape was rarely discussed during the 1980s and I remember one boy at school saying that he did not consider non-consensual sex between partners to be rape. He was not alone in this attitude, and I know several young women who were forced into unwanted sexual situations by their boyfriends, but dismissed it because they were dating and that’s what dating couples did, right? Wrong.
When I look back, there have been several instances in my life where I have been polite to a man and he has taken it to mean something else entirely. One example of this was about ten years ago, when I was discussing a possible book project. Over the course of time, my would-be co-author started dropping inappropriate comments into the conversation. When I questioned why he did this, he said it was because I had once put an x after my name at the end of an email! A similar thing happened to a friend of mine when she put an x on a message to a casual acquaintance. He took it to mean that she wanted to be more than friends, and started bombarding her with unwanted attention. In that instance, the block button became her new best friend…
I can think of another instance that happened about twenty years ago. I was in the pub with my friends and it was my turn to buy a round of drinks. I was at the bar on my own and a man offered to help take the drinks to the table. I graciously accepted, thanked him and did not think anything more about it. Later that night I dropped my friend off at home and as I turned my car to exit her street, I noticed a man standing on the pavement, waving and trying to get me to pull over. It was the man from the pub, the same one who had helped me take the drinks to the table! Needless to say I kept on driving, but the thought that this man had jumped in his car and followed me for miles, made me sick to my stomach. I had accepted his help, therefore – to him – it was a signal of something else entirely.
I guess if I cast my mind back long enough, I could come up with more examples of the aggravation that happens in a woman’s day-to-day life. For years we have made excuses for this bad behaviour, but it’s time to stop. Stop ignoring harassment, stop putting up with unwanted sexual attention and stop blaming yourself. A woman should be able to go into work, walk past a wood, put an x at the end of an email and say no, without feeling ashamed, weak and blamed. Time’s up on bad behaviour in all walks of life, and it’s not a moment too soon.