I’ve been going backwards and forwards with this post all week. I was about to delete it this morning. I’d begin to write something and then leave it to one side as I struggled with conflicting thoughts of whether to just stick to pretty interiors and funny cat posts, or talk about an issue which is so topical right now and my personal experiences.
I decided to press the post button.
Now, more than ever before, women are speaking out about sexual harassment. This week’s newsfeeds have been dominated with actresses coming forward to report advances, sexual harassment and even assault from the hands of film producer Harvey Weinstein. A man so powerful in Hollywood he felt like he was untouchable. And he was. For many years.
There isn’t a week that goes by where I don’t read something on social media about how a female friend has been followed home, cat-called or made to feel uneasy in some way. Hell, the most powerful man in the world thinks it’s OK to “grab a woman by the pussy”. And the saddest thing about all this is that I’m completely numb to it all.
It was only when I was telling one of my closest male friends the experiences I’ve had in the past, and the fact that he couldn’t get his head around how blasé I was, that I realised this shouldn’t be the norm. This shouldn’t be something you just accept as a female.
The first instance of a man crossing the boundaries of what is acceptable was when I was in the South of France on holiday and a man carried me into a bush and tried to grope me until his friend saw what he was doing and pulled him off me. I didn’t tell anyone because the whole thing was over in less than a minute and he didn’t succeed in whatever he was trying to do. Plus I was sure if my dad found out he’d be locked up in a French prison cell for murder. I was 14.
When I worked as a waitress, one of the managers would brush passed me, his hands on my hips, often when I was reaching up to put plates on the top shelf so my shirt would expose my stomach. He had a cheeky charm about him, or so I thought at that age. At the time I couldn’t see he was manipulating the fact that I had a teenage crush on him. Except he was 37. I was 15.
I’ve been followed home at night. I’ve been made to feel so uneasy by a man, I’ve mentally prepared myself for the fact that I might have to stab him in the eye with my house keys like I’d read about in Cosmo magazine. I was 19.
I’ve met guys who would rather pester me for a revealing picture rather than take me on a date. I’ve felt pressured into kissing someone at the end of the date because he just wouldn’t let it drop. He’d bought me dinner after all. I basically “owed it to him”. But I didn’t fancy him and I definitely didn’t want to kiss him. But I did. I was 23.
I’ve worked with men who have not only talked directly to my breasts, they’ve made loud and obnoxious comments about them in a room full of other men. I’ve had my arse grabbed, lewd remarks made about my body and been made to feel like I had nothing to add to the conversation and should run along to pop on the kettle.
I experienced sexism first hand when I first started working in the menswear industry and was told outright I was fighting a battle, not only because I was 27, but because I was a woman. A woman in a man’s industry. The fact that I was pretty, or so I was told, “would help a little”. When in reality, I’m more successful than most of the men who chose to comment on my new role.
After all that, would I say I’ve been a victim of sexual harassment? Up until this week, I would have said no. I’ve certainly never been affected by anything that’s happened in my life. People suffer serious sexual harassment and assault on a daily basis, so to me, it felt silly to even categorise these moments as anything other than “men being dicks”.
But the second I stopped to think, how would I feel if I knew my niece Matilda was going through something similar at 14. At 15. Or even 27. I would be angry. Angry at the man who didn’t understand boundaries. Angry at the man who felt it was his right to kiss someone because he bought her dinner. Angry at the man who found it acceptable to flirt with a 15-year-old girl, manipulating the situation because he knew she had a teenage crush on him. Angry at the man who slapped her bum so hard it left a mark. At a work event. Angry at the man who deemed her not good enough to do a job because she had a vagina and breasts. Angry at myself for shrugging off all those incidents, for not speaking up, for saying only the other day that “it was the norm nowadays”.
It absolutely should not be the norm.
If you ever feel unsafe or even just uneasy with a situation, speak up.