If you have a Facebook account you’ll know there’s a trend for putting #MeToo up on your timeline. That’s women stating that they are survivors of rape and/or sexual harassment. I haven’t done that. Because I’m a little uncertain about it. Why? Well, in this piece I’m going to order my thoughts over this whole Weinstein, British Parliament business, and the current media storm around these ghastly events, and men. Although, note I’m not going to make this piece too academic – this is just me, thinking about it.
First, do not monster Weinstein. He is not a monster he is an ordinary man, albeit, yes, rich and powerful. But, don’t make him out-of-the-ordinary. Don’t say it was because he was bad. Don’t ‘other’ him. He is a man. And there is a behaviour here that needs addressing, that has been allowed. I’ve just been reading about Alex Gibney’s new documentary No Stone Unturned about a massacre in Northern Ireland and the excuse for it. The argument given to him whilst making the documentary was that it was perpetuated by bad people, the rotten apples. No, says Gibney, that’s wrong, it’s the barrel that’s rotten, which then contaminates the apples. Yes, it’s the context we should examine. What is it that allows people like Weinstein to function as he did? Because Weinstein, is, of course, so very unappealing. I mean, look at him, he’s not pretty. Just like Saville was always deeply creepy, so Weinstein is deeply unattractive. And women in the industry had to tolerate and suck up (!) to that man – yeeurk. Who knew?
Well, everyone it seems. Because the idea of the casting couch goes way back. And apparently, people knew. And were silent.
And for those of you over the pond, we have our own Weinstein situation, in the Houses of Parliament, no less! With several Members of Parliament resigning or losing the Whip (that’s a Parliamentary term and not a sexual deviation!) because of their behaviour towards women. Well, what a surprise, because this type of scandal is always popping up. This is not new.
Because we have always known. We women, we know. I have always known. To be careful, more than anything. Always, always careful. Even now, being careful resonates throughout my entire behaviour. And that’s not about the workplace – more about that in a minute. No, this is about being on my own on the streets at night, and on public transport. And let’s be clear I was/am careful about ordinary men, not the rich and powerful.
Three experiences made me this way. One was when I was barely a teenager. I was cycling with a friend along some country lanes. She got ahead of me, then another cyclist suddenly appeared. Once he was alongside he grabbed my breast, and knocked me off my bike. Fortunately, I shouted for my friend and he must have taken fright as he cycled off. That incident involved the police. Then there were two incidents on a train. Do you remember those non-corridor carriages? Twice I got trapped on my own with a man; one I had to talk my way out of the situation and the second man having tried to chat me up, which I rejected, got off the train and followed me, and not in a nice way. It was night-time, after a late shift – very scary. And the result of those experiences, I am always careful. Even now.
But in the workplace, no. I can’t recall any sexual harassment. What I do remember, though, is bullying, which was ghastly, truly, as I don’t think I ever recovered from the first lot of bullying. This involved a colleague and there was no way, no system to counter or acknowledge this. I just endured it for the life of a 3-year project. That was a man who bullied me, but the second lot of bullying was by a woman, who was awful. Again we (because there were other people involved) had to endure it, because no-one would tackle this powerful woman. In this instance, she was a well-known academic – and just untouchable. I feel slightly sick as I write this as it made my working life a misery. Consequently, from then on, I worked as a freelancer. No one, I said to myself, will ever have that kind of power over me again. So, short-term contracts suited me fine. Although there’s the reason for my rather iffy pension situation!
So, no sexual harassment in the workplace, that I remember. But there is something I want to talk about. It’s social kissing. I don’t like it. I’m a hugger rather than a kisser. And furthermore, I’m a bit spatially confused as I never know which side of my face to present. Every single time a social kiss comes my way, I ever so slightly hesitate and it’s only because I’m saying to myself, now which side is it? And I feel such an idiot because it’s a thing amongst the people I know. I mean, it’s sophisticated, innit! Look, it’s just me. I accept that. But hang on. Every now and then, someone (OK, a man) gives me a social kiss and I think, oh wow, no, really, I don’t want this. I’m talking mainly about men I don’t know. But you’re meant to just accept this because it’s in a social situation and you know, it’s just a friendly social kiss. It’s the thing to do. No. Actually. Don’t do that. Happened to me twice just recently. Did I say anything, nope. Maybe I should have – but see below.
There’s a women-only march in London in November to take back the streets at night. I won’t go because it would be a little too much for me. Maybe, I should, but more about why I won’t in a minute. I wish the women well, though, and hope it goes OK. Because we should take back the streets at night for women, the statistics on rape are appalling – see here.
Yes, I shouldn’t feel fear. I should feel safe. I shouldn’t worry about going around by myself at night. I shouldn’t feel anxious about walking along the secluded un-made up road near me. I won’t wear a short skirt here or there or at that time (‘cos I still wear these). I shouldn’t feel uncomfortable with a social kiss – how silly of me. I should put up the hashtag #MeToo and hold hands with those women. My experiences are so minor – but they had an impact.
What a minute – this is putting it all on women.
Do read Zoe Williams piece on this. She makes the point that, all these denials coming from Parliament about the current furore, that it is a ‘witch-hunt’ and they (the MPs) are after all only human, the riposte should be – What? You justify this fumbling, feeling-up harassment as normal and all it is, is your manly urges. Er no! Men, you need to think about your behaviour. And. Understand what sex is. Because, she argues, you know when someone wants to reciprocate, when someone wants you, is interested in you. You don’t have to touch, or humiliate or ask your researcher to buy a sex toy or behave oddly. You can just ask. And if it’s not reciprocated – then that’s the end of that transaction. Why touch, why do the banter? Why make that remark? This is not to do with sex. Although it might be just a little exciting for you. But you know that this is harassment, you really do know what you’re doing. And it’s wrong. And it has to change.
So, for me, it’s up to men to change, and make the streets at night safe, and public transport safe and the Houses of Parliament safe. And as well as men changing, the context has to change, so that no-one is silent when banter is exchanged, or you get the feeling that there is something going on, or there is constant ridicule in the workplace. And don’t forget bullying. And, as for us women putting up #MeToo on Facebook? I so admire them, but where is the meme for that change of male behaviour that needs addressing? Maybe one exists – tell me, I’m interested. Because this is about the silence of men – who know and say nothing. That has to stop.
Penny Kocher, 7th November 2017