Since the Harvey Weinstein allegations last week, a lot has been preying on my mind. Every day there is a new article, if not several, on it. It seems every person in Hollywood & beyond has come out of the woodwork to condemn or support Weinstein’s alleged victims.
Particularly I’ve noticed Donna Karan & Mayim Bialik‘s comments on how women present themselves being part of the reason why they are assaulted. As though perhaps by wearing a low cut top or by applying mascara, these women have invited harassment.
I’ve also been seeing a lot of posts on social media under the hashtag of #metoo. Always something along the lines of-
If all the women & men who have been sexually harassed or assaulted post the status “me too”, we might give the sense of the magnitude of the problem.
Copy & paste to spread awareness.
I didn’t repost it. I dwelled on it.
I’m an idealistic person. I didn’t realise that until recently. I’m always fighting a crusade for some sort of Right. At least I am in my head.
What I’d like, ideally, is for everyone to be born equal with the right to govern their own body & to be whomever they chose.
It’s a simple sentence, but a big idea.
So when media storms like Weinstein blow through my social media, I get angry. But it’s an anger that fuels me. It takes hold of me, makes me want to make the world a better place.
There have been a few moments in my life I could pinpoint & say ‘Me Too’. When I wrote down the long list of weird things that have happened to me, there were a few stories I thought I’d never tell. But turns out I am telling them today.
I can’t recall every instance of sexual harassment in my life. There have been wolf-whistles, unsolicited bum-grabs & people rubbing up against me that all blur into one. I can say though that these things did start early. I don’t know exactly but I was, by no means, a grown up looking teenager.
At twelve, I answered the door to a twenty-odd year old delivery man while I was in my nightdress. It was a below the knee, long-sleeved thermal Mickey Mouse nightdress. I was excited because he was delivering a Christmas tree. A real one, something I’d never had before. The man told me that me in my nightie ‘made him think wicked thoughts’.
When I was about sixteen, I worked as a cashier at an amusement park close enough to my house I’d walk home on my lunch. One afternoon I was power-walking home when I heard someone whistle. I didn’t look up. I never look up if someone whistles.
I kept on walking but I could hear someone jogging behind me, shouting at me. I could see a guy in his late teens following me. He was waving me to stop, but I kept walking. I changed my way home, jogging down a steep hill where there was a family playing football.
He was still behind me.
I didn’t want him to follow me directly to my door, so I took an alleyway close to my house. The area led to 3 possible exits. I hoped, if I was fast enough, he wouldn’t be sure of where I’d gone & I could vault my neighbour’s short wall into my own front garden without him realising where I was.
I managed it but I didn’t account for my family not being in when I knocked. I scrabbled with my front key & got in the door just as he reached my gate. I slammed the door & watched as he paced outside.
When it came time to leave, I crept out the back door & ran as fast as I could. After half a minute, he spotted me & jogged after me.
I went my usual route to work as fast as I could. How I didn’t fall I don’t know. But I dashed in a side door for employees only, then locked myself in my cashier box & called down to security.
I gave them a description of the guy & told them not to let him in. It worked. For a while. A few hours later, he took off his cap & hoodie so the security guards didn’t stop him.
He sauntered up to the cashier’s box like he was completely at ease. Like it was the most natural thing in the world to chase a girl from her workplace to her house & back again. As I saw him, I closed the hatch on the change box. Calling across to my colleague ‘that’s him, that’s him’.
I crawled under my desk with the phone & called my uncle who worked at the amusement park as well.
I could hear him speaking with my friend. She was telling him to leave.
‘Just let me speak to her. Just let me speak to her.’ He whined.
My uncle stepped in He looks pretty menacing, because he’s over six foot tall, but he’s really a sweetheart. I could hear my uncle telling him to leave his niece alone. He eventually left, escorted to the door by security.
My shift ended at half ten & I got a lift from my uncle. As we passed by the front entrance of the amusement park, the guy was waiting there. What sexy outfit was I wearing that drove this guy wild? Baggy, black linen trousers, tatty trainers & a loose, medium men’s cut white tee with the company’s logo on it. No makeup.
A few years ago, I was having a late lunch in a sandwich bar inside a supermarket. I was trying to catch a few moments on my own on a hectic day at work, so I sat on a stool in the corner. The cafe area was almost completely empty, apart from a few shoppers that passed by.
Shortly after I sat down, a man approached. He smiled at me, I nodded. He was late twenties or early thirties, he was well dressed – wearing a formal shirt & trousers. When he sat down, he moved his stool closer to mine. So close that I was now backed into a corner. There was a table directly behind me, which blocked me off so I’d have to get close to him to get out.
At first I thought he just had an issue with personal space. Like when you park your car in an empty row at the supermarket, then someone comes along & parks right beside you when they could have had their pick of the spaces.
He was being a tad weird. Glancing over at me every few minutes as I ate, I tried to keep my eyes forward but something was catching my eye. He was itching at something in his pocket. Then I realised it wasn’t itching & it wasn’t his pocket.
At three o’clock in the afternoon, as I ate a ploughman’s sandwich, a stranger decided he would pleasure himself beside me. In order to get out of that scenario, I had to squeeze past him or fall off my stool.
He had engineered it that way. He had boxed me in.
Well I’ve been falling off stools for thirty years, this was the only time I did it on purpose.
If I had to, I would have climbed over the table behind me if it meant not getting closer to this cretin.
Obviously I must have been wearing next to nothing, scantily clad as they say. I was wearing a light blue shirt, a navy cable knit jumper, beige-grey suit trousers & brown high-top boots. No makeup.
The thing is, after every wave of sexual allegations, there is a surge in women gaining the courage to share these stories. Then there’s an inevitable backlash of men defending their gender with the hashtag of ‘not all men’. It’s the ebb & flow of gender politics.
I know it’s not all men. Most women know it’s not all men. But it’s also not only men.
When I worked in the petrol station, I was asked to train up a new employee. After telling me her name, she told me she was bisexual. I hadn’t asked. I didn’t really care, to be honest.
She was very friendly. Within thirty minutes of introducing herself (& her sexuality), she rested her head on my shoulder. I’m not a tactile person, I don’t like people getting into my personal space at all. My supervisor saw her put her head on my shoulder & the horror in my eyes of a near stranger cosying up to me, he burst out laughing. He laughed so much, he had to go sit down.
Over the next few weeks, she persisted in touching me even when I asked her not to. Fiddling with my hair, tickling me, prolonged touching my arm, sometimes squeezing past me to rub past my bottom. She would invite me to parties at her house, I’d decline & find out later there was no party or that no-one else was invited.
It was an uncomfortable time for me.
Eventually she tickled me for the hundredth time & I snapped. I told her exactly where she could shove her advances. At the time, I was wearing a large, washed out red fleece which was about 5 sizes too big for me & black cargo trousers. Again, no makeup.
Why didn’t I tell someone? That’s the common theme of comments on social media. I didn’t report it at work, because it had happened before & it wasn’t taken seriously. Why would this time be different?
These are neither the worst or the best of my experiences. These are just the ones that I’m willing to share.
The problem is not only sexual harassment & sexual assault happens, but also there’s an unspoken rule that women should put up with it. Like trips to the gynaecologist or going to a bra-fitting, it’s just something that women have to go through & not discuss.
For my daughters, I’d like to imagine a world when women don’t have to lament:
Me too. Me too. Me too.