A new paradigm…
I didn’t know what #MeToo meant until I read a friend’s Facebook status. It’s a social campaign instigated by American actress and activist Alyssa Milano. She wrote on Twitter ‘if all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.’ It comes following the Hollywood news that superpower Harvey Weinstein has been harassing and assaulting women. A serious abuse of power, one he thinks he can leverage to get sexual favours in return for catapulting women’s careers in the film industry. Has the campaign worked? Are we more aware of the level of of sexual abuse and harassment? Well, how many statuses have you seen so far with the hashtag “me too”? Probably a lot.
You see there are a few things that make this campaign interesting. Okay, ‘interesting’ isn’t the best word to use on such a sensitive subject. But taking into consideration my initial reaction it’s hard to describe it any other way.
I first heard about the Harvey Weinstein scandal over coffee at 11 o’clock. It was one of those relaxed mornings, chatting about anything and everything.
Admittedly I didn’t know who this guy was. When I was told of his position in Hollywood and what he’d done, I kind of shrugged it off too. I said I wasn’t surprised. In my head I imagined that kind of stuff happened all of the time. An old school casting couch… man in power can offer a part… I know I’m not alone in thinking that. I’ve met some struggling actresses in New York and seen their thirst for on screen success; a lot of them are vulnerable and desperate for that big break. HOLD ON! Why did I for one moment assume that these women were willing? How come I dismissed the news and without caring? Why didn’t I feel enraged or anger towards him? But instead just shake my head, roll my eyes and ask to take a look at the dessert menu?
What will be will be…
You see the problem with my thinking is that for a long time I’ve been exposed to men abusing their status to get their kicks from women. In my lifetime for me and my friends, we’ve experienced too many times men taking what they want without us reacting. For me, working in media, standing on the tube, dancing in clubs, entering shops… I can even recall two incidents from as young as childhood where boys a year older than me have thought they could do as they please and get away with it. But when I talk about these incidents today it’s not with complete shock. I’m not ‘affected’. There’s no emotion. That’s what happened and well, that’s it really.
Today I can tell the stories with the same tone of voice that I’d use to tell you what time it is. It’s like a wire has been cut from my heart to my brain; there’s no adrenaline to cause a reaction. It happens all the time, no big deal right? I’m not alone and I know most people have a story of uninvited sexual attention to tell.
You start to wonder “what makes my story so interesting or worthwhile telling”? The sad reality is that most people with similar stories feel the same. It’s so common that we’ve become used to it. We almost expect some level of sexual harassment or attention one way or another in many circumstances day to day. It’s happening almost everywhere. Just look at the American President, elected to run a country while people turned a blind eye to much of his wrong doings and exploitation of women.
My #MeToo …
It’s only when I returned home that morning and began flicking through Facebook and Twitter that I started to give it more thought. Addressing the Harvey Weinstein case as a ‘scandal’ makes it seem like a one off. But it isn’t. It’s a common behaviour. He’s a pig, a sexual predator yes. And so are the thousands of men who also do this regularly, but is any one of these incidents any worse than the next? Just as I was about to start revealing my experiences in ‘me too’ hash-tagged tweets, I stopped. There are too many to tell, too many which blur with the previous and then with the next.
From the low key attempts at grabbing body parts in clubs to the men that followed me up the high street tapping my shoulder. That time in the swimming pool when a boy swam over and grabbed my chest? How about that married man in charge of that big advertising account who repulsed me with some sexist comment, sexual innuendo and tried his luck on almost every occasion? It’s surely almost blackmail when he says he’ll stop spending unless he’s taken him to dinner and kept happy? I can count on two hands the amount of women he’s done that to.
Even those times in Uni when I was made to feel uncomfortable walking past someone’s door through fear of unwelcome sexual attention and intimidation. In Starbucks when someone sat next to me in an empty store and kept standing up so his crotch was near my face. That leech senior manager who picked me and one other to sit next to him at a function for ‘eye candy throughout the evening’.
I could go on.
Such a big head…
What each of these men have in common, they’ve ultimately felt frustrated that their sick advances were ignored. More than likely they end up hurling abuse at you for being so ‘stroppy’ or you ‘must be on your period’. Who told these creeps that their behaviour is fine? It’s not establishing their masculinity nor is it in their DNA. And can we make a difference and change this problem in society today?
I’ve never really thought about my unwanted sexual attention, abuse or harassment instances all in one go. When I think of the reasons for not mentioning anything before, it’s that dreaded feeling of coming across as ‘big headed’. I don’t want to talk about male sexual advances in case I come across as thinking myself as pretty or bragging. Did I dress a certain way or invite this male etiquette? Where on earth does this warped reasoning come from? We’re still so ‘British’ about speaking up. There’s still a stigma of feeling ‘ladette’ if you talk about vagina’s and there’s a fear a career or reputation will be tarnished if one pushes for legal action for sexual harassment or simply speaks up.
Making a difference…
Now that I have a baby girl I think of her future. Do I want her having the same experiences that I, other women and those involved in the Harvey Weinstein scandal have suffered? I couldn’t be held responsible for what I’d do to someone who offered her a job in return for sex. I don’t want her growing up afraid to talk about things, I want her to know this monster behaviour is unacceptable.
Therefore no beating about the bush. “Where do babies come from mummy?” Forget from the tummy or from the stork. They come from your vagina Mia, that thing between your legs that you protect with your clothes from the environment and disgusting men. Speak up if ever you think someone is being inappropriate. Say no to any one who threatens you and asks for anything sexual or makes you feel uncomfortable. Know that there are women who do say no, as proven in Hollywood, in offices and in the corner shop. As Kate Beckinsdale said, “Let’s stop allowing our young women to be sexual cannon fodder and let’s remember that Harvey is an emblem of a system that is sick and that we have work to do.”
At the time this post was written, “MeToo” has had a social reach of over 200 million. The number of mentions? Almost 122,000 (55% on Twitter, 27% on Facebook and 16% of the mentions being on Instagram). Interestingly, Vogue’s Instagram is the 6th most influential platform in this campaign so I’m making a call to all fashion and beauty bloggers to use your voice and make a difference.
As Tippi Hedren added, “theres not a reason in the world why you have to put up with that”.