The floodgates appear to have been opened for women to confront anyone in their past who sexually harassed them. ‘Me too’ is the cry. And it’s true. I can’t think of any woman I know well who hasn’t at some point been the target of unwanted sexual attention. Opportunity, ambition and in the entertainment world in particular, a requirement to flaunt all visible assets at all times have proved the downfall of young women and some young men, but the tables have turned and more and more men in the entertainment business are being named and shamed, and frankly, they deserve it. And as several men have said to me, other men have been complicit in this arrangement, or hesitated to call out other men known to be sexual predators. Men have, it’s true, mainly protected other good old boys from the consequences of their actions. Why this has happened possibly has its roots in a historical need for men to stick together to defeat the enemy/hunt the game/deter invaders and so on. Telling another man he’s out of order, acting inappropriately, and that he must change his behaviour or risk arrest is not calculated to make you friends in high places. But it has to be done. These are our daughters, our sisters, our friends who are telling us that what they experienced was, and is, unwanted, unpleasant, and without their consent, and that they felt humiliated, abused, angry and upset. And that economic sanctions or ambitions thwarted were the very real consequences of such actions if they did not comply.
So other males and females too, have to take more responsibility for shielding, listening to and taking action not just when things go wrong, but in general.
Unless this happens, things won’t change. Habitual sex pests will become more sly, devious and self-pitying, because what they all have in common is a manipulative ability to ignore the norms of decent behaviour. My mother gave me a terrific example of how it was okay to deal with situations like that – she carried a large safety pin with her so that if a man became ‘over familiar’ (her words) in the bus or cinema she wouldn’t hesitate to jab them with it. I witnessed this.
She told me it was okay to slap hands, sometimes faces of men who were ‘fresh’, or take other avoiding action, and as an orphan herself, she knew how to defend herself and protect us, going into the garden armed with the poker because thought someone was out there. She never discouraged me from fighting people who would hurt me, though she didn’t condone violence, and in one situation where my life was at stake my lack of inhibition at kicking out hard undoubtedly saved my life. Women are, I think, inhibited from causing pain to others. Good, but they need to protect themselves from other peoples’ unwanted sexual advances, because that’s pain too, of a different kind.
I wonder whether we don’t need to tell our daughters this.
Use your voice. Practise shouting: ‘Get Off me!’ ‘I’m saying NO’ ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ and ‘Stop doing that now,’ are worth practising. Martial arts are useful if words fail. Be assertive. Be smart. Don’t put yourself in danger. And value yourself. Can you really be bought for the price of a furtive grope, or used as a masturbatory aid? And fellows, wake up. The old rules no longer apply.