On my lunch break today I overheard a snippet of a conversation between two middle aged, suited up men. It went like this…
Man a: “You know… pretty girl? From up north?”
Man b: “Oh! Is she blonde?”
Man a: “Blondie, yeah.”
That was it. That was all I heard. But it was enough to make me mad – well, madder.
Walking back to my office, I wondered if the men have been appalled discovering how women in the entertainment industry have suffered because of Harvey Weinstein? I wondered if they have been watching the news and scrolling through social media and despairing at how clearly rife sexual harassment and assault is across all facets of society? I wondered if they know that in casually reducing a woman to her prettiness and her hair colour, they are bolstering the sexist, misogynistic culture that enables men to harass, to assault and to rape?
I’ve written before on this blog about the harassment I’ve been subjected to. I’ve recalled the hands grabbing up my skirt and the crude words breathed unwanted into my ear and the shouts across the street that were followed by “BITCH” when I didn’t respond. I’ve experienced worse, but I keep such memories boxed away in the back of my brain and that’s where they’re staying for now.
I know my experience isn’t unique – we women can all say ‘me too.’
For a long time I didn’t know I could challenge sexism and misogyny and harassment, but in my mid-teens I began to feel a hot rage burning inside me that was too strong to keep quiet about. By the time I was studying at university, I had gained a reputation as the girl who would take offence to things other people accepted as the norm. My peers would roll their eyes when I protested a sexist ‘joke’ or tell me I was overreacting when I called out boys in the student union who felt it was acceptable to touch me or my friends without our consent. How could I not, given casual sexist remarks and unsolicited gropes are the foundation of the rape culture that rots society?
Now, after days of reading ‘me too’, that rage I mentioned is white hot and I feel I need to do more to challenge sexism and misogyny and harassment on a daily basis.
Don’t get me wrong – the responsibility for the pain and suffering caused by harassment and assault belongs solely to the people who commit the offences, but the events of the past few days suggest there are lots of men who don’t get the difference between what’s acceptable behaviour and what isn’t. I think if we all become a little braver in calling their wrongdoings out when we see them, we stand a better chance of rooting out this problem.
If you see a woman being harassed in the street, don’t let that happen – do something to help. If you hear a man in the pub or on the train speaking about a woman as if she’s an object, remind him she’s a human being who must be treated with more respect than that. If you have a male colleague or family member who you know behaves inappropriately towards women, be vigilant to that and make sure he knows you’re watching him.
Call out the throwaway comments and the barely noticeable touches now and maybe our future daughters and granddaughters will be free from their own ‘me too’ stories.
As for me… if I ever see those two men again, I’ll tell them ‘blondie’ has a name and they’d better start using it.