The Harvey Weinstein case has once again thrust the thorny issue of female sexual harassment firmly into the spotlight. The hashtag #MeToo is currently trending worldwide, as women everywhere share their stories of harassment and unwanted sexual advances.
I used the hashtag last night on Twitter, as I recalled the moment a few years ago when, while walking through the city centre with some friends, a group of guys came walking in the opposite direction. As they passed us, one of the guys – a total stranger to me – slapped my arse. He did it so hard that it left a red mark on my skin through my clothes. What I didn’t say on Twitter last night was what my reaction was. I don’t know whether it was through shock or pure anger, but I spun around and stormed after him. I had no idea what I was going to do when I got to him – and neither did my friends, which is probably why they all grabbed my arm and pulled me back. To this day though, I can distinctly recall the look on his face as I turned and went after him. It was a look of shock, mixed with a tinge of fear. Looking back, I don’t suppose he knew what I planned to do either; but I also had the impression that he had never had such a reaction before. Maybe he’d never done it before. Maybe it was a dare, or he wanted to look cool to his friends. Whatever the reason why he did what he did, I hope I sowed some seed of reflection in his mind, that that is not the way respectful people behave and that women too have rushes of adrenaline when attacked.
Not long after I tweeted, I had a conversation with a guy who I know only through Twitter. We chatted about how everyone likes to think they look nice, that they are desirable even, and whether if, as a woman, you put on your make up and got dressed in a way that was flattering to your figure so that when you looked in the mirror you liked what you saw and felt quite sexy … what if when you went out, no man – or woman for that matter – payed a blind bit of notice to you? Not even an admiring look. As I said to my Twitter friend, I’m not saying I am some kind of hottie, but I think I would feel a little deflated. Purely because it’s a boost to the esteem, a kind of third-party validation that we are attractive. As I said, doesn’t everyone want to feel attractive?
Our conversation drew a hypothetical, but firm, line in the sand that it is not OK to put your hands on someone uninvited. He said that he had had his arse slapped and pinched on occasion, to which I responded with that I don’t think that is acceptable. I don’t think anyone has a right to touch someone else without permission, whether that person is a man or a woman. I’m not talking about brushing past someone or touching someone on the arm to get their attention that you want to get past them, but even the fact that I feel compelled to clarify such a statement, shows how muddied the waters have become.
We then talked about muddled and double standards. I know, you’ve heard of double standards, but what on earth are muddled standards, I hear you ask. Let me give you an example. I am not big breasted. However, if I were, and I enjoyed wearing low cut tops which showed off my ample bosom – my décolletage as the French say (why is it that everything sounds so much nicer in French?) – would I have a right to be annoyed if people, specifically men, looked at what I was choosing to show off? Again, I’m not talking about touching … but looking? We all know when someone is attractive. A woman knows if another woman is attractive in just the same way that a man knows if another man is attractive (I could go on to why society deems it acceptable for a woman to say “She’s pretty” but if a guy says “He’s a good looking guy” suddenly he’s labelled as gay, but that’s for another post). And surely, when we think someone, or a feature of someone, is attractive, we look, don’t we?
Moving on to double standards, I do feel that it is here that we women especially, aren’t being entirely honest, nor fair for that matter. For the purposes of demonstration, I will point this example squarely at the ladies reading this.
Let’s just suppose that your boyfriend or husband went on a stag night, and during the stag night, he and his friends ended up at a strip club. Your boyfriend/husband and his boozy mates chose to spend a good hour or two watching young, sexy women take all their clothes off for them. Would you be annoyed or offended? Now ladies, let’s suppose that you and your friends are on a hen night. Part of the night involves going to watch male strippers. You and your prosecco-soaked friends spend a good hour watching young, sexy men take all their clothes off for you. They even thrust you up on the stage to pour baby oil on one of them. Would you say your husband or boyfriend should be annoyed or offended? Or would you say it’s just a bit of harmless fun? Depending on your answers, therein lies the double standards.
The same double standards apply when we women get offended if a guy catcalls or wolf-whistles at us, but yet we think nothing of rating Tom Hardy’s arse out of 10. My point is that at some point, both sexes indulge in objectifying behaviour, but society has got to a point where somehow a woman objectifying a man is harmless fun, but turn the tables and suddenly it’s sexual harassment.
It’s a complex situation, and yes, I’ve seen women who are physically uncomfortable with a guy’s attention and they are either too scared or too polite to say anything, or the guy is either oblivious or simply chooses not to see it. I’ve seen men too, trying to extricate themselves from the attentions of a woman, without hurting her feelings and running the risk of having her take her revenge by saying he attacked her. There will always be grey areas and everyone will undoubtedly have their own perceptions of where the line in the sand of acceptability is.
In case this post is in some way misconstrued, let me be perfectly clear. When it comes to sexual harassment or any kind of sexual assault, I say this:
Whether you are male or female, straight, gay, bi, transgender or just damn well undecided, if someone sexually assaults you it is NEVER your fault. Report it. Every time. Push for heavier sentences. Make the predators the pariahs of of society.
And to the predators who think such casual degradation is all part of “having a laugh”, I say: Stop being a dick, and think about how you would feel if someone did that to your wife/mother/sister/daughter/son/brother.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live in a society where a man is scared to even speak to me for fear that something he says, or some innocent gesture he may make, may leave him vulnerable to a charge of sexual harassment. Then again, I don’t want to live in a society where a woman is scared to be approached by a man for fear that he may be one of the sleazy f***ers who won’t take no for an answer.
For sure, there are men who have an agenda and think “I like that, and I’m gonna take it”, but by the same token, there are cougars out there who just want what they want! Maybe if the agendas and the cougars could just get together, we’d all be happier.