The Conspiracy of Silence #MeToo

This whole Harvey Weinstein scandal makes me sick, just like the Bill Cosby one has made me sick and Donald Trump’s way with women makes me sick. Why do Cosby’s and Weinstein’s careers go down the drain over this but is Trump still president? Anyway, I don’t want to write about them specifically but I do want to do my part in addressing this so that it can be stopped.

I saw the interview Emma Thompson gave, addressing how normal sexual harassment really is for all women from a young age onwards (she mentions this at around 3:10 into the video) and she calls this Weinstein scandal a ‘conspiracy of silence’ for not being exposed sooner (around 5:20)…

I found that an interesting phrase, ‘the conspiracy of silence’, and find myself trying to come to terms with the fact why we don’t speak up about this more when we encounter it. I find it’s not a malicious conspiracy, it’s more a conspiracy of shame and fear, but the fact is that it’s not normal to speak up about this. I, too, am not one to call out others when for example a comment with sexual innuendo is made that makes me feel slightly uncomfortable. I will speak up against gross misconduct but there are so many comments that are just borderline where I wonder ‘should I say something or am I just being overly sensitive?’ and then I shut up. I was in such a borderline situation not too long ago when I thought ‘ah, but it’s just a joke, I’ll let it go and change the subject quickly.’ I struggle with that and it’s something that this scandal has brought more to the foreground for me.

Yesterday the hashtag #MeToo started trending and I added my name to that…

me too tweet

… and today, on my way to work, I read Guylty’s blog post about the issue and that really struck me too. I am not pretty or an actor either and yet I too have experienced instances of sexual harassment. What I have experienced is by far not as bad as many other women’s experiences but it’s symptomatic nonetheless! I wasn’t planning on going into detail about what has happened to me, but Guylty’s post and that “conspiracy of silence” phrase made me think that maybe I should just come out and speak of my experiences.

The funny thing is that when I thought about this, one incident that really shook me came to mind and I thought, ‘well, it’s not been bad for me, I only experienced that one thing’. But then, once that memory was unlocked, other memories started coming in and I realized that apparently I had pushed them away before. I also realized that, from an early age on, I had always been warned by my mother that most men basically only want one thing so that I always had to be careful with how I act and what I wear so as not to attract any unwanted attention. I hate that. I hate that women are told to be careful and that for men it’s a “ah, boys will be boys” attitude.

The incident that really shook me most of all  happened when I was 19. My dad was general secretary of an international organization and organized a big 4 day conference every summer, with people coming in from countries all over the world. To make a little money, we brothers and sisters often helped with organizing. That summer the conference was in Southampton and one evening I went out with a group of other conference participants to a local pub. Incidentally, it’s also the first time I ever tried Guinness beer (and hated it). Anyway, I was with a group of 9 or 10 people and at one point I said I’d pick up some drinks at the bar. There was a man sitting on a bar stool next to where I stood to order my drinks. While I was waiting for my turn to order he tried to chat me up. I was 19 and really not so used to flirting, so I tried to stay friendly and smile, but said no to whatever he suggested (he wanted me to come sit with him, he wanted to buy me a drink and he said some other things I can’t recall). Then, out of the blue, he grabbed me, pulled me towards him and what I remember most were his very wet lips, smelling of beer, planted on my lips, kissing me! I struggled to get away, luckily the bartender caught this happening as well. He cried out “oy!” and a hullabaloo started where others came to my rescue, literally prying the man off me because he really was holding on fast and didn’t want to let go!  People from my group came as well to help me. Local people from the pub grabbed the man, I think one guy punched him, and literally threw him out of the pub onto the street. I was very shaken up, everyone was very concerned for me, we were offered free drinks. The bartender said the man was a known drunk and wouldn’t be allowed in the pub anymore. I quickly went back to my accommodation after that, accompanied by my older brother who had been part of the group I had been with.

Remembering that, and my brother being there, reminded me of an incident a year later when my whole family and I were in Cairo, visiting the Pyramids. Esther 20We were allowed into one of the pyramids. There was a narrow hallway leading upwards with a rope you could use to hold on to. You couldn’t stand up straight in some sections and there were these guides along the way to help anyone with trouble getting on. One of these guides actually followed behind me for a while and literally felt me up, touching my hips and my bottom to ‘help me along’. I shrugged him off, said I didn’t need help. My brother saw and took the man’s place behind me so he would leave me alone. The rest of that holiday (we were there for 3 or 4 days), I felt unsafe and tended to keep close to one of my older brothers, just so I wouldn’t get into a situation like that again.

I then for some reason also remembered an incident from when I was 15 or 16. I was already in love with old movies at that time and at some point I had gotten this hand-me-dpencil dressown 1960s turquoise pencil dress, which looked something like this picture on the right. It was a little looser than this dress but it really fit me very well. I was not one to wear dresses at all at that time but when I put that dress on, I thought I looked really good in it. I felt like Doris Day! I was wearing it one hot day and was asked to do a small errand in town for my mother, which I went to do on my bike. I figured it looked nice enough and for the first time I dared wear it out in public. And boy, did I regret that! I felt uncomfortable with the attention I got walking down the street and when at one point some workers started calling out to me, asking me to come over to them, laughing at me when I said no, and continuing their whistling after that, I felt so very unsafe! I went home and never wore that dress again.

In my early twenties I also once encountered a flasher in a trench coat while I was walking through a park close by our house. He walked by, called out to me and when I looked over at him, he opened his coat and was stark naked underneath. He didn’t linger, though, and walked on, I think he even ran away. For some reason, I never felt threatened by that, though.

So, that’s it, my #MeToo experiences. When I look back I feel that I have always been conscious of never wanting to be ‘too sexy’, due to warnings to be careful because I’m a girl and I think especially after that blue dress incident, which I had really buried away deep somewhere. It’s sad that just because ‘boys will be boys’ many women feel unsafe or feel like they have to suppress themselves. Women speaking up about how threatened they feel is just the beginning, we also need to look at this ‘boys will be boys’ culture and teach our sons to treat women with respect! I feel my brothers are respectful of women, just like my husband is and I hope my son is too (he does seem like it from what I can see). I have luckily never felt threatened by men I work with or by male aquaintances/friends I have. So, I do realize that many men are respectful! But there are also many who aren’t and it’s not only up to the women to raise boys who are respectful; men are important role models and need to take responsibility too, maybe even more so than women!

24 thoughts on “The Conspiracy of Silence #MeToo

  1. Thank you for chiming in, Esther. I can so relate to your experiences and to the unfortunate conclusions you have drawn. We all have. It is a crying shame that you lost all interest in that beautiful dress (which wasn’t even revealing – and even if it had been, it would not have been an excuse for cat calls) , which made you feel so good when you first wore it, only to make you feel bad after that incident. The scene in the Southampton pub is even worse – it is simply horrific being taken advantage of and so clearly feeling that one’s physical strength is not enough to extract oneself from the situation. The helplessness that we experience in these “ordinary” situations, is what infuriates me so. Men are aware of their physical power, and they use it to intimidate and humiliate us. I hope that by speaking up, we are raising awareness and making a step towards a better future. Thank you!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Hi Esther, Thanks so much for sharing your awful experiences with us. That had to have been tough. Big Hugs! Grati

    For me–and yes, “me, too”, unfortunately–even the label of “sexual harrassment” hasn’t been around for that long, let alone the concept, maybe 10 to 15 years. And that is a problem when trying to make colleagues (often male) understand why it is wrong.

    Nor have the more recent business policies “to try” to address the need to create a less hostile work environment–or even just a walking around in the world less hostile environment–have not been able to make many improvements.

    Over the years/decades, I have spoken up and spoken out against harrassment, bullying, etc., as a private person–and I have been retaliated against. But I never backed down, nor let them think that their behavior was acceptable–however much I privately cringed with each instance, and the renewed shock that it happened again. And when other women needed or need protection, I have given it–often literally standing up to the harrasser for that other woman who is still in shock that this type of behavior goes on, with misogyny as one of its root causes.

    Because make no mistake, harrassment isn’t about sex, or beauty, or a boys will be boys mentality–it’s about power and attempting to diminish the dignity of another person, often women. And that is simply not acceptable.

    So when people in charge (above our “paygrade”) continue to make excuses for their harrassing colleagues–which only enables the harrassers to continue their harrassing behaviors–the situation for women doesn’t remove or even alleviate the harrassment.

    However, I am surrounded by many more men–including my wonderful hubby–who are the good guys. Which give me hope. And this new grass roots initiative by women public figures–and the rest of us chiming in– is a good start to raising the awareness and the need for change in our society.

    And I’m heartened to read about women and girls standing up for each other–and the call for “good” men and boys to stand up for women and girls–against harrassment and assault, etc. Because if not now, when?

    P.S. Sorry for my long comment, but I had to get it off my chest.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Don’t apologize! Thank you for chiming in. 🙂 It sounds like you have had to deal with harassment a lot in the workplace, I’m so so sorry! I really hope this new consciousness will make things better. Addressing it is the first step.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Servetus

    Thanks for writing this down. I remember the point at which I realized that workplace harassment had to be the norm rather than the exception in the US — I was crushed. #MeToo.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Violet

    Thanks, Esther. I was thinking about you the other day when I caught up with the new episodes of A Place To Call Home; wanted so badly to talk about them with you! 😉

    Anyway, I appreciate your courage (and Grati’s) in sharing your stories. Like Guylty said, it’s a shame you stopped wearing your beautiful dress. Yesterday I was reading that in France (?) it will soon be illegal to wolf whistle at women on the streets. Good for them! It’s tremendously uncomfortable, not because of the whistle but because it’s then followed by cat calls and laughter, as you mentioned.

    Of course, boys and men are sometimes sexually harassed too. I remember one day (I was a girl) when my parents and I were driving back home and had to stop at a traffic signal light, behind another car. My father told my mother, “That girl in the back is all over that boy and won’t leave him alone even though it’s obvious he’s asking her to stop.” Sure enough, a moment later, the teenage boy opened the car door and literally ran out to the sidewalk. To our astonishment, the girl followed him! My father muttered a curse, turned right onto the street, caught up with the boy and pulled over. My mother lowered the window and said, “Young man, we saw what happened. We can take you home if you’d like.” He hesitated but when he heard the girl yelling after him and saw she was about to catch up, he got in the car fast as lightning! We took him home and waited until he went in. Obviously, the incident made a big impression on me. I was very proud of my father that day. 🙂

    If you want to read my #MeToo stories, visit my blog: https://navigatingarmitage.wordpress.com/2017/10/17/yo-tambien-metoo/

    Happy Wednesday, everyone!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I just read your stories and find them harrowing! I’m so sorry you’ve had to deal with that. And yes, this story about the boy your parents rescued is heartwarming.
      I am very aware that boys too can get sexually harassed. I used to volunteer at a child helpline and one of the most harrowing calls I’ve ever had to deal with was a boy (he was no more than 10 years old) who called who was being sexually abused by his aunt when she babysat him. To this day, I still don’t know if he ever was able to get the help I tried for him to get and when I think about it, this still eats me up… 😦
      As for your first comment: I have the A Place to Call Home episodes (and Berlin Station and Sleepwalker) ready and waiting for me but I just haven’t gotten around to watching them yet… I will in time.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Chatting about #MeToo | Me + Richard Armitage

  6. Great post, Esther. I think that most women can relate to each of the experiences you have described. I know I can– and that this mistreatment starts when we are girls, so we are raised to expect/tolerate it. I don’t like confrontation, so it has always been difficult for me to speak up in response to inappropriate remarks and worse. But I don’t think it will ever change unless most of us do speak up, in defense of ourselves and others.

    Like

    1. Yeah, I don’t like confrontation either. I find the inappropriate remarks thing especially difficult to deal with, I’m often not sure where to draw the line and especially how to draw it.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: What she said: The Conspiracy of Silence #MeToo, October 18, 2017 Gratiana Lovelace (Post #1108) | Something About Love (A)

  8. I really do think it will get better. My experience has been that it is largely a generational issue- older male veterinarians I have worked for have made me think, time and again, that (although I liked them and enjoyed their company) a sexual harassment lawsuit was inevitably going to happen at some point based on comments they’d very openly make toward female staff (including myself at times). However, the younger male veterinarians seemed to cringe right along with us. To my shame and probably also the shame of the younger male vets though, nothing was ever said. It was shrugged off and put down to a “they’re old and set in their ways” mentality.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Servetus

      I hope it will get better but my suspicion is that in academia things are not improving. The problem isn’t so much the question of what the social standard is (although that will curb some potential predators) but rather the extent to which a person has power and wants to exercise or demonstrate that. (This is why some women have also become harassers — because they can.)

      Like

  9. Amy

    “So, I do realize that many men are respectful! But there are also many who aren’t and it’s not only up to the women to raise boys who are respectful; men are important role models and need to take responsibility too, maybe even more so than women!”

    Yes, this!!!

    Es… ((((hugs)))) thank you for speaking up.

    Liked by 1 person

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  11. Emma Thompson ist eine beeindruckende Frau!
    Aber Du auch 🙂 Danke für die offenen Worte und Deine Erfahrungen. Ich hatte bisher keine Erlebnisse in diesem Bereich.
    Zum Glück sind nicht alle Männer so, aber es hat auch immer etwas mit Macht zu tun. Offenlsichtlich haben diese Männer es nötig ihr mangelndes Selbstbewusstsein mit dieser Art von Machtspielchen aufzupeppen 😦

    Liked by 1 person

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