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…
… 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. We 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-down 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!