OT: #MeToo [And I am Neither an Actor Nor Pretty]

Like so many women and men, I have been following the exposure and revelations of the systematic sexual harassment Harvey Weinstein has inflicted on so many women over the last decades. The revelations – even though highly disturbing – did not surprise me. I was aware of the ‘casting couch’ phenomenon, and the power that people in positions of authority can exert over their inferiors, whether it be university and school, or business. Luckily I have never been in a position where I was subjected to such behaviour. I am not an actor – and I am not pretty, so I am not in the target group.


Or am I? I was watching the BBC Newsnight interview with Emma Thompson (see above) the other day, At 3:17 in the video she says “Speak to any woman over the age of 15 and they will all have a story to tell you.” That stopped me in my tracks. Yes. This is not an isolated problem to affect female actors who are looking for a break, young women hoping to make a career, or attractive women walking down the street. Because even *I*, not an actor, never particularly career-minded, and not even blessed (or cursed?) with a pretty face, have been subjected to harassment in my life. And if we want to put a stop to this unacceptable behaviour, we all need to call it out, by the sheer force of our numbers. (I am, of course, including men in this, too – who also can experience sexual harassment.) If there is to come anything constructive out of the Weinstein affair, then it has to be ending the culture of silence and acceptance of sexual harassment. And that only starts by acknowledging that we all have experience of it – and therefore an obligation to call it out and to end it for good. Because I do not want my teenage daughter to grow up with the experiences that I had. None of them as traumatic as what some of Weinstein’s victims went through, but certainly symptomatic of the sexual power that men are exerting over women.

Sexual harassment has certainly followed me through my ages, has always been part of my life as a female, from a very early age, despite having grown up in a “developed” Western industrial society. It is practically ingrained in me and every woman of my age, or younger and older, that *some* experience with men overstepping their boundaries is to be expected. And that we simply have to get on with it, not make a big deal out of it, but ignore it and just go on. We don’t talk about, we just accept it, we even find excuses for inexcusable behaviour. We don’t want to be victims, so we shake it off and ignore it. But it is up to all of us to stop this. Because we all have the stories. We do – whether we are plain or pretty, rich or poor, tall or short, black or white, celebrity or unknown, lithe or heavy, even young or old. It happens because we are women, and it doesn’t depend on our looks. It happens because it is still considered acceptable by our societies at large that women’s personal spaces can be invaded, that they can be felt up, propositioned, subjected to inappropriate jokes, forced into dates/kisses/sex, belittled on the basis of their gender. It happens because we are women and it is not isolated to the entertainment business. And I am sick and tired of accepting it, excusing it, blaming myself for it, and effectively enabling it by keeping silent about it. None of my experiences are particularly aggravating, but they are symptomatic. I am sharing my stories not to imply that what Weinstein’s victims experienced was normal, or to present myself as a victim. I am not asking for sympathy. They are meant as an invitation to anyone else to also speak out and point out that this is – sadly – everyday behaviour. Things will only change if we define from our experiences what sexual harassment constitutes, if we call it out and break the silence. Here are my stories.

⇢ ♀ ⇠

Pre-teen age

I am proud. I have been given a piano by my grandfather, and after learning to play the recorder with a group of girls, I am advancing to piano lessons on my own with the recorder teacher, Herr Runau. He is a youngish man, maybe around 30 years old, married, and with kids of his own. The piano lessons are every Thursday afternoon in the music room of the school next to my primary school. It’s slightly eerie in the empty school corridors, but I am super excited about learning to play the piano. We spend a few months with scales and finger exercises. I am enjoying it, I practice at home, much to the delight of my parents. My piano teacher sits beside me at the piano. He shows me how to play. He moves his chair closer to me in order to reach the keys. He’s very tall and lanky. One day, as he is reaching across me to play a note, his upper arm brushes across my chest. I move out of the way. The next week, it happens again. And the week after. I notice that he is angling his arm – he could stretch in order to *not* touch my chest, but he doesn’t. I am confused. Something about this is off. It doesn’t seem right. Why is he not avoiding the touch, just like everyone else would avoid touching someone if they could? I try to move out of the way, but I can’t lean back any further, the arm is following me. I feel ashamed – I am obviously always in the way. I am also not good at playing the piano because I never practice, and going to the lessons is a chore. I never tell my parents that my piano teacher deliberately feels up my chest with his arm. I am ten.

Teen-age

Going to driving school is a rite of passage. I take lessons in the local driving school with the owner who has also taught my friend. She is a pretty girl, a year older than me, and she warns me “Alf is a bit touch-y, he comes close”. Personally, I am not too worried because obviously, T___, with her big brown eyes, long dark hair and pretty, heart-shaped face naturally attracts more attention than me, who is plain with blonde short hair. The driving lessons take an hour, and there is usually only one driving student in the car with Alf. It takes all my concentration to get the multi-tasking between watching the traffic, steering, accelerating, changing gears and braking right. Alf is in his mid-50s, a small, agile man, an entertaining, actually a good teacher. When he perceives stress in his student, he puts his left hand on her knee, patting her calmly. Or he pinches me on the inside of my thigh when I have made a mistake. It’s all in good humour. He also tests the concentration of his (female) students by giving them a little peck on their cheek while they are driving. It’s slightly perturbing, certainly distracting, but he does it to *all* of his (predominantly) female students, so it’s just fun… It never occurs to me to mention it to my father who is working for the local traffic department.

Young adult

For my graduation from school at age 19, my parents are taking me to Rome. It is June, the weather is gorgeous, and we are exploring Rome by foot and public transport. I am still a relatively protected only child, not particularly feminine, no boyfriend in sight. To suit the hot weather on this day I am wearing Bermuda shorts and a short blouse. In order to get from our hotel to the Forum Romanum, we are taking the bus. The route is busy and the bus is full; the passengers standing in close proximity, packed like sardines. Since we have no seats and the bus is driving in vigorous mediterranean style, I am hanging on to the over-head handles. Suddenly I can clearly feel the hand of the little old man who is standing near me, between my legs, his thumb brushing over my mound. I turn my head and catch his eyes as he is pulling his hand away. He holds my gaze, and *I* feel the shame. In split seconds I consider my options. I don’t speak Italian, if I call him out, I won’t make myself understood. And my parents will hate to cause any disturbance. I am also worried that I may have just misunderstood something. Maybe it was just an accident. I say nothing, just move out of the way as far as I can. I don’t mention this to my parents, either, because I feel embarrassed that this has happened to me.

30s

A busy Saturday night in Dublin, my husband and I decide to go for a walk. At the bottom of Grafton Street we decide to split up and make a race who arrives at the destination first. I continue walking towards College Green on my own. Just as I am nearing the corner opposite Trinity College, I see a big group of young men – younger than me, probably students, inebriated and merry – walking towards me. As I am passing them, one of them turns around and gives me a mighty slap on my bum. I can feel my cheeks burning. And I don’t only mean my arse cheeks – I am also stunned and shaken that I, a woman in her mid-to-late thirties, have caused any kind of attention that would bring on such an encroachment of my personal sphere. When I tell my husband, he just shrugs. The guys have long wandered up Grafton Street, anyway.

40s

The advantage of middle-age is, that you don’t really care so much about what other people might think of you. So I am more bemused than uncomfortable to be standing in the basement of a bar in Dublin, waiting for a heavy metal band to play. It’s not my scene at all, but I have agreed to take photographs of a friend who fronts the band. The place is packed, the audience is predominantly male, predominantly in their early 30s. Since my friend is not playing yet, I slink into the background and lean against the wall beside the bar. Ok, I stand out like a sore thumb. Woman in her 40s, alone, not really into the music that is currently playing. I know that a near group of “lads” – young men, probably in the early 30s, well into several pints of Guinness – have noticed me. They have glanced at me and laughed; the music is too loud to hear their comments. I’m old enough to not care. I look at my phone and ignore them when suddenly two of them break away from their group, kind of dancing to the music, towards me. I try to get out of the way, but one of them turns around and *supposedly* as a joke rubs his arse against my crotch. With the wall behind me I can’t escape, but instead of rigorously pushing him away, or kicking him, I just slip away to the side, say an ironic “ha ha, very funny” that is drowned out by the pumping music, and feel humiliated. No one around me says anything, not even the bar’s security guy who is standing at the bar a meter away from me and must have seen what was happening. But he actually gets up and places himself closer to me, maybe to discourage the lads from doing something like that again.

⇢ ♀ ⇠

These are simple stories, mild stories. Nothing sensational, none of this is as bad as being forced into sexual acts, or being cornered as Weinstein has done. I haven’t lost a job because of my experiences, and I have not been exposed to anything that has long-term traumatised me. I am not afraid of men, and I don’t consider myself a victim. But for the first time I am putting it into proper perspective, acknowledging that in those little scenes that I have tucked away in a far-far corner of my memory, there is always someone encroaching on me as a female, and doing so without my consent, without my invitation, no matter how young or old, or plain, or conscious of the situation I am. And I am glad that I have got them off my chest. Will I be able to stand my ground if this should happen again? I don’t know. I hope so, because I think writing this down has made me more aware of how commonplace this behaviour is. And that it is not alright.

I am in awe of the women who have dared to speak out against a powerful man and who have not only kicked off this overdue public debate, but also a change. I stand in solidarity with anyone who has suffered any kind of sexual harassment.

And I invite you to share your stories, too, get them off your chest as I have. I have never talked about this, but I am going to sit down with my daughter tonight, tell her about my experiences, and ask her to not be silent when sexual harassment happens to her or is observed by her.

⇢ ♀ ⇠

You may comment here on the blog, or do link me to your blog posts, if you decide to write your stories. And please consider tweeting #MeToo on Twitter.

 

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

44 thoughts on “OT: #MeToo [And I am Neither an Actor Nor Pretty]

  1. Das ist dann in Summe schon eine beeindruckend große Vielfalt an übergriffigem Verhalten.
    Ich selber bin da vergleichsweise unbescholten. Hatte aber als Jugendliche in der U-Bahn auch mal das “Vergnügen”, dass sich im Gedränge neben mir, so ein Wicht mit Blick auf mich und meine Freundinnen (denke ich) an seinem besten Teil rumspielte. Ich hab’s gesehen und dann ignoriert. Nachträglich habe ich mich gefragt, ob ich ihn nicht vor versammelter Mannschaft hätte lächerlich machen sollen. Ich war immerhin mit einem Rudel Mädels unterwegs. Aber es haftet dem dann immer so ein Peinlichkeitsmoment an, der ja kurioserweise eigentlich nur den Verursacher betreffen sollte. Und trotzdem habe ich “mitgespielt”. Ätzend.

    Like

    • Dieses Peinlichkeitsmoment ist genau das, auf das diese Männer bauen. Das macht mich einfach so wahnsinnig wütend, dass man seine berechtigte Wut und Empörung zurückhält – aus Angst, dass einem nicht geglaubt wird, oder weil es einfach einfacher ist, nichts zu tun.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Me too. Like you, nothing terrible. And being that bit older than you, coming of age in the 70s, happily on the pill at an early age and in a remarkably free and easy atmosphere at university, I have to be honest and say that in those days I felt I was completely in control of my life and my sexuality, and how shall I put it – I gave as good as I got.

    I had two episodes a little later that weren’t so comfortable, and about which I said nothing at the time. One: a young woman in New York for business, staying in a smart hotel, I discovered the awkwardness of dining alone. So I was grateful when a lone older ‘gentleman’ at the next table got chatting and suggested he joined me at mine. We had a pleasant dinner talking, during which he told me his story – which may we’ll have been true – about his wife who had MS. This didn’t prepare me for the assumption that when I retired to my room he would come with me… I escaped with nothing more than a red face, to my relief.

    The second occasion was during the many hours I spent traveling on crowded tube trains while working in London. One morning, pressed up against fellow travellers, I felt someone feeling me up from behind, quite unmistakably, and then pressing himself against me. But what do you do? Make a fuss and risk great embarrassment if the man denies all knowledge? I wasn’t a brave soul at that age so I said nothing, put up with it, and got off at the next stop (thus making me late for work).

    As I said, nothing terrible. Just normal? No, it shouldn’t be.

    Like

    • Oh! I forgot! When visiting Italy for the first time when I was 15, an Italian man pinched my bum when I was walking between my parents…! You have to admire their daring 😂

      Like

      • That’s the perfidious part of it. It happens in broad daylight, as if it was *normal* – and makes the victim feel as if she is *not normal* by objecting to it. Well, that’s a world ruled by men…

        Like

    • Thanks for sharing, Helen – it just goes to show that this has been going on for a while, too long, really. What always comes out of these stories, is that the victim usually feels shame and responsibility for her reaction. Whether it is calling the perpetrators out or saying nothing – we never feel comfortable with it. And because we have been through it more than once, we kind of just accept it as inevitable. I find it painful to think that all my friends have had such experiences.

      Like

  3. Powerful post. Thanks for sharing. Me too. The first one I can think of was my grade 6 teacher (I would have been 11) who when we came to talk to him would stay seated and make eye contact only with our budding chests. Then a boss at my first full time job who commented on my chest. But the worst was after I had moved from home and was at university. I had a short-lived part-time job. I needed my final cheque but my boss refused to give it to me unless I went for a drink with him. It was creepy and scary but I felt in a bad position because I needed the money. He finally gave me the cheque but then he followed me home. I had a platonic friend staying with me who for some reason thought I must want to be alone with this creepy older man so he left. I can’t even remember how I got rid of the guy but he did finally give up and leave. I felt so trapped and yet that I should have been strong enough to walk away without the money. Luckily, I haven’t been in any work positions like that since.

    Like

    • That’s another classic – the obvious chest looks. I forgot about that (probably because it is so prevalent).
      That boss – what a horrible situation to put you in. I can just imagine how he would have countered your objections by saying, ah sure, it was just a bit of fun, I was teasing her by asking for a harmless date in return for her cheque. And no, I don’t think you should blame yourself for not walking away without the money. You had *earned* that money. It was rightfully yours. He was essentially holding a ransom to make you comply. Disgusting. Horrible.

      Like

  4. Pingback: Yo también (#MeToo) – Navigating Armitage

  5. Thank you for sharing something so very personal. I will try and share my stories when I can. RL events have me off kilter. Might I add as a parent to a teenage son, share these stories with our sons. They need to know it is not OK to treat women this way. It has to start somewhere.

    Like

  6. Thank you, and yes, me too, of course. I feel still ashamed, and angry, because my shame – I did nothing wrong, apart from being a girl. But I can’t still talk about it. Nothing so awful, really. I apologize for all that viscid italian men.
    A friend of mine was harassed in Barcellona. We were there on a school trip, and we were all about 17. He was wearing a pink shirt and some drunk men yelled “maricon” and chased him to the hotel. He was very upset and we girls laughed and said “welcome in our world, honey”. Now I wonder if we harassed him too.

    Like

    • No need to apologise for Italian men, Lurkerella. They are not your responsibility. It happens anywhere – it happened to me in Germany and in Ireland, too.
      And I am very sorry that you went through something that you still feel uncomfortable thinking of and talking about. No pressure at all, btw. The #MeToo hashtag is enough. I feel for everyone who has gone through that. And of course that includes your friend or my husband who was chatted up and followed by a dirty old man in his teens, too. You didn’t harass your friend by reacting that way – it’s the way we basically learnt to deal with it, by laughing it off.

      Like

  7. Me too. Nothing horrible but prevalent throughout my life. Boobs often bumped into by men’ elbows. For years I thought it was me just taking up too much space. I was seroysky clueless. A few years ago I realized it was deliberate. Nothing like that has happened for a few years. But I am often serenaded with the “me and Mrs. Jones” song by older men leaning in way too close. Ugh! At work, once interviewd Bobby Riggs seated at a table and his hand wandered onto my knee, no matter how far I moved it away from him. I told him quietly to knock it off and he did.

    Like

    • Instead of believing you “took up too much space,” why, instead, weren’t you outraged that people didn’t—automatically, routinely, without explanation—give you the space you needed? (Men expect, and take, the space they need.) And how did you “know” that you had to speak to Riggs “quietly?” It’s all part of the grooming and the intimidation—of us, by society, to make us believe that these assaults are our fault. I suspect the attacks won’t stop until men know—because they’ve seen it with enough public examples—that we’re going to shout out loudly, “Get your hand off my leg, you asshole!” I’m not criticizing you, Kathy. Just using your examples to point out how deeply we all have internalized this shit.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I have to give a little more background to the BR story. At no time did I feel threatened. BR was about a foot shorter and decades older. I had the photographer on my other side. I gave BR the chance to back off and he did. If he had not, then I would
        have responded as you suggested. However, he was my assignment. If he had terminated the interview, my editor would have been incredulous at my “overreaction”.This was a long time ago. I was given a break by being assigned a sports story. It would have been like Gloria Steinem quitting her Playboy story because someone grabbed her ass. (Not comparing myself to her, just putting my experience in context.) We must draw a line with what we will put up with. And in those days, the line was very different than today. At least in my experience.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Love this comment. “The rules” (no matter how we feel about them) were different in the past. That doesn’t mean what was done to us was okay by any means, but rather that the rules also condition the possible responses. We should also be aware that we are in a different position now with the capacity to say more about things than was the case earlier. This shift is even noticeable from twenty or even ten years ago.

          Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing, Kathy – it just goes to show we all share this thing, anywhere we are. And it takes so many forms. It’s so hard to be explicit to a harasser and tell them their attention is neither appropriate nor wanted. Kudos to you for speaking up to BR.

      Like

  8. Pingback: The Conspiracy of Silence #MeToo | The Book of Esther

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

  10. Your account is very personal, powerful and disturbing. I’m so sorry!
    I haven’t experienced all that much, thankfully, and when I did, I instantly took revenge. At a University party, while walking up a staircase (rather steep), I felt a hand up my skirt, I instantly turn around, placed my highheeled foot on his chest and gave a little push. I regretted he wasn’t seriously hurt when he reached the bottom of the stairs, but I wouldn’t take the chance and fled into the crowd. The look of surprise on his face while he tumbler down the stairs was priceless, though.

    Like

    • Thanks. It is really encouraging to hear your story in that you took action and did not let the man get away with his harassment. Such stories are important to hear, too!

      Like

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

  12. I was moved by your stories, Guylty and felt angry on your behalf. Who ARE these men who think it’s OK to feel up a ten year old? The answer is: the guy next door, maybe even your own relatives. I was molested by more than one man in my family, when I was a child. And throughout my life, I have had experiences similar to yours. It doesn’t get better with age. Just the other day, a powerful, entitled man told me that he wouldn’t mind being in a crowded car if I would sit on his lap. He was joking, but it was not appropriate. I didn’t say anything to shut it down. We are raised to be “nice” and not cause trouble. But that’s part of the whole system, isn’t it.

    Like

    • That’s the crux with many of these stories – when it happens, it often happens in a context where it is done “jokingly”. Like your example. It’s still inappropriate, yet it feels as if we can’t call people out for it for fear of being rebuffed as someone who “can’t take a joke”. That’s how it felt when the guy slapped my bum, or when the drunk guy rubbed his bum in my crotch. I shut up and made excuses for them, sparing *their* blushes. The system does not protect *our* blushes, though.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I can’t tell you the number of times my (admittedly large) bust has come into the conversation entirely inappropriately, especially in tight working quarters such as the treatment area at my previous job. When I was pregnant both times it was worse. In fact, being pregnant was worse in general because it’s rather obvious what you’ve been doing in your off time, so there are those little “jokes” as well. Super uncomfortable. I’ve never made a big deal or even a little comment of protest. It’s especially difficult when the perpetrators are authority figures (professors, employers).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh wow, I mean, even when pregnant you have to endure inappropriate comments… And large bust or not, it is just inappropriate. I am wondering what men would think if we made remarks to their faces about their genitals.

      Like

      • Try it! No matter how obvious that it’s a non-sequitur (because that’s part of your message), force yourself to respond to offensive comments with, “I’ve noticed that your penis isn’t very large.” (Because that’s the inadequacy that all men fear.) And if you’re really bold, stare at his crotch while you say it.

        Ladies: Can we make a pact to try this the next time some man says something stupid to us? And report the results back here?

        Liked by 1 person

        • That is definitely a retort/strategy worth contemplating. I just hope I remember it next time something like this happens. (Even though I am usually not exactly a meek little thing, harassment scenes always catch me by surprise because I never expect them to happen to me. And then I am lost for words…)

          Like

  14. It’s impossible for me to “like” this post, S, it’s just not that kind of subject….. but I thank you for sharing. I’m not the kind who was ever noted for my good looks (I’m probably an acquired taste lol), but I was young and sheltered and had some uncomfortable moments that at the time I didn’t understand. People taking advantage of innocence, trust and the quality of “weaker than”- these are things that burn me up. It feels to me like a subset of bullying, a very targeted kind. I hope the open dialogue we’re experiencing will bring about real change. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good point – the “like” button feels inappropriate for such a post. You are making a good point there re. “weaker than” and bullying. It feels like socially condoned bullying on the basis of gender, behaviour that is often intended to intimidate (and often simply thoughtlessness based on centuries of entitlement). I think that the discussions in the media and the subsequent discussions which we are having with our friends and families are the first step. I am glad I wrote this piece because it made me seek out my kids and talk to them openly about the issue.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Indeed, these experiences (however little they are in comparison to other physical abuse stories) are not a grey area but clearly wrong. The whole discussion in the wake of the Weinstein revelations has really made me aware of the scale of the problem. Still a long way to go…

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Pingback: #metoo … | Well, There You Go ...

  16. Me Too ….. but my abuse came from a family member who I still have to have contact with as we both hold power of attorney status for my elderly and infirm Mum. Can’t talk about it.

    Like

    • I am really sorry to hear this, and even more so because you still have to deal with this person. No further details necessary (and it was never my intention to put pressure on people to come out with their stories. “Me Too” is enough. Thank you!

      Like

  17. It can be a really miserable world out there and really sorry you had to put up with all of that. Infuriating as well that it is still us who feel ashamed and uncomfortable when this happens in a way that prevents us from acting on it and not being the victims any more 😦 I also don’t know why men think it is appropriate to look at our boobs when we don’t feel it’s appropriate to look at their crotches when we talk to them and the like…
    I unfortunately also have similar stories, from being stalked at corners of the university building by a guy who used to expose himself and we had to ran away, to being with friends in a summer camp and having a bunch of guys try to force their way into our little wooden cottage to the point where we had to run away during the night and call the authorities of the camp to a client in an important position who was both drunk and disgusting where i ended up hiding in the secretary’s office behind a potted plant and a desk and my colleague on the other side to avoid him. At least i refused to go back were what i really wanted to do was slap him 😦 And nothing else happened , ie he was till a client and so on, at least they didn’t force me to go back when i refused. But it was a big wake up call in very early work days of what people in power positions could get away with. Add to that the observations, sometimes shouted about boobs and backside and the like. And a lot of it we just end up brushing off as we’ve come to expect that this is how the world is and that’s sad.. some legal rights we have won but some behaviours never seem to change 😦

    Like

    • Sorry you have had these experiences, too. But good for you for at least refusing to go back to see that client again. Even that takes courage because it involves explaining your refusal to your boss – which means you risk not being believed…

      Like

Let me know what you think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s