why #metoo too

In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein story. social media has been covered with the #metoo hashtag,  women everywhere saying openly that they have been subject to sexual harassment or abuse, verbal intimidation, body shaming, assault and rape, everything from the stuff we are inclined to shrug off on a daily basis to life-altering physical and emotional trauma.

I took a while before I joined in, I never have with similar memes before, I’ve never felt I’d been hurt enough, or damaged, or that what I’d experienced could in any way compare to the trauma of others.

This time though I felt I should, and what’s more I feel I should tell a bit of my story. It’s not about rape, but it could have been, it’s the same attitudes, the same disregard for women as people,  the same culture  that says that we’re there to be commented on, to be touched, to be taken; that we’re there for the use, and amusement of men. How far that goes is dependent on hosts of circumstances, and reactions.

I hesitated about posting #metoo because I don’t want to claim a pain I’ve never, thank God, experienced. However I did post because the more we let the ” lesser” experiences slide, unchallenged, the more our culture, our young men, our older men think  that these things are OK, and the more that happens, the more we get to a point where one of them will cross a line, and another line…

To understand “no” in the small things means that “no” can be understood for the bigger things too.

When I was 20 I took a job in the summer holidays cleaning offices. I was working for a contract company at a government scientific facility  10 minutes walk from my home. If you know where I grew up you’ll know where I mean, but there’s no point in naming it. It was not  “their” fault any more than abuse on the tube is the fault of TfL. There were lots of things about the set-up that could improve safety, of course, but to dwell on that is to take the agency & responsibility away from the men who perpetrate.

I was working alone,  very early in the morning,  cleaning offices, meeting rooms, rooms with banks of computer racking  ( it was the 80s!). I hated it. But I didn’t  give up the job. I’d been taught not to be a quitter, plus I needed the money. I wish I could say I stuck at it because I was sticking two fingers up at the experiences I had, but the reality is I stayed because  I didn’t want to make a fuss.

I hated not knowing when I’d encounter someone,  the early workers, the intense, focused research students with the awkward conversations. The men avoiding the school run, and gaining some quiet time in the office.

I hated not knowing if I’d be trapped in a room again, with a man standing over the door, asking me questions I didn’t want to answer.

I hated not knowing if the owner of the office I was hoovering would suddenly arrive, shut the door and comment on how I handled the hoover nozzle. or press up behind me when I was emptying the bin.

I hated the fact that the woman who found me composing myself in the loos could only ask what an ” attractive Cambridge undergraduate” was doing cleaning offices, and I didn’t want to tell her how her colleagues behaved.

I hated the fact that walking down long corridors in an empty building made my heart beat faster, and still does, because there were too many doors, and too many places to get hidden.

I hate the fact that I never told anyone, that my parents probably thought I was just a bit lazy when I wished I didn’t have to go in.

I hate the fact I didn’t talk to the friends who had got the job with me and probably suffered the same thing in different parts of the complex, and yet we didn’t speak of it. I still feel guilty about that.

I don’t think I told anyone about it for 20 years,  it was horrible, but you know, it hadn’t been rape, it hadn’t been serious.

As I’ve aged,  I’ve seen my daughters and their friends navigate this crap too, and the catcalling and the comments and the casual sexism seems to get worse, not better. I’ve dealt with comments and suggestions even in the church from people who should know far far better and who carry authority and influence they’ve demeaned by their behaviour.

I’ve come to realise that all of this is part of the same problem. It’s about how we value each other, how men value women, and indeed vice versa,  how power, and perceived power is twisted and used, whether verbally, emotionally, or physically.

I’ve come to realise that if we don’t stand up and talk about the ” minor” stuff, we don’t stand a hope of dealing with the major.

If we don’t call out the wolf whistles, the touches, the intimidation on public transport, and at work,  the “locker room” comments and the inappropriate dance floor moves, then we won’t change this culture.

#metoo is not about attention seeking, no one wants to relive this stuff, it’s not about women comparing  – my trauma trumps your trauma, it’s about recognising we have a problem in our culture,  a problem that needs facing up to and dealing with root & branch.

We need to unpack and dismantle the culture that gives permission for anyone to be considered less than another, that enables power to be wielded in damaging and abusive ways. Language matters, “banter” rarely is,  objectification,  possessiveness, and entitlement need a zero tolerance approach.

If we speak out now, our daughters and our sons will thank us for it.







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