Over the last couple of weeks, you may have seen woman putting in their Facebook or Twitter status #MeToo.
If you missed this, it was women sharing that they had been subject to Sexual Harassment. What I got from this was that it wasn’t about the big stuff – domestic violence, rape, under age marriage etc etc. I felt it was about women expressing the everyday harassment that we all live with.
When I first saw this, it immediately crossed my mind that every woman could put it in their status. Even me – a middle class, white, educated, privileged woman. Although we may not have experienced the more violent side of harassment (although many have) we still live in a society that is permeated with a sense of worry and unease brought about by inequality.
I wasn’t going to write about this in my *Hidden* series, as it’s such a big and ugly subject, but I couldn’t ignore the trend and it has taken me 2 weeks to build up the courage.
We all know about the big stuff and we all know about the visible stuff – whistling building site workers, wandering hands boss, etc etc. But I want to talk about how we have absorbed it as women, without even thinking about it.
Keeping ourselves safe becomes second nature as we move into womanhood. We learn from our mothers, our peers and from our experiences how to react to harassment and how to avoid harassment and how to keep ourselves from being beaten up or raped.
Have you put your car keys in your hands when walking to your car in the dark? To not only use as a weapon, but also to get the car door open. Have you ignored whistles, comments, and just walked faster or even crossed the road before the building site, to avoid the whole situation. Have you been shocked by a comment of a senior colleague at work, but just lowered your head and not called them out, because you need the job. Did your older relatives speak a load of sexist crap, but you were taught to hold your tongue? Do you see young girls in skimpy clothes and bemoan your middle aged body, but then think, oh dear, hope they keep themselves safe?
Think about it. Think about how we are always assessing the situation for danger and how we modify our behaviour to keep ourselves out of conflict or violence. It is another thing we pile onto ourselves – along with all the other things that are whirring through women’s brains. And we don’t realise how much a part of our lives it is.
A really mundane example happened to me when I went to Italy. I had to be at the airport on the other side of London at 4am in the morning. So, I left the house at 2am. Driving along, the signs on the motorway declared that the junction I needed to exit was closed. Well I got a bit freaked out, as I have no Sat Nav. I decided to pull off the junction before and pull over and set my phone up to find my way. When I did this, I discovered that all the places to pull over were full of trucks with truck drivers sleeping. This worried me, so I decided to go further to find a place with no trucks. I didn’t notice the speed sign and as I was slightly panicking I got flashed by the speed camera and have ended up with a £100 fine.
I was telling this to the young 20-year-old man next door, about how I was frightened, and he didn’t understand – he really, really, really couldn’t comprehend it. He said that it was unlikely that anyone would have come out to beat me with a baseball bat. And I tried to explain that it wasn’t anyone beating me that I was worried about, it was someone harassing or raping me. And my ingrained built in self-preservation said that it would be stupid to pull up in a little blue car covered in flowers as a single woman at 3am beside a whole row of truckers. Probably nothing would have happened, and the truckers were probably very respectable men – but I could not put myself in that vulnerable situation.
Because if I did and something did happen, then I’m sure someone would have said it was my fault…..