Monday, 23 October 2017

#MeToo - Why is it important?

The #MeToo thing has been sweeping the internet recently; women standing up and declaring that they have suffered sexual assault or harassment and that the time has come to say 'enough is enough, no more suffering in silence'. And I know that many women have found it hard to stand up and join in. I have thought long and hard about whether to write this post and even harder about whether to press 'publish' and send it out into the world. I guess I decided that if this was important to so many women then I couldn't stand on the sidelines and remain silent.

Like almost every woman I know I have experienced sexual harassment to some degree, less so now I'm older but that's not the point here. From the older brother of a friend who thought it was ok to get us to lift our skirts and drop our knickers to the man on the bus who thought it was ok to run his hand up my thigh; from the work colleague who thought he could just reach out and grab a breast to the cold caller who thought he could call me 'love' or 'darling'. We've all known what it was like to be objectified, to be grabbed against our will, to be made to feel dirty.

I grew up in the 70s and as they say times were different then. Casual racism and sexism were facts of everyday life. Try going upstairs on the bus in a mini skirt and listen to the comments. But there was more subtle harassment going on and it didn't always come from the boys. 'You'll never get a boyfriend if you won't let them touch you', 'You'll never keep a boyfriend if you won't let him cop a feel', 'If you won't let him grope you he'll think you're frigid/a lesbian/a feminist'. All things my girlfriends told me as I was growing up. No wonder the boys thought they could do as they pleased with their hands!

But there is a more sinister side to all this. If men grow up thinking they can do whatever they want to with a woman's body then it comes as no surprise that some men don't develop a filter. They don't hear 'No' they hear 'Try harder/be firmer/force it'. For many years I heard stories from girlfriends of the times they'd had to fight off the unwanted attentions of a man, sometimes with little success. I've had many tearful conversations with girlfriends who ended up having sex with a man just to get rid of him. How terrible does that sound?

And some men take things further. I have been assaulted by a man who took no notice when I said 'No'. For years I thought it was my fault: I had fancied him, flirted with him, found myself alone with him. So it was my fault for putting myself in that position, wasn't it? No! It has taken me many years to know that, to know that it was his fault not mine, to know that I was a victim not a co-conspirator of some sort.

Of course it's all about power. The power men feel they have over women. That a woman's voice is less important, that a woman's body is not truly her own, that woman just need 'persuading' when they say 'No'. That is why it is so good to hear women across the world taking power back, saying that although these things have happened to us it's not ok and it's not cool and we won't be silent anymore.

Because that's how it all thrives, in our silence and passivity. We warn each other about the office letch, the man you never stay in a room alone with, the octopus at the office party, the dirty old man with wandering hands. We need to shout out, to confront the men who make us feel uncomfortable with their attentions, to tell the world that it's not ok and we won't stay silent anymore.

So I say these things have happened to me, they were not ok and I stand with all the women who are posting #MeToo. Together we may be able to save other women from feeling silenced and passive and powerless. 

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