Rage to the left of me. Outrage to the right. Here I am.
I rarely comment on the situation in Israel for so many reasons. This post is not about my position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is about how I’m more often than not, too scared to voice it. For fear of being shouted down by either and both sides.
Last time I wrote anything remotely linked to the Middle East and the conflict that simply won’t end, it was about a small Israeli theatre and dance company show being cancelled in Edinburgh after pro-Palestinian groups protested.
The hypocrisy and singling out of Israel for this kind of boycotting to the point of danger so it meant cancellation (or as I saw it, caving to the threat of violence) was what pushed me to write about it with great sadness sitting in a heavy heart. Sadness for the silencing of artistic voices who did not deserve to bear punishment for actions of their government. Just as Palestinian civilians don’t deserve to bear punishment for their government, who act violently upon clear and self declared terrorist motives.
There is no place for the middle ground in this conflict. There is no time for a moderate opinion, one that sees the treatment of Palestinian people in Gaza and says that both the Israeli government and Hamas should be doing better than this for everyone’s sake. The middle ground sees a shared responsibility. But historically, these two groups of people share nothing but the fight. The centrist view sees that we are too deeply into a decades long conflict to take any individual incident in isolation or to try and unpick the threads that have led to this tangled mess. Every action is a reaction to something and so often it goes all the way back to what is seen as the beginning in 1948. But to ignore the historical context of the forming of the state of Israel is irresponsible and a disservice to the Jews who were systematically slaughtered between 1939 and 1945. The forming of the state of Israel was not the beginning, the extreme antisemitism leading to the highly organised extermination of Jews was. It is the height of hypocrisy to call for human rights action while ignoring what Israel started as – one of the largest havens in history after one of the worst atrocities, so terrible it gained its own word; holocaust.
To ignore the many offers of peace deals that were rejected is to rewrite history. But to ignore the suffering of people who have a governing body that runs on terror and corruption is to deny reality and avoid our own collective moral compass. To fall back on the holocaust as a reason why we cannot do better today is a disservice to ourselves and to the memory of those who perished. But we should not forget either. To forget is to erase and to erase gives way to real danger.
There is no space to find the balance of those huge things. There is no space for squaring past inflicted inhumanity with finding humanity now. There is no space to see that Israel as a country must protect the lives of its people but that the Palestinian civilian lives are just as worthy of protection. A life is a life is a life.
When online expression is one of the most frequently used and public forms of communication, it is hard to imagine that there might not be space for something. But I am too afraid to post about my sadness when there are deaths on both sides. I am nervous to express my frustration at organisations who gloss over Israel’s responsibility to constantly reassess the measure of its response to potential and enacted threats, while simultaneously expressing my frustration with groups who support terrorist activities and deny documented history, while also wanting to express my sadness and frustration that there are people who feel so desperate, living in an environment so toxic that they resort to acts of terror, so immersed in this ideology of hate that they are convinced it is worth sacrificing their own lives in attacks that result in their suicide. There’s more of course. Bigger feelings, sadder statements on both sides and there is no sentence long enough to encompass them all. So uncharacteristically, I shut up.
My thoughts are tangled and sometimes it feels like there is not enough space in my head nor out of it to express a compassionate but uncompromisingly honest middle ground. Certainly not one that anyone who takes a firm one side or the other position will hear. Sometimes I struggle to hear it because it goes round and round and on and on and the thoughts circle but do not land anywhere except they keep trying to do the impossible and be on both sides.
There is no room made for those who want to shine a light onto both sides and bring both sets of agendas and operations out of the shadows and into that light. There is legitimate fear. There is death. But there is no meeting in the middle.
In an extreme situation, only extreme opinions are welcome. You’re either for or against, there is no in between so get off that fence. To show moderation is weakness. I find when I do talk about this, I’m always taking the other side to the person I’m speaking to because if they’re further along the scale in one direction than I am, I feel compelled to point out the other side. There are staunchly pro-Israel people who would describe me as a Palestinian sympathiser and ally. There are fully Palestinian supporters who would describe me as their enemy. I feel I am neither and perhaps I am both. I am not on the fence for there is no fence. I am in no man’s land.
I don’t post my moderation because when I see others bravely try, it only elicits shouting from both sides, incendiary comments and inflammatory statements. Of course there is some support but mostly it descends into heels dug in, insults and a shut down on hearing the other side.
I hear of people with their bags packed waiting to see if they’ll have to leave the UK because they don’t feel safe here. Where will they go? To Israel, where they’ll feel safer and will be accepted. Jews fleeing for safety was the very reason for which the state of Israel was built after all. I see people declaring how no one understands Israel and we should not judge what we do not know. I see all Jews being branded as murderers for believing in the right of the state of Israel to exist because of what happened to their grandparents or Torah or a whole bunch of other reasons. I see this branding from the same people who claim they’re definitely not anti-Semitic, just anti-Israel. For every point one side can make the other side has 7 statements that start with “Yes but what about….” and this goes both ways because the conflict is long and messy and tangled and you cannot untie it. You cannot undo it. It is too late for that, when so much has been done. I see people over simplifying to the point of absurdity. If it were simple would we, the world, not have fixed it by now? We will not and cannot know the full story for it extends backwards and forwards in time, on and on and on and we are not there. We do not know.
People wait to hear what will happen. The question hangs in the air – will the Jews align to condemn or condone Israel? The feeling I get from outside the community is that we’re all somehow responsible, somehow united. But are we? The expectation is that one Jew with one opinion will speak for us all but how can that ever be true? Have we learned nothing from the division on our own turf with our own politics? Outside the Jewish community it feels as if you can only be accepted as a Jew if you renounce ties to Israel and condemn everything they do. Inside the community it sometimes feels as if you’re branded a traitor or self-hater if you don’t support Israel’s every move. Typically, you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. And at the same time as wondering how I could be deemed physically responsible for this, I do feel part of that collective moral responsibility. There is no way to win for the moderate, thinking Jew.
When you stand in the middle of such a conflict and look both ways it is hard to find hope. There is fury and there is fear. Righteous indignation runs through the veins of both groups of people whose lives are lived against the backdrop of a living volcano made from layers of human lava. There are beacons of compassion in some organisations and people who work with people on the ground to build community bridges but it seems to me that this will not be fixed from the bottom up and those at the top are so far removed they can’t hear us. We cannot control what either side does. We cannot control what a country such as America does, when they choose to stoke the fire and feed the flames.
I do not post about this much because I feel like I will never know enough to feel confident putting something out for the world to see. It is too hard to unpack and write coherently all the conflicting feelings I have and try to justify them all. I can turn it over and over and over in my mind but I cannot fix it. My opinions, my feelings do nothing and leave me feeling impotent and ignorant and wrong whichever way I turn because there’s always the other side. I have no impact on a conflict a continent away. My prayers for peace are not heard and no one cares what I think really anyway. It is hubris to suggest otherwise. This is not to say that one should do nothing, rather that I do not know what is to be done.
My younger brother is in the Israeli army and I can’t decide what scares me more – the fact that he will face terrorist groups or the fact that he will hold a gun that he is trained to use while he does it.
Yesterday in a stunning move of are you fricking serious, PepsiCo – owner of Doritos – announced #Ladydoritos. This move initially sounded like it must be a joke because I don’t know if you’ve heard but we’re in 2018 and we’ve never needed lady crisps before (can we call them crisps? I know academically that they’re tortilla chips but calling them just chips feels more Americanised than I’m fully Britishly comfortable with) and it’s starting to feel like someone got a bunch of creatives in the room and set them the task of finding fresh and innovative ways to ruin literally anything and just crowbar those patriarchal stereotypes right on in. I don’t believe Jeff from marketing sitting on the back table was serious when he said “crisps without the crunch for the ladies”, I believe he was just seeing how far he could take the joke but nope here we are and Jeff is probably living an emotional rollercoaster of feeling like he’s totally nailing life followed by a sinking feeling that he might get fired for the backlash.
Anyway the point is that this article (which I’m going to quote extensively) from the New York Post made its way onto my newsfeed telling me in the headline “Doritos to make ‘lady-friendly chips that don’t crunch for women” so I didn’t bother opening it. I rolled my eyes and continued about my day living grumpily as a sceptical woman in the patriarchy. Because doesn’t it sound utterly ridiculous? Isn’t half the point of crisps that they crunch? I mean, they’re literally called crisps ffs. It’s in the name. To me it just suggests that they’re going to make soggy pieces of something in a bag and I don’t believe anyone of any gender wants that. So I mostly ignored it because I thought the mild uproar and sarcastic comments would pretty much be covered by other people. I like to comment when I feel like I’ve got something useful to say and to be honest, I don’t even like crisps so I didn’t think I’d be adding anything that wouldn’t have already been said.
Then I was nudged by a friend into bothering to open and read the article and I saw that this wasn’t a weird assumption that they’d arrived at by chance or jest – no. This was actually researched and women apparently “do not like to crunch loudly or lick their fingers when eating in front of others” according to Global chief exec Indra Nooyi who took time out of her busy 1952 schedule to visit us in the 21st century.
Indra also provided this gem: “You watch a lot of the young guys eat the chips, they love their Doritos, and they lick their fingers with great glee, and when they reach the bottom of the bag they pour the little broken pieces into their mouth, because they don’t want to lose that taste of the flavor [sic], and the broken chips in the bottom. Women would love to do the same, but they don’t. They don’t like to crunch too loudly in public. And they don’t lick their fingers.”
WHEN DO YOU EVER WATCH A LOT OF YOUNG GUYS EATING TORTILLA CHIPS? WHERE? ARE YOU HIDING IN BUSHES WITH BINOCULARS INDRA? I LITERALLY NEVER DO THIS. ARE WE SUGGESTING THAT THE TARGET MARKET RESEARCH GROUP FOR THIS WAS A BUNCH OF PORN STARS MAKING SOME KIND OF CRISP BASED PORNOGRAPHY? I CANNOT IMAGINE HOW THEY THINK THEY KNOW THIS. THERE IS A LOT I DON’T UNDERSTAND HERE.
Also have they ever even been anywhere in public? I have definitely seen women pouring crisps into their mouths and getting to the crumbs at the bottom. In my just-as-valid-and-controlled-as-theirs research.
And finally: “It’s not a male and female as much as ‘are there snacks for women that can be designed and packaged differently?’ And yes, we are looking at it, and we’re getting ready to launch a bunch of them soon.”
That is literally “a male and female” you utterly bullshit ridden buffoons.
So I made some snarky comments like “I’m not ashamed of pouring in public, I’d like to do some pouring of crisps but onto Indra Nooyi’s face” and also pointed out that today is 100 years since women got the vote in Britain and right now we’re fighting against patronising crap like PepsiCo trying to give us unnecessary #LadyDoritos. If we’ve got equality in voting surely we can have equality in tortilla chips? Right? Guys? Hello?
Oh you couldn’t hear me over all my manly chip crunching? YOU’RE WRONG I HAVE EXCELLENT DICTION AND THIS IS WRITTEN DOWN.
Stuff like that, laden with snark and general displeasure and designed to make you laugh and grimace at the stupidity of it all. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that something more is afoot here.
Because I thought about it and actually I do believe the (presumably uncontrolled and mostly anecdotal) research. It probably did show that women don’t like to lick their fingers or pour crumbs into their open mouths in public. I believe that there is a self consciousness around eating that is prevalent and predominantly felt by women. I believe what they’re saying – not that women want soft crisps (idiots, no one wants that) but that women do feel a pressure to maintain an outdated, yet weirdly ingrained demure image. I believe that women have been made to feel that relishing and enjoying food is unattractive. And of course, we have been conditioned to believe that we must be attractive at all times. However will we feel any self worth if we are not struggling to squeeze ourselves into society’s godawful tiny, contradictory, narrow, unattainable frame of what a woman should be? We are constantly told we should be given less. The size of the bags will now be designed to fit into women’s handbags…but this is bizarre and nonsensical too. Loads of men don’t carry bags AT ALL* and I don’t see Pepsi trying to make pocket sized Doritos. Women’s bags are often huge – if anything we should be getting an even bigger pack! The justification here doesn’t make sense. If I wanted them, why would I choose to buy a small bag of soft crisps when I could buy a big bag of crunchy ones? Women are being utterly shafted by sexism and it’s a problem of the patriarchy’s own making. And once again we’re being told to eat differently, eat less, that’s not for women (incidentally, you don’t want to get me started on Yorkies) it’s just for men because it’s big and crunchy and might taste good or make a bit of a mess. God forbid a woman should look anything less than impossibly perfect at all times. God forbid a woman should just enjoy a snack without giving a shit about how she looks eating it, who is judging her or what calories are in it. Men are so confident about their public appearances they literally whip out their dicks and piss in the street on the reg. Women can’t even eat a packet of shit crisps without being judged negatively and given a poor substitute that we don’t even want. And why? Just because people think we don’t go for the crumbs at the end of the pack? Or because they don’t want us to?
The bottom line for me is:
The patriarchy has created a situation. The patriarchy now perceives it to be a problem. The patriarchy has created a solution that fits its own agenda of keeping men and women divided and in the process, giving women less and making women less.
It’s really easy to dismiss something like this as irrelevant or unimportant, but it ties into the bigger picture. So much of continuously fighting for equality for women does. We can have a laugh about this one sure, but we mustn’t forget where it’s really coming from and why there’s a pretty shady layer of dark misogyny underneath it all. Because if women were constantly taught not to care about our appearances so much, if we were told to source our self worth and value somewhere internally rather than from others’ perceptions of us, what would all these companies do? They wouldn’t be able to exploit our self conscious insecurities any more, that’s for sure. So don’t let them bullshit us with this nonsense. It’s 2018 already – this stuff is getting *really* old.
*BECAUSE POCKETS ARE ALSO A FEMINIST ISSUE. Just think – if we weren’t told we need to carry so much bloody stuff around with us all the time we wouldn’t need bags. If we had decent pockets on our clothing we’d be able to put all we actually need into them. If we had pockets that were equal in usefulness to men’s pockets no one would suggest making handbag sized things but if they did they’d be bigger and more glorious and generally better and not smaller, shitter patronising flavoured
crisps soggy tortilla chips with an aftertaste of sexism. PUT THAT IN YOUR POCKET AND SET FIRE TO IT.
The Financial Times have done a piece of undercover journalism that you might think happened in 1958 but in fact occurred in 2018. In case you haven’t seen it, you can read it here – they’ve dropped the paywall so off you go, no excuses now.
It’s been written carefully enough so that although people have been named and shamed, no one has been directly accused of anything and there is even a disclaimer to say that the seating plan the Financial Times has seen is not a guaranteed understanding of the list of actual attendees. But to be honest I don’t care. It’s enough of a totally galling blow to the concept of respect for women or treating us like humans that this event exists. It’s enough that the men invited are at the tops of their fields, are influencers and big names. It’s enough that the only women who are in the room are the ones who are there for entertainment, for display. It is enough that this event has existed for 33 years in whatever iterations it has been and not one of those men has ever thought to blow the whistle. For. Shame. All of them should feel as sick about themselves as I do.
While reading this article I kept thinking “oh it can’t get worse, can it?”
But of course, it can. You’d think I wouldn’t be quite so naive as to think that all those things are enough. The exposé mentions that the dinner raised more than two million pounds for charity…but what is the cost of that? Sure, these men are cracking out their cheque books and bidding on mostly innocuous high end prizes (the slogan “spice up your wife” for the plastic surgery prize was a fresh wave of totally disrespectful, reductive to women nausea) but who is really paying the price of this event for these charities? Because to me it looks like that money comes at the cost of the safety of 130 young women. Someone might bid £400 000 on
feeding his ego sorry, on naming a children’s hospital wing after himself, but if he’s doing it while sticking his hand up an 18 year old’s skirt who thought she was coming to do a black tie event as a hostess…doesn’t that somehow defeat the point?
“Oh but it’s not the men’s fault that there are young women there” – sure, the men didn’t hire them and we’ll come on to who did in a minute, but it’s funny because I’ve been in a workplace or a restaurant before as a customer or an employee or a visitor. I’ve never felt the need to grope someone. I’ve never felt the need or the desire really to just sexually assault and harass someone while they offer me a drink. You’d think these moguls and businessmen might be able to take some kind of responsibility for their actions right? We all get to decide how we behave. One of them could have blown the whistle. One of them could have decided this wasn’t an acceptable way to treat other human beings. I’ve also worked as a hostess for events before but you know what? I’ve never had someone stick their hand up my skirt while I’m offering round canapés and been told that “it’s a Marmite job. Some girls love it, and for other girls it’s the worst job of their life and they will never do it again” by the woman who has hired me. As if I’m supposed to just take it as part of acceptable working conditions.
So speaking of Caroline Dandridge…I find it really hard to contain my loathing of this person. To put it bluntly, what kind of person, what kind of woman sends young women into an environment where there is such a high risk of them being sexually assaulted, they’re basically meant to expect it? Except they’re not. The men are referred to as “annoying”. Not “harassing you and illegally touching your body without consent.” Not “in an environment set up for them to feel like they’re allowed to commit a sexual crime.” Just “annoying”. I can think of lots of things that are annoying – people humming, public transport being delayed, when I leave the house without an umbrella because it’s sunny but then the weather changes really quickly and suddenly it starts to rain and I wish I had that umbrella. Those are all prime examples of annoying things. You know what’s not annoying Caroline? It’s when you go to work as a young woman expecting to serve drinks and instead of that you get groped and touched against your will.
But it’s ok everyone, it’s ok because Caroline Dandridge’s organisation Artista has what the Financial Times calls “an enforcement team” and when you read that phrase you think “oh phew, good they’ve got people in place to protect the young women in case things get out of hand” but no that’s actually not what they’re for. They’re there “prodding less active hostesses to interact with dinner guests”. So the enforcement team are there to make sure the young women don’t take themselves out of an uncomfortable or difficult situation where they feel their personal safety is compromised. The enforcement team are there to make sure the women don’t escape to safety or take a break from being physically violated.
“Maybe they can go to the toilets!” You might think, in a desperate attempt to find a place of respite. Yes! Good idea – the toilet! That’s a place where for decades women have sought refuge, hidden and cried and regrouped themselves to return to the battle that is working and living in the patriarchy. The toilet – that will feel safe. They can hide there for 10 minutes and-Nope. According to the report from the Financial Times:
“Outside the women’s toilets a monitoring system was in place: women who spent too long were called out and led back to the ballroom. A security guard at the door was on hand, keeping time.”
Oh did I mention also that their phones are taken away? But if something awful does go down, they’re told by Caroline Dandridge to contact her except she phrases it as “if any of the men become too annoying”. How does she want them to contact her? By pigeon? By standing a minute and looking for her? Oh no wait, stand for too long and you’ll be hustled by someone throwing you back into the threatening situation you’re trying to leave. This woman has systematically stripped 130 young women of their ability to have any kind of safety. She’s taken away their ability to rest for a minute and regroup. She’s timing them on the toilets. No partners are allowed at the event. No support system. And she’s taken away their phones. So no outside contact or ability to call for outside help. This woman has single handedly enabled a room full of already entitled men to take advantage of women who are younger and more vulnerable than them. Caroline Dandridge tells them their phones will be “safely locked away” but there’s nothing safe about it. Well OK maybe the phones will be safe, but the women certainly won’t be.
“But these women are choosing to be there and some of them have done it before and some of them love it!” I hear you defend. You might be right. Some of them probably need the money and make that choice knowingly. And some of them are strong enough to draw their own lines and decide what they do and don’t want and will be confident enough to say no when it’s too much. And some of them weigh up the choices and decide that even if they hate it maybe it won’t be so bad. But to me it sounds like it would be horrific. I mean, I’m not tall or particularly thin so I’d never make the cut but tables of older, rich and entitled men who think that because they have enough money they’re entitled to touch me wherever and however they want, who are then put into a room where they’re basically told that yes this is true…that’s a combination of about 7 different nightmares for me. These are men who have real power, real influence and could be part of more than just giving money to places. These are men who could be part of a social change, who could ensure their companies and spaces are safe not just for men but for women too. I don’t know what it’s like to be a man but if I were in that room and I knew that there were women being touched in ways they don’t want I couldn’t sit back and let it happen. I couldn’t just keep presenting or eating or standing there. I’d feel a sense of responsibility to them.
This is not the same as sex work or the sex industry. Because I imagine for this “black tie event” the job description doesn’t outline the need to accept a man groping you as part of your duties. There are many varying circumstances around sex work but I think generally the people know they’re going to do a job that involves some kind of sexual interaction. I don’t think that’s the case here and if it were made clear from the start I wonder how many legal ramifications Artista would run into. I wonder how many applicants they’d get. I wonder if the whole event would still want to run this way if they admitted openly what they’re doing and how they’re operating, if they directly addressed what they’re expecting of the young women who come to work there and what they’re allowing and enabling for the men who leer at them. This event happens and keeps happening because it’s allowed to be a well kept secret. The men won’t tell and the women have to sign non-disclosure agreements, so they can’t tell…or at least not without serious legal and probably financial consequences. I don’t imagine any of the “students…actresses, dancers or models [who] did occasional hosting work to make ends meet” can afford those kinds of consequences.
There are so many points of disgust for me that I could go on. I could write thousands of words about the power imbalance, the system, the patriarchy, how women are set up again and again to be taken advantage of and used and disregarded as people. But I have to end somewhere. So my final port of call is to commend the two women who went undercover and reported on the event. The women who may or may not have known what they were in for, the women who had to be “tall, thin and pretty” (the three criteria us women must have for any job of course) for £150 for a night’s work plus £25 for a taxi home. The undercover reporters who may well be those three perfectly fine things to be but who had to reduce themselves to be seen as being only those things for the sake of this job. And what a totally fantastic job they have done. If this were a show I’d be on my feet applauding and I don’t think everyone deserves a standing ovation. But these women do and I hope the consequence of their stellar reporting is that this event is brought to its knees. I hope that at every point there are people who will take a stand – the organisers, the supporters, the members and the charities who benefit from this event. I hope they all rethink what they’re doing; why they feel the need to behave this way and why they want to treat young women in this way.
I hope they raise even more money next year by inviting women to sit at the tables, rather than parading them to grope and sexually harass in their evening’s workplace.
Update: within hours of the story breaking but after I wrote this piece, it was announced that the Presidents Club will no longer be operating as a fundraising body and the charity dinner will not be held again.
A few years ago, I went to a wedding and was sat next to a guy whose name is being changed to David because even though he didn’t respect my physical space or the law of consent, I respect privacy and the laws of defamation. I’ve actually written about him before but this is a brief summary of what happened:
He – a man I knew only as an acquaintance – grabbed my breast under the pretext of tickling under my arm when I happened to lift it. I had given consent for neither of these attempts at intimate physical contact. He did this at a wedding dinner. He did this in front of his wife to whom he’d been married for 6 weeks. He did this at a full table of wedding guests.
When I yelled at him, humiliated and shocked, he laughed. I was told to calm down and not make scene. I was shushed. His wife rolled her eyes and said nothing.
Everyone. Said. Nothing.
When I told a friend of mine about it a couple of days later, she shrugged and said “That’s David.” As if that makes it OK. That’s just who he is and we all accept it and allow it and what can you do?
It is being reported that people are coming forward now in higher numbers about Harvey Weinstein. The implication from these reports, to me anyway, is that Harvey had so much money, power, influence and privilege and that’s why no one spoke up. I understand he was intimidating and people were afraid for their careers..but David wasn’t intimidating. He was an extremely privileged, entitled shit. To me David and Harvey are interchangeable because although he was no Harvey Weinstein, the attitude is the same – we know what he’s like but we say nothing.
And so to Harvey – countless assaults, harassments even rapes later and you have a man who is serially high on his own power. He is above the law because everyone else has let him be. It is constantly reinforced that he can do whatever he wants because…he already is doing whatever he wants, however he wants. So he makes women uncomfortable, he takes from them whatever he desires. Their desires or consent don’t enter into it. Isn’t it funny how we talk about consent? As if it’s a social requirement and not a legal one. There are numerous reports of him ignoring consent, threatening careers, paying 8 women off and now multiple allegations of rape are emerging. This man hasn’t broken social etiquette, he has broken the law. And people let him. Just as people let David assault me with a classic shushing of the angry woman and an apologetic shrug of their shoulders at him.
In 2015 Courtney Love was asked if she has any advice for aspiring young actresses in Hollywood. Her response, caught on film is
“I’ll get libelled if I say it…” (She looks around furtively)
“If Harvey Weinstein invites you to a private party in the Four Seasons, don’t go.”
That was two years ago.
Now people like Colin Firth who knew 25 years ago are coming out and saying they feel guilty. This is Colin Firth’s statement in the Guardian
“I am extremely pleased that Sophie [Dix] is speaking out after so many years,” he said. “I ran into her at a party some time after filming Hour of the Pig – around 25 years ago. What I heard, it turns out, was part of a horrifying pattern. Other women have been hurt since. And those of us who didn’t act on our one bit of knowledge – and especially those of us who went on to work with Weinstein – have that on our conscience. I admire Sophie’s courage. This can’t have been easy.”
Good. He’s right. He and everyone else who knew should feel guilty.
From the moment they knew what was happening and stayed silent they became complicit in his acts. They became partially responsible for every future sexual assault, for every possible rape, for every moment a woman was invited to see Harvey Weinstein and made to feel small or threatened or abused because the people who knew allowed it to keep happening. Many of these people have power in their own right. Many of these people could have prevented years of this. Every one of these people stayed silent.
I understand that 25 years ago Colin and the rest of Hollywood didn’t have the Internet as we do now, so public exposure wouldn’t have been as widespread and instantaneous. It shouldn’t matter. I understand that 25 years ago it was a different time and everyone just accepted that women get sexually harassed as part of their daily lives. I don’t even need to comment on why that’s so fucked up. But the list of women speaking up now is much longer than it could have been. More than 30 women have come forward. Women who are actors, producers, established or up and coming. There are stories of women pairing up to go to meetings with him to protect each other. People knew what was happening.
Some of the reports are focusing on how unattractive he is and suggesting that it’s all much worse because he’s old and ugly. So…if he were young and fit this would be fine? His physical appearance is totally irrelevant. We’re still perpetuating such problematic narratives and ignoring that this happens everywhere, all the time at multiple levels. If you look at social media today you’ll see #metoo filling up a lot of timelines. You’ll see a lot of women speaking out about their experiences. It’s an attempt at progress – the idea that all women who have experienced sexual harassment or assault or even rape come out into the open about it and break the taboo of silence that exists around such acts is great. It’s intended to show how many of us have been subjected to this kind of abusive treatment and don’t talk about it all the time. That all of us have encountered a Harvey Weinstein of sorts and all of us have stayed silent and allowed it to pass. It’s a great, brave idea until you realise that it’s not so easy for all women to do, it’s putting the onus on women (again) and is quite a flippant way for some to share what might be deeply personal and traumatic experiences. For more information on that read this article, “Don’t you think we’ve done enough? by Elisheva Sokolic. Reports suggest that this whole business with Harvey Weinstein was one of the worst kept secrets, known by half of Hollywood. Comedian Andy Hamilton appeared on ‘Have I Got News For You’ this week and he said on Harvey claiming to be fighting his demons:
“Rich people have demons, poor people go to prison.”
If he didn’t have money he’d be a convicted sex offender by now. This is one of the most powerful men in Hollywood and he is finally falling backwards over the mountain of women who have built up as he thought he had trampled over them. I’m so glad they’ve finally risen up and toppled him over.
There are at least 8 women who have been paid for their silence. It’s hard to know how to feel about these people who threatened or tried and failed to stand up to a bully. Sometimes it’s not possible to speak out. If you have no support network, or the powerful party threatens to ruin your life by overwhelming you with their resources, burying you in debt and legal procedure, I imagine it can feel impossible to fight back. The mental strain of this on top of the ordeal you’ve been through – a violation of your body and rights – can be too much. On the other hand they played into his narrative of being above the law and untouchable. With enough money you can buy off any problem.
So if you can speak up against this kind of abusive, illegal behaviour you must.
You must because you can and someone else can’t.
You must because you could be, no, almost certainly will be saving the person going into that hotel meeting room after you. The one who doesn’t have a buddy to go with her. The one who hasn’t been let in on this sickening secret…yet.
It’s preventable. It really is. I am certain we all know someone who treats people worse than they should. But that person still has friends, lives their life as if they are entitled to be however they choose. They see no consequences to treating women like pieces of free meat to which they can help themselves.
We have a collective responsibility to act if we can, when we know of such things, when we see them or hear of them. We must break this culture of silence around so many issues. In this case it’s sexual assault.
My grandma sometimes says to me, “Silence means assent” and frankly it’s a really creepy phrase that’s always bothered me but in this case it’s true. Staying silent says “Yes that’s allowed” to the actions of an industry-known sexual predator. Staying silent says yes to David and the men who thoughtlessly leer, catcall, whistle, harass, grab, abuse, assault, rape, demean, pressure, threaten, intimidate, reduce and chip away at women.
It’s endemic, woven into the fabric of our society that this happens and we say nothing. We are afraid of the consequences of whistle blowing but we should be more afraid of the consequences of not whistle blowing, for they are far more sinister. It happens and it happens and it happens again. It is not good enough to know and do nothing to help. It is not acceptable to come out, but only after 20 other people did, with utterly impotent regret. Now, when we all know about it and it’s safe when in reality it’s been safe enough for those people for years, they suddenly jump on the bandwagon already full of people who did nothing.
So to the silent bystander who does not speak out against the things they know are wrong –
You are not as bad as the perpetrator but you are not much better. You are an enabler. Your silence enables someone to hurt others.
You have power, more than you know. So what will you do with it?
If you can, I urge you to speak out. If you can’t I hope you know someone who can and that they do.
We are all responsible for what happens around us when we have knowledge of it. We must do better than this.
And no… it was not in a Bey way. Not all of us are #Flawless upon arising. In fact I would say many of us wake up, get through the day and go to sleep again as deeply flawed human beings.
Within one minute of waking up I was inexplicably crying. Four bouts of tears later, holding a coffee and a pastry as I walked up the hill trying to get my shit together, I realised something. This was an achievement. Yes, this basic walking up the hill to work business was in fact something to be proud of. And all the steps before it were too.
Here is the list of things I did before that point that I believe were worthy of encouragement, congratulations and metaphorical pats on the back. They might not be every day but they really were today:
- I managed to make it out of bed – this one is particularly impressive because I did really want to stay there and sleep for the whole day.
- I got dressed
I brushed my teeth and hair (yay hygiene and grooming!)
- I took a raincoat just in case (indicates an intention to make it to outside)
- I took 2 different outfit options for my important meeting. It wasn’t even a fashion show meeting
- I didn’t cancel said meeting even though I thought quite seriously about not going to it
It may sound patronising and if you’ve never experienced anxiety you might not understand but something happens to your brain when the anxiety shit hits the functioning human in life fan. These basic things felt like the most daunting tasks in the world when my alarm went off this morning. They couldn’t possibly be done. I couldn’t do them. I didn’t have the supreme amount of superhuman energy it would take just to get my sad behind out of bed.
I managed it. I did all of those things that most days take no thought at all and today took a careful strategy of gentle encouragement, talking myself through each task. And then after I got to work I did a whole load more, one thing at a time.
The goal posts of achievement have to change when your brain decides that it’s going to fold in on itself and flat out refuse to function for no apparent reason.
“Come on,” I reason with it. “Just tell me why I feel like this and we can all get on with our day. If you’re not going to work properly at least tell me why!”
Nope. Nothing. I can’t even figure it out for myself, let alone other people. Cue two more lots of crying once actually at work when lovely, kind people in the office ask if I’m OK. It’s actually really frustrating because I’d really like to know what my brain is doing but IT JUST WON’T TELL ME. So I can’t tell you. Maybe it’s stress? Is it stress? Well I do have a lot of work to do at the moment so maybe I should sit down and try to do some of that. Great. Now how do I get rid of this paralysing feeling of dread and fear in me that makes me feel like I can’t do anything? I can’t concentrate. And the longer I don’t do any work, the more work I feel I have piling up with less and less time in which to get it done. This doesn’t make any sense. I’m becoming my own worst enemy and I’m stuck in a horrible vicious circle.
And you know what else? It’s totally counter intuitive to be your own worst enemy when you know you have to go to work and present your best self in an important meeting where impressions are everything, and I’m not talking about the kind where you put on the strong accent and pretend to be Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver (“You talkin to me?“)
So you move the goal posts. You say “It’s not going to be a normal day today. And that’s OK.” And you forgive yourself. You forgive yourself for not being perfect and happy all the time. You forgive yourself for being sad and not even finding the reason. You tell yourself you’ll do your best, whatever that looks like today and that will have to be enough. And then you hope that other people will forgive you too and understand that you showed up today when it really looked like you wouldn’t. That your achievements look different today compared to another day or another person. But they still count. And you should be the one counting them because you did that, all by yourself. Well done you. Well done me.
I got through a horrible anxiety day today. Maybe tomorrow will be better.
Here comes the Summer sun.
And with it the looks, the stares, not to mention the hi fives (directed at my arse),
The ever tiresome catcalls, so frequent they
Blend into the background of cars and buses and
The layers removed to head turns and whistles
As jumpers come off and men come on
To women who just want to walk to work.
The gazes are returned with eye rolls or hair flicks or
Tiny tensing shoulder shrugs.
And yet it doesn’t put you off.
Look, I can’t stop you.
And I’m not looking at you…that is
Until I feel your eyes on me and suddenly my arms want to close my shirt
And wrap my scarf tighter around my neck to hide my breasts,
My lips curl in a sneer and my eyes narrow in disgust,
My legs move a little faster as my entire body viscerally reacts to your entitled gaze.
a top and leggings and- A baggy t-shirt or A dress Jeans and shoes
It shouldn’t matter what I’m wearing.
It doesn’t matter what I’m wearing.
The reaction is always the same.
You don’t have my permission to make me feel undressed
When I am fully clothed in the street.
I know some women like it or don’t mind it or don’t say anything even if they hate it.
I know some women want to feel like they’ve still got it, that it’s a compliment, appreciation,
As if they’ve aged so much that they’ve stopped being human
And instead become a piece of meat,
As if self esteem is measured in whistles or length of stares.
As if value and worth depreciate, inversely proportional with age.
But I don’t get dressed in the morning for you.
I don’t show more skin in the summer so you can see it.
I don’t imagine how you’ll react to my body or the clothing around it when I walk down the road
Because I don’t care what you think or want from the women, the strangers who walk past you in the street.
My life, my body, my decisions
Are not about you.
Because I don’t know you. I owe you nothing. You are entitled to nothing of me. And yet you act so entirely entitled.
Look, I can’t stop you looking.
But I would if I could.
If I knew a magic clothing formula to stop you staring I’d probably wear it every day.
Even while I know it shouldn’t be on me – the responsibility to clothe myself “responsibly”, responsively.
I don’t want the attention and no, it’s not arrogance on my part.
I’m attractive, sure but I don’t believe
I’m so beautiful or special.
I just have arms and a
I’m a woman. And it is Summer.
On this day, one year ago exactly I was on my way into work. I had just started my new job in an organisation that requires security at the entrances. I have an ID badge that allows me to go in and out of the building without being stopped.
On this particular March day it was cold and I was running late. I ran to the gate and flashed my badge at the man standing before me, whom I did not recognise, wearing a balaclava over most of his face and a hat pulled down so only his eyes were visible in his large frame.
I flashed my badge and tried to continue at my (admittedly unfit and quite slow) running pace.
An arm came out and stopped me.
“Excuse me, stop there, can I see that badge?”
I stopped and waited, slightly hopping from foot to foot, anxious to get in. I don’t know if you, reader, are a late person but I am. I am constantly battling the passing of time and losing. I am permanently overly optimistic about how much (or rather, how little) time something will take me and I am frequently anywhere from slightly to hugely annoyed with myself for not remembering that traffic lights, traffic, other people, bus stops and public transport problems exist. Oh and of course it takes more than 2 minutes to get to most places.
He held my badge, studied my face carefully and sternly, scrutinised my badge, stared at my face again and a minute later I realised who was standing in front of me – it was the head of security.
“Dude*,” I said (except I didn’t call him *dude, I called him by his name but you know, identity protection). ” What are you doing? You know who I am. You printed my badge.”
“Yeah I know,” he replied. “I just wanted to keep you here to look at you longer because you’re beautiful.”
“Ugh,” I snorted back. I snatched my badge back and quickly walked into work, now that I was allowed to, feeling my skin crawl from his eyes on me watching me walk away.
It bothered me all day. I got on with the business of learning new things about the company, my job, processes, people, politics…but in the back of my mind it nagged. I felt weirdly protective of myself, like a safe space had been violated. The thing is, I wasn’t sure what it was. It was that murky in-between territory. Was it banter? Flirting? He didn’t touch me. But he didn’t have to – I still felt my arms go up around me as if to hug myself.
I talked to a friend about it at lunch and that confirmed it for me – it wasn’t banter. It wasn’t flirting. It was unwarranted, uncalled for, unasked for, permission not requested or given, sexual harrassment.
Get yourself ready because it’s fun facts and statistics time!
1 in 3 American women experience sexual harrassment according to research performed by Cosmopolitan who surveyed 2,235 full-time and part-time female employees aged 18-34 and found that one in three women has experienced sexual harassment at work at some point their lives (OK I know Cosmo isn’t exactly the go-to reliable news source but a poll is a poll guys).
In the UK it’s not better.
“Researchers from the Trades Union Congress and the Everyday Sexism Project found that 52% of women had experienced unwanted behaviour at work including groping, sexual advances and inappropriate jokes. Among women and girls aged 16-24, the proportion reporting sexual harassment rose to 63%.” – The Guardian, 10.08.2016
So in other words the younger you are, the more naive, the more vulnerable, the less well-equipped you are to deal with something as intimidating as sexual harrassment from someone in authority, the more likely it is to happen to you if you dared to be a girl / woman / female and enter the workplace (or leave the house and walk on the street, but that’s a whole other issue with its own set of depressing statistics. One issue at a time guys.)
I went back to the office after lunch, this time with no hassle because a different person was on the door. That afternoon I had a meeting with one of my managers. We sat and after a few minutes I ummed and errred a bit and eventually said “I’m not sure what this is and I don’t want to get anyone in trouble if it’s nothing but…” and I told him.
He looked horrified, apologised profusely for the behaviour of the person in question and asked me to put it in writing along with 2 other incidents that had made me uncomfortable. Together they formed a picture of a person in a position of authority abusing his position to sexually harrass a young, female new employee. My manager took me seriously, took notes, apologised, assured me it was not in the ethos of the company and offered to walk me into the office for the rest of the week to ensure I felt safe.
I could not have had a better experience reporting this issue and I cannot stress enough how important it is that more women must come forward when things like this happen. I was lucky that it wasn’t someone in a managerial position who was my direct line manager. I was lucky that I had a safe person to report it to, who took me seriously. I was lucky that the organisation is an absolutely glowing example of how we can and should look after employees, treat them equally whatever their gender, sexual orientation or identification, race, background, health or abilities.
It turned out I had opened a can of worms. This person had bothered other young women who worked at this organisation and they started to come forward. Following a separate issue we happened to have a session from a human rights lawyer on employment law and rights in the workplace. We were told that when someone is harrassed and they report it, one of the key things that happens after as a result, is victimisation – further bullying after the harrassment.
My job was made harder. The man in question was so angry that I had reported him and he had been reprimanded. I had asked to remain anonymous but due to the specific nature of the problem and part of his warning in how he should be treating female employees, particularly me, it was unfortunately clear that I had reported him. He began to refuse legitimate requests that I made for things that I needed to do my job. He made it harder for me to do any part of my job that he could have an effect on and he became rude and unpleasant when I had to interact with him. Before I had wanted to avoid him in case he made me feel uncomfortable, now I dreaded every interaction with him.
Eventually, after I made a second complaint and other women in the office came forward with their own complaints against him, he “was reassigned” somewhere else and someone new came in. Things improved and the workplace felt safe again.
When I told a couple of people what happened they asked me why it wasn’t OK to call me beautiful, told me I was overreacting and said that it seems ridiculous that you can’t meet people at work any more.
This is what I said to them:
This is a man in a position of authority – he can, if he wants to, stop me coming into work but he shouldn’t without a valid reason. He can stop any person coming into the building if he feels they are a threat to the security of the people in the building. He stopped me coming in so he could look at me. So he could objectify me. So he could assert his authority over me. Because he thinks I’m beautiful. This is in my place of work, where I come to be professional and do my job. That’s not flattering, it’s controlling and it’s an abuse of his position. That’s not the same as asking me, asking if I want to go for a drink sometime because he’d like to get to know me better. Here’s how that conversation goes:
Him: Hey, I think you’re great and I’d like to get to know you better. Would you like to go for a drink?
Me: No thanks, I’m not really interested in you like that and I prefer to keep my work life professional.
For me, there’s no problem asking once and seeing if you get an answer that is positive, as long as you accept that the answer might be negative.
Calling me gorgeous, sexy or beautiful in my workplace reduces me to my physical appearance. And I might be all those things but calling me that where I work undermines my position as a professional and worse, it does so while hiding behind the guise of a compliment or banter, making it harder for me to complain when I feel uncomfortable.
I didn’t overreact. I spoke up when a situation was created to put me in a position of discomfort and take away my voice. I said something when I was made to feel small and vulnerable and I didn’t let the person actually make me feel those things. I made myself bigger and louder and as a result, other women felt they were able to as well. I took more bullying for it but it feels oddly worth it. I led by example, I didn’t back down and in doing so I gave other women permission to speak up for themselves too.
So on this day, International Women’s Day 2017 I ask my fellow awesome women to look after yourselves, look after each other and remember every time you stand up for yourself against something that is sexist and unfair, you smash the patriarchy a tiny bit more.
Today in the park I saw the man who raped me.
He was the first man who had sex with me. I don’t phrase it as the first man I had sex with because that makes me sound like I was an active participant and I wasn’t really. And on a warm September day more than 10 years after he raped me, he walked past me. He was with his dad – yep, weird to remember that he has a family and they knew him as a tiny child and his history extends so far beyond how I know him – and I was on my own and there he was. Just…there. He’s not even supposed to be in this country.
I don’t know if he saw me. We walked past each other as if we didn’t know each other, like ships that pass in the night. Or in this case, like boats that pass in the day. But we did know each other. We definitely did.
I’ve been listening to The Archers as they went through Helen and Rob’s trial dealing with domestic abuse. Despite the fact that it’s Helen on trial for the attempted murder of her husband Rob, during the court proceedings it comes out that he raped her on a regular basis. She talks about how she switched off and became numb in the end and something struck a chord. I know that feeling.
I remember being raped like an out of body experience. I don’t remember it happening to me – it’s more like I was hovering above watching as it happened. I remember the conversation and the instructions he gave but I don’t remember….
I remember it not hurting and being confused that it didn’t hurt because the first time is supposed to hurt isn’t it? Why didn’t it hurt? But I don’t remember how it actually felt.
I remember him commanding me to tell him I love him even though I didn’t.
I remember crying after and not knowing why.
I remember but I don’t remember.
He looks exactly the same. I don’t think I do. I don’t feel the same – I can’t possibly look it. I’ve grown outward and upward and inward and in all the directions a person can grow. I have expanded to fit myself in ways that I never thought I would.
Three thoughts went through my head as we walked past each other.
1 – No. That’s him. Why is he here?
2 – Thank God he didn’t see me.
3 – Nothing. I feel nothing.
And after the initial shock it was strangely liberating to know that 10.5 years on, walking past him I felt nothing.
And yet I know on a different day I might have felt something.
On neither of these days would I be able to talk to him. To look at him properly, hear his voice; speak to him without fury and pain and questions that I don’t believe he’d ever answer. I wouldn’t want to meet his eye. I wouldn’t want to try because I don’t believe he’d ever see that what he did was wrong. He remembers it differently. His story will never be, “I raped that 17 year old girl”.
And that’s such a big part of the problem.
One of the other things The Archers dealt with was the shame. The shame of admitting it happened. The thought of talking to my family about it fills me with terror and dread and an intense desire to hide or run away because I don’t want them to carry that knowledge around. I don’t want their picture of me to be this picture of me. It’s not shame for me but the thought of giving them that pain…I couldn’t look at them. They don’t need to be hurt like that. They can’t un-know it once they know.
I didn’t – couldn’t – tell anyone for 8 years because I didn’t acknowledge it myself. And just like Helen in The Archers, I knew it wasn’t right. I didn’t say anything to anyone about it. If I talked about losing my virginity I lied. I said it was when I was 18 over Christmas with the next guy I dated.
I suppose what I want to say is this:
It’s not ok. It is horrible and awful and violating. It’s not ok that it happened to me or to you or to anyone you know.
It’s not ok that I didn’t really know what it was. That I didn’t report it. That I didn’t even know what had happened to report. It’s not ok that when rape is shown on TV or in films it’s nearly always violent and angry and down a back alley. It’s not sneaky and manipulative and on your boyfriend’s bedroom floor. How can we recognise it in reality if we don’t know the most common forms it can take?
It’s not ok that there are men manipulating, taking and violating women. It’s not ok that people like Brock Turner aren’t being punished severely for this because they can swim really well guys so yeah it doesn’t matter how they treat women because whatever it’s just a woman right? Those people are making the world less safe for everyone. They’re doing a disservice to all the men who respectfully don’t go around raping women and then denying responsibility for it after the fact. They’re sullying your reputation and what it means to be a man. And what they’re doing to women is much, much worse.
But I’m ok.
And it’s ok that it took me a long time to acknowledge it.
It’s ok that I didn’t know how to talk about it, that I felt nothing for 8 years because I didn’t allow myself to think about it for that long.
It’s ok that I cry now when someone talks seriously about rape, fictionally, a book, an article, on the radio, in reality…anywhere really.
It’s ok that I find it hard to say that I was raped, that what happened to me was rape, that the man I saw in the park is the rapist who raped me. My mouth sort of gets stuck around the words and they stop in my throat and they choke me a bit but I feel like I have to force them out. It’s hard to say it out loud.
It’s ok that I feel a bit weird when someone talks about the statistics around rape and women because I slot myself into them and I don’t like it but I know I’m there. And there are so many of us. We are an ocean of faces. And those are just the ones on the surface – the ones you can see.
It’s ok that I felt nothing when I walked past him. It’s ok that on a different day I might have felt everything. Because I did my best and I’m always doing my best to deal with it. I’m lucky it doesn’t haunt me every day of my life. But it sneaks up on me and surprises me with its impact sometimes.
I went and sat on the grass in the sun for 45 minutes before I went back to work. Everything carried on as normal around me.
This boat is still afloat, sailing strong and beautiful. Today I am OK.