Since the breaking news of Harvey Weinstein and the quite frankly appalling list of crimes he committed, there has also been a wave of my friends posting #metoo on their social media statuses. Sexual harassment doesn’t just happen in Hollywood, it happens everywhere. Me too.
My first encounter of sexual harassment happened at secondary school. A naive, innocent 11 year old, I started my local school. Hormones are flying at school, and I was quickly introduced to the world of ‘fancying each other’ and ‘going out’. As I walked around the school, a boy in the year above started shouting at me when he saw me: ‘There’s that 1st year I fancy’. It never went further than that, I shyly ignored it or blushed at it. However, one day, I walked past him and his friends, and for some reason I had my PE kit on, namely my netball skirt. As he walked towards me, he grabbed me. Between the legs. As a relatively shy 11 year old, I was shocked, but said nothing and walked forward and tried to forget that incident as quickly as it happened. I often wonder if he had done that to any other girls at my school, with the bravado of telling them he fancied then?
It’s only when I look back as an adult, I realise that this was not only sexual harassment, but sexual assault. This boy can have been no older than 13, but why he thought he could do this to me is beyond me. Where had he learnt it? His peers? Parents? A porno? Who knows. But at 13 he had no regard for me, consent and certainly he knew he’d get away with it. It stopped there, I suppose I was lucky he never ‘escalated it’, or hopefully he realised he was utterly wrong for doing it and never repeated a stunt like it.
In the workplace, I was pretty unscathed: I won’t be congratulating any of the men I worked with for their impeccable behaviour because it certainly doesn’t warrant congratulating. But I do remember ‘banter’ about women and what they thought of them, I even may have received a slap to the bum once or twice. I mean, really? And certainly once I was told that maybe if no one else could make the meeting, that would be good thing. It wasn’t flattering, it was creepy and horrible.
Other friends have worse stories, yet we are somehow silenced.
I now have a son and a daughter. For my daughter, I hope she grows up to be empowered and breaking those glass ceilings, and certainly no one thinks it is ‘banter’ to sexually harrass or assault her. For my son, let’s hope that between his Dad, myself and his daughter, he is growing up with the utmost respect for women, and that breaking consent is the worse behaviour of all.
As horrendous as what is happening for the women at the mercy of Weinstein, at least a conversation has begun, and maybe finally we will have girls who speak out and boys who know and respect boundaries.