Following the allegations bout Jimmy Savile, the floodgates have been opened on stories of sexual harassment and abuse in television. I am not going to write about Jimmy Savile but the torrent of allegations of sexist behaviour and sexual harassment in the media that have come out as a result are something that has been on my mind.
So many things bother me about this whole discussion that it’s difficult to know where to start. I’ll have to tackle them one by one. First off are the cries of “name your harasser” when someone tells a story of workplace sexual harassment. If you are brave enough to complain then you should be brave enough to name. I am recently and hypocritically guilty of this. When broadcasters Sandi Toksvig and Liz Kershaw independently claimed in interviews that they had been the victim of “groping” by a well known radio disc jockey, I went onto twitter and said in a kneejerk way “Name and shame”. Yet here I am with someone in my past who subjected me to continual disgusting sexual innuendo in the workplace, an attitude towards me that eventually led me to leave my first job in production after a comment in front of my team at a Christmas Party about the noises he supposed I made during sex. I had recently been offered a career change which I wasn’t going to take, but that last comment from a manager director showing off in front of junior employees, was the last straw in seven years of disgusting remarks designed to make me feel intimidated and preyed upon. I went home that night and told my husband I was changing my job. I felt lucky I had the option.
Can I name this man in this blog, eleven years later when he is no longer in charge of my career and livelihood, when he has no power over me? I don’t know. I haven’t decided yet.
How typical was this guy as a sexual harasser? This person did not touch, he did not force himself on anyone. I was an adult at the time, mature and confident enough to surely stand up for myself. But despite a barrage of folk all over Britain screaming about people leaving their complaints too late, I understand why they didn't do it. Year after year I meet people who used to work with this guy who tell similar stories to mine. "He’s a dirty bastard", they’ll say, but not one of us has ever taken him to court for sexual harassment in the workplace. We've all just put up with it until we could find another job and leave. Had any of us decided to take action I doubt we’d ever get past the first meeting in a solicitor’s office. "Don’t waste your money", they’d no doubt have said. For he did not touch; instead he humiliated, undermined and bullied. Insidiously just as bad, in my book, but almost impossible to prove.
I believe that some call it “banter”. But whilst pregnant, his loud ruminations at a work dinner in front of my colleagues (always with an audience for maximum effect) on how a pregnant me would position myself during sex to avoid my bump did not feel very much like a laugh. Nor did his prediction that I would lose my looks and turn into a “frump” the minute I’d had my kid fill me with mirth. It did, however, make me feel insecure and paranoid, as it dovetailed nicely into his reaction some months before to me telling him I was pregnant. At our meeting he exclaimed that he was shocked. “You’re the last person I expected this from-I thought you were interested in your career” he said.
My second issue with all of this, is that men are complicit in a culture of workplace sexual harassment. But they are not- most men are decent. I’d like you to spare a thought for the blokes who are subjected to the banter directed at female employees. Time after time my particular case study would make remarks about female staff and expect the men of the workplace to join in. But many of these men were uncomfortable with his comments and powerless to do anything about them. Years ago I wrote on this blog about a time when I was doing some co-presenting of a live broadcast. Later, I gave one of the crew a lift home and he seemed uneasy about something. As I dropped him off he asked me not to get upset but to consider wearing a jacket the next day. He then went on to tell me how the boss who had been sat in the outside broadcast truck with the production team (all male) had been suggesting that my nipples were proof that I was excited by being on live TV, either that or it’s cold in the studio. Why didn’t my colleagues tell him he was out of order? The same reason that I never made a big deal about his sexual comments to my face. He was the MD, he was in charge of our livings, he was the boss. They were invited to join in the banter, or at the very least expected not to object to it, no matter that the object of his disgusting comments was a woman they generally liked and respected. Only someone more powerful than this guy would have got away with challenging him without consequence. My male colleague felt the only thing he had the power to do was to let me know that the man was letching over me and to cover up so that he couldn’t make those references again. I practically welding a bra from sheet metal overnight to wear the next day.
My third issue is that I’ve heard so many people say “It was a different time. That sort of thing went on.” But to say that is to make it look like it doesn’t go on still. My particular case was in the late 1990s, and let’s not forget that a makeup artist was not allowed to leave the trailer of Russell Brand until she flashed him her breasts. This is a man who is a CHILD of the Seventies not a character in a Carry on Film made in the Seventies. This incident was only a couple of months ago. And the person who took public exception to Brand’s behaviour? 67 year old Billy Connolly, who apparently wiped the floor with the younger comedian for his sexism and demanded he apologise to the woman. This behaviour is not a generational thing, it is an attitude thing. It is the attitude of being an ass.
So am I going to name the guy who sexually harassed me and countless others in his employ over the years?
No. Because I am still scared to do so on record.
So imagine how those women groped live on air, abused whilst in hospital, grabbed in dressings rooms felt. The next time you have a go at those who didn’t speak up, don’t be too hard on them. No one likes a whistleblower. Instead, choose to be hard on the society that makes this still the case.
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