Monday, 15 October 2012

Whistling in the Wind

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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Donnybungo said...

Makes me ashamed of being male...

Pity A-holes like this exist, let alone gain positions of power over others.

Me, I'd say name the shite. As loudly and publicly as possible. I already know who he is.

But can you get witnesses to any of it? And will they stand up in court and say so?

Thought not.


Misssy M said...

Donnybungo- don't be ashamed- it's not a male thing, it's an ass thing. As i said.

Taexalia said...

I've heard lots of people ask "Why didn't they speak up sooner?" and once I get past the frustration about the fact that mindset still exists, I try to think "Well they are the lucky ones because they obviously don't know."

I saw a powerful image on Facebook recently. A woman in America is standing with a placard that reads "Society teaches 'Don't Get Raped' instead of 'Don't Rape' - and that idea covers the whole spectrum of sexual abuse and harassment... That the woman is the responsible one. I mean even the fact that you had to choose a different bra to go to work is wrong.

I understand the "name and shame" reaction, but we supposedly live in a civilised society with a legal and justice system (although it doesn't feel that way right now). We also live in an increasingly litigious society where a rich man, or a man better of than the woman who accuses him, can produce an onslaught of a legal defense to silence her.

It's hard to speak out because you aren't just speaking out against one man - you are speaking out against a very present culture.

Powerful blog xx

London City (Mum) said...

Brilliant post Missy M.
Know exactly where you are coming from. Although I loved my years in the dealing room as a trader, the banter was relentless and there was only one way to deal with it: growing a thick skin and giving as good as you got back.
So whilst not ideal (and I doubt it has changed much in the 15 years since I changed career tack), it has, at least, given me the courage to stand up to other, untoward and unwelcome, harassment elsewhere, either in the workplace or in social circles.
And that, for want of a better analogy, means I can 'name and shame' the perpetrators to their face and in full view of others.
I can only hope it inspires other women I have worked with over the years to do the same.

A tough call though, I agree.


vegemitevix said...

Great post! Unfortunately I know too well your dilemma, having been in a similar one years ago when I worked in the male-dominated IT industry. In one case a colleague (junior to me) attempted to assault me (he missed) and I subsequently complained. A week later I was 'made redundant'. Not always good being the whistle-blower. Hugs Vix x

EmmaK said...

Yeah you maybe identify why some women don't get to the top of male dominated or sexist industries like TV. Because once they are harassed they usually decide to leave rather than being a whistle blower and maybe losing their job for being a 'shit stirrer.' I suppose the only way things are going to change is if women get into more top jobs and stamp out sexist behavior and also that more men who think Russell Brand's attitude to women is amusing change their attitude.

Ellen Arnison said...

Very, very well said. It very much is an ass thing - but there is, and here's the insidious bit, the male complicity.
I have been considering a similar post of my own, particularly about the leaving do when my colleagues (mostly male) gave me two wrapped up melons as a leaving present. I had to pretend, in front of everyone that this was OK.

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Alison said...

I loved hearing this about The Big Yin, my hero since childhood. Sad to hear it about Russell Brand, I always quite enjoyed his quirky weirdness. Now I will just see him as a bullying freak.