What a wave of horror those two words denote.
Recently shared on social media* I have looked on with tears in my eyes as one after another my friends link together with their experiences of sexual harassment or assault. The idea behind the campaign was to show the scale of the problem. I sadly don’t think any woman was surprised by the magnitude.
People have followed with: It stops now. But does it? I am not so sure. It is so horribly ingrained in society, so often dismissed as “banter” “the way things are” “old school thinking”.
Don’t for a second get me wrong: I want more than anything for my daughter never, ever in a million years, to have to experience the things I have had to endure on a daily basis.
But I have been at all ends of this issue – from sitting in HR meetings whereby a member of my team explicitly states that she didn’t come forward with her assault complaint earlier because she was made to feel it would damage the business (and having my then-manager whisper “let’s keep this quiet”. We didn’t, exactly. But we also didn’t do what we should have done and fire his lecherous arse.)
To being followed home, to attempted rape, to having to kiss someone just so he would leave me alone, to having a stalker, to being loudly ‘rated’ out of ten by male friends. Being leered at while breastfeeding, catcalls, feeling insecure in taxis, being masturbated over on public transport, being groped while asleep by friends.
The more I type, the more I remember: A so-called friend taking advantage of me when I was drunk and then other friends blaming me for what followed when I spoke up: for wearing a short dress, for being drunk. Never mind that I was unconscious. Never mind that I purposely got a taxi home with him because I trusted him.
I have too many examples to give. And I know I am not in the minority here.
It isn’t a western thing. Absolutely it is not. I have been groped and assaulted while living in different countries in different parts of the world. It isn’t societal, what it is is epidemic.
And don’t think it is just grubby men in overcoats in dark alleys or late night public transport doing this. Of course, sometimes it is. But some of the time it is the male friend, the colleague, the client you’re dining with, the uncle, the trainer, the manager.
And it is not just men who can treat women like sexual objects, who can diminish a woman’s worth, who think his way.
I have a friend whose mother suggested she becomes an escort “before her looks fade”. I have other friends who laugh about “using” men to get free drinks, or drugs, or nice dinners. Who feel they have to sleep with men who buy them things, who tell me “it’s only fair”. It isn’t.
So what do we do? We teach our kids, we teach our girls and our boys that it is not OK. We stand up. We link together. We grow stronger. We complain, loudly, next time. We allow women to lean on us, to have a safe space to tell their stories and we take action. We hold HR departments to rights. We turn it from #metoo to #neveragain.
Who is with me?
*although the campaign itself is not new, but rather was spearheaded by Tarana Burke @fortyisthenew40 over a decade ago)