For a long time now, my news-feed bubble has been saturated with #metoo stories. It started with Harvey Weinstein and the allegations of sexual assault and more against him, and grew into something much bigger with women (and some men too) sharing their similar stories, raising awareness to the staggering extent of sexual harassment and abuse that is still very much a part of everyday life. And so the #metoo campaign was born.
I too have my own stories from the past; as women, we all do. A pulled up skirt, inappropriate comment and bum pinch here, a boob grab, hand in the knickers and unhooked bra there, to the absolutely unspeakable rape. The extent of every woman’s sexual harassment and abuse experience differs, but every one of us has a story of our own, no matter how ‘minor’ it may be.
And for many, it wasn’t until the #metoo campaign began that they even realised that what they may have gone through in the past was sexual harassment or abuse, because for far too long have these actions and experiences been ‘normal’, unquestioned, unchallenged.
Take my mum, for example, she believes she does not have her own sexual harassment story, but that is because the behaviour she has experienced in her past is to her ‘normal’. Just the other night, I had to tell a guy to ‘get your fucking hands off my mum!’, as he ran his hands up and down her body while we were out celebrating my sister’s Hen Do.
Yet in my mum’s eyes, this stranger touching her body without her permission – wasn’t sexually harassing her, he was just having a bit of fun. Because to her generation, that’s all it’s ever been. The guy having a joke, having a laugh, having a bit of fun; as long as they’re happy, it doesn’t matter how uncomfortable it makes the unconsenting party. There are more times that my mum has told me about over the years of things that have happened to her, like the time she had a group of guys sing ‘nice legs, shame about the face’ at her, but still she doesn’t think she has ever been sexually harassed.
So, when my bubble of social media is exposing me to more and more #metoo type stories because that’s what I’ve been reading about; in my head, the likelihood of being sexually harassed has been drastically reduced since there’s been so much awareness raised, people asking questions, people challenging their own thoughts about what is or isn’t acceptable behaviour. But that is my bubble.
I knew about the ‘bubble’ thing already, but I guess I kind of forgot. We’re only really exposed to the types of things we’re interested in, all thanks to those algorithms tracking our every move and every click.
Last weekend, my biggest worry for my little sister’s Hen Do was how well the group of fifteen women would get on together, not because of any a group of women together can’t get on shit, but because for this group in particular, a few issues had come up previously and I just wanted to make sure nothing silly would ruin this celebration for her.
But on that front, the Hen Do went off without a hitch! Everyone got on well together and all past issues had been forgotten. It was a success (and one that I will write about separately, because that deserves its own post, one unmarred by the outside influences of which I will soon divulge).
Our evening started with the obligatory cocktail making class at 6pm, and by 9pm we were all well past the giggly phase and deeply into the declaring our love for each other phase.
We hadn’t moved from our lesson table but the bar had since livened up and was pretty busy by this stage. Our area around the corner and toward the back had slowly become encircled by other groups out for a night on the town, meaning we couldn’t easily ‘be together’ as a group.
We had been infiltrated and I had somehow caught the attention of one also particularly drunken guy. It began with a high five across the table, a few exchanges of where we’d come from, what else we’d been up to that night, which of our group was the bride and soon enough I was ready to get back to my group so said my goodbyes. He had other ideas.
I was on my guard for the next hour and a half, constantly aware this guy was doing all he could to get my attention again. I turned my back, actively joined in other conversations and even asked my mum to keep him away from me, all to make sure he got the idea that I wasn’t interested. However, being a woman, I have had empathy drilled into me from birth, so I couldn’t keep ignoring him without guilt pouring in as he repeatedly beckoned me over. I went over one last time, though I didn’t want to, to keep him from making a bigger scene, to let him down gently. He wanted cuddles, he wanted dances, I told him, I’m here with my friends trying to have a good time, he said just one dance. I didn’t feel like I could get away.
My older sister (who was also on the night out) came and grabbed my hand, leading me out of the club, it was time to go, she’d seen I’d had enough, how hadn’t he?
As a 31-year-old, married woman, who, quite honestly, hasn’t been on a night out for a long time, I’d somehow managed to forget about the wandering, groping hands and how no matter how many times you say ‘no’, it’s just not heard.
It’s a tale as old as time, a woman says ‘no’, the man believes all it takes is his charm to win her over until he gets the answer he deserves for all his hard work.
After that we all moved on to another club that we’d been given free entry to as part of our Hen Do package.
At first the place was empty, we were free to laugh, joke and dance with each other as the hen group we had set out as, as if the place were our own.
But of course, it wasn’t long before we’d been joined and surrounded once again by predatory men. I say predatory men as the non-predatory men were off dancing elsewhere minding their own business, and I say men, because we weren’t harassed by any women, not one.
Many from our group were fending off male advances one after the other, most – repeatedly, while trying to simply dance. None of us had asked for this attention, these men were inviting themselves into our space and ignoring our nos.
I have more than one story for this venue so for now I’ll account my side of the going’s on and what I saw.
Here’s the part where my mum got groped. I had gone to the loo and came back to find a man groping my mum. I’ll repeat that. I came back from the toilet in which I was there for maybe a maximum of three minutes, to find a man running his hands up and down my mother’s body. I looked at him, disgust in my eyes, and you already know what I said to him, neither of which put this guy off, oh no, he in fact took my reaction as a come on from me.
From that point on he was in my face trying to grab me and dance with me even though I told him to go away, told him I was married, I wasn’t interested, to which he then changed his tack. “I’m so ugly, no one wants to be with me, why don’t you like me, I’m just looking for a girlfriend.” On and on it went. And what did I do, as the empathetic female in this? Of course I tried to appease this strong man who was in my face as best as I could do, to 1, make sure I wasn’t too rude so as to avoid being attacked by this unknown entity, while 2, trying anything and everything to make him go away. In the end I had to physically push him away as he asked me, “Who should I go for then out of you lot?”
I couldn’t believe it, didn’t these men know times had changed? There’s no place for inappropriate behaviour in our world anymore, hadn’t they seen Twitter?
And while I was busy fighting off this second predator, two other women in our group had their own situations going on.
I am sadly well aware in writing this next bit that whatever I write, will look bad on both the women involved, as society has driven us to judge that these men would have been ‘led on’ by the women in the story. To anyone who does come to that conclusion after reading it – FUCK YOU! is all I have to say to that. That and…
I would like to make it plain that sexual consent can be given and taken away at any point. Any point. When one of the party involved changes their mind, the other MUST stop. To carry on regardless is rape.
Back to our two women dealing with their own situations.
The first, we will call Sam. Sam was approached by a man who, with a little thanks to his flattering words and good looks, did initially succeed in catching her attention. She flirted back and after a short while they had began to kiss. And from the rest of the group’s point of view, she was having fun. They moved around to behind a pillar for a little more privacy and stayed there until we left, all eventually fed up at not being free to simply dance and enjoy ourselves.
But before heading back to the hotel, we stopped in the kind of food establishment that is only suitable for the intoxicated. It was there that I got chatting with Sam and she told me her side of the story.
She had at first enjoyed the thrill of having a quick kiss with a stranger, but it soon became apparent to Sam that he wanted a lot more. She did not. He asked her to go into the toilets with him, she said no. He asked her to take him back to her hotel room, she said no. He tried to take things further while they were behind the pillar, which though Sam was saying no to, was not being heard by this man. She was scared and didn’t know what to do.
It wasn’t until she was able to signal to another one of our group the distress she was in, that they went over, pushed the man off her, and brought Sam back to our group.
Sam verbally did not give consent for this man to continue yet he actively ignored her words and her body language. Consenting to a kiss is not the same as consenting to sex.
As for our second woman, whom we shall name Kelly; a man approached Kelly offering to buy her a drink. She wanted one, so said yes. He wanted to get closer and took her away from the bar where they could ‘talk’. It wasn’t until another one of our group noticed Kelly was no longer at the bar that she decided to go looking for her friend. This man had led her away from the group into another room and backed her into a booth. Once again, clearly in distress, it was a friend who had to step in to forcefully release the man’s grip saving Kelly.
Having a cheeky kiss and letting a man buy a drink does not mean these guys were owed sex! If it weren’t for the two women from our group looking out for Sam and Kelly, there is the strong possibility that they may have been raped.
In a recent interview with GQ Australia, Henry Cavill, best known for playing Superman, said that there is, “something wonderful about a man chasing a woman.
“There’s a traditional approach to that, which is nice. I think a woman should be wooed and chased, but maybe I’m old-fashioned for thinking that.
“It’s very difficult to do that if there are certain rules in place. Because then it’s like ‘Well, I don’t want to go up and talk to her, because I’m going to be called a rapist or something’.
“Now? Now you really can’t pursue someone further than ‘No’. It’s like ‘OK, cool’. But then there’s the ‘Oh why’d you give up?’”
Yes, yes he is old-fashioned for thinking this way. It’s all very simple really. If someone is saying ‘no’ to you, they are not playing hard to get, they’re not interested. By simply badgering someone until they say yes, that is not winning someone over, as every Hollywood movie would have us believe, that is making someone do something against their better nature, against their will.
In the cold light of day, sexual consent is easily understood, no means no. But after a few drinks, this sentiment becomes a challenge, one in which the man must win over the fair maiden’s hand, no matter how many times she’s already told him to f*** off.
When I got home and spoke to my husband about what had happened, his immediate response was, ‘it’s because you’re pretty.” I was shocked by this. In terms of equality, I would say he is up there with the forward thinkers, but this showed me that someone who I have regular talks with about this sort of stuff, is still programmed to believe it’s a compliment to get unwanted male attention.
So I put it another way, “How does it make you feel to know that I went out to celebrate my little sister’s Hen Do but rather than being able to enjoy it, instead was made to feel very uncomfortable by in-your-face men who simply saw me as a way to get a quick fuck, so had to spend most of it trying to keep away from these men and come home to you unscathed.” He said that when I put it like that it made him feel angry and sad that I couldn’t enjoy my time out.
The #metoo movement has done a lot for the survivors of sexual abuse, giving them a voice, but we need to make sure the stories go further, and reach beyond the people who are already standing up against it all. Those men probably weren’t even aware that their behaviour was wholly inappropriate, or perhaps they were but their pride pushed them on regardless. When it comes to the murkier times of night when inhibitions and better judgement are pushed aside by drink, the ‘no means no’ rule is forgotten and we’re back to the times of women are merely playing the ‘hard to get’ card of the past.
I have spoken about this experience to people around me since it happened last weekend and there has been a mixed reaction from both men and women of shock, anger, non-surprise and not seeing a particular issue with what went on, when this is clearly not appropriate behaviour that needs to be challenged further.
I know the experience I had, my mum had, and Sam and Kelly had, were not one-off flukes. This, and worse, is still happening every night in every club to women all over the country, all over the world. sexual harassment is still alive and kicking despite the media coverage of #metoo.
And so that people is why we need to keep speaking up about our experiences – to anyone that will listen, keep looking out for each other and keep challenging peoples’ views on what is and isn’t sexual harassment to stamp it out once and for all, so women can go out and have a fucking dance without being harassed all night by men looking for a conquest to boost their ego.
Don’t be afraid to speak up. x