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writes Laura Bates, original article here
Not sure if you are complimenting a woman, starting a flirty conversation – or harassing them? Consult our handy checklist
“Equality means never paying a woman a compliment” … said no feminist ever.
Amid the exciting recent surge of feminist activism and energy in the UK, a slight confusion seems to have crept in around the idea of battling sexual harassment. Summarised by a recent Comment is Free piece by David Foster, the general concern seems to be that by condemning sexual harassment and discriminatory behaviour, we will somehow accidentally sweep up well-meaning compliments and flirting in the melee and inadvertently do away with all sexual interaction.
Well, there’s no need to panic! Feminism simply means wanting everybody to be treated equally regardless of their sex. It’s as simple as that. And no part of that definition maligns or “bans” flirting, telling somebody they look nice, or going at it like joyfully consenting rabbits in whatever style, location, position or combination of partners your heart desires.
What it does mean is that women shouldn’t be scared to walk down the street; shouldn’t be faced with intimidating and aggressive sexual shouts from cars and vans; shouldn’t be treated as dehumanised sex objects; shouldn’t be made to feel that men have an inherent entitlement to their bodies in public spaces.
Strange though it seems to have to keep reiterating it, the difference between sexual harassment and flirting is really fairly clear. It’s actually quite insulting to the vast majority of men to suggest that they aren’t perfectly capable of knowing the difference between complimenting someone, starting a flirty conversation, and harassing them. The clue is in the name: harassment. And if you’re hoping to end up in bed with someone, of whatever gender, it’s really in your interests to steer clear of harassing them, as it’s likely to be fairly unhelpful to proceedings.
I think very few men would be concerned, upon reading through the page after page of stories we have collected from women screamed at, pursued, groped, licked, touched, appraised, scared and frustrated by street harassers, that combating these things might somehow interfere with their personal pickup style.
But for those still in doubt, you could always run through this handy checklist of questions:
• Is the way in which I’m making this advance likely to scare or alarm the person?
• Has the person already made it clear to me that they are uninterested in my advances?
• Does the speed at which my vehicle is moving rule out any likelihood of a response to this advance?
• Is this “advance” actually just a shouted and uninvited assessment on my part of this person’s attractiveness/body/genitals?
• Does the context of this situation (a job interview, for example) make a direct sexual advance offensive or inappropriate?
• Am I actually, all things considered, just being a bit of a dick?
If the answer to any of the above is “yes”, then perhaps what’s happened here is that you have accidentally confused sexual harassment with a respectful sexual advance. In this case I refer you to the advice of a lady on Twitter, who rather eloquently summed things up:
Frankly, if your “liberated sexual advances” are cock-blocked by the @EverydaySexism project, you’re probably doing them wrong.
— Eleanor Orebi Gann (@almostalady) April 9, 2014
More seriously, though, to make the wounded assertion that everybody, men and women, must retain their vital libertarian right to make direct propositions for sex is to display rather a major ignorance of the circumstances in which many women experience such propositions, on a near daily basis. When you’ve had “Get your tits out love” or “All right darlin’, fancy a shag?” shouted at you across a busy street; when you’ve been angrily pursued with shouts of “Slag … slut … whore” simply for politely declining such advances; when you’ve been lecherously harassed in the workplace, or confronted with somebody who simply won’t take no for an answer until the alternative “ownership” of a boyfriend finally convinces them – when you’ve experienced all this and more, it can have a bit of an impact on how you respond to unsolicited sexual advances.
Yes, sometimes just a tad of caution might creep in. Is it too much to ask that you respect that context? Is it really all just too wearisome to have to go that extra mile in your approach to reassure the person you’re flirting with that you’re not harassing them?
And if your answer is yes – if you are so frustrated by the atmosphere created by our gender imbalanced society in which such a large proportion of women experience harassment, and by the annoying caution that this engenders in some of your female flirting targets, guess what? The people you need to blame for that, the people you should be getting angry with, are the harassers. They are the ones ruining your fun and cramping your style – not feminist women and men who call out such behaviour when it happens.
Telling us that not all men are sexist or perpetrate harassment is preaching to the choir – the Everyday Sexism Project has received the most overwhelming support from men all over the world. We actually celebrate their awesomeness pretty regularly too.
But if you want to carry on making the point that many men are absolutely on the side of gender equality, you need to put your money where your mouth is. And in this case, that means stepping back, seeing the bigger picture and throwing your weight behind those battling sexual harassment, not moaning about the comparatively miniscule impact the widespread oppression of women might be having on your own personal sex life.
Just another day going for a run, when a car beeps at me as they drive past. Within another 3 minutes or so, another car does the same, except the shout some sexist and racial abuse towards me. I ignore it and continue to run. Within the space of 5 seconds, another car does exactly the same. Again, I’m really angry, but continue to run. The same car decides to loop round and repeat their actions. This time, out of no where, I accidentally slip out 2 words that really pushed their buttons. They decided to loop round again but this time, they stop and launch a large cup of coke from McDonalds all over me. This happened 5 or 6 hours ago and I am still absolutely fuming. This all happened so quickly so I was unable to get their number plate. I am livid. What makes them think it’s ok to drive round shouting abuse at girls then throwing a drink over them when they say something back?! I was absolutely hysterical as I walked home as they threatened to find me and beat me up and there’s absolutely nothing I can do.
The A roads, the spokes in the wheel of Birmingham, are the places I’ve experienced the most harassment. Last Wednesday lunchtime I walked from the city centre to the Royal Mail sorting office alone, and got 2 car horns and an aggressive “SMILE!” from a guy as he walked passed me. It doesn’t sound like much but the sudden way he did it made me jump and feel very vulnerable.
Polly Toynbee writes: http://gu.com/p/3m34t
What are the women whingeing about? If a grown woman can’t handle a hand on her knee, she’s probably not fit for the rough and tumble of the workplace. Men do try it on, but surely the women could politely tell the portly peer with the wandering hands that they’re not interested. Why quite such a fuss when nothing much actually happened? Either these four women are over-sensitive or else they must be part of some conspiracy.
That’s the gist of one side of the argument among Lib Dem peers who cheered Lord Rennard last week, two to one in his favour. Now the stand-off has been put back on ice: another inquiry and a disciplinary procedure to see if he brought the party into disrepute by refusing to apologise. He says he can’t, for fear of being sued. Others say Nick Clegg should have sat him down and cobbled together one of those non-apologies that go “Sorry if some people have taken offence”. But with blood boiling on both sides, this only freezes the dilemma. The party is in disrepute.
One MEP said Rennard’s behaviour was no different to the bottom-pinching Italian men of yore. But most Rennard defenders adopt the kind of “common sense” attitude that has dogged every attempt to improve women’s position since the suffragettes. Remember David Cameron’s patronising “Calm down, dear” – there it was again in Clegg’s complaint today that the argument around Rennard was “shrill”. Such mild put-downs are harder to confront than full-frontal misogyny.
But these cases are deadly: Rennard’s reputation is shot, but his four women accusers stand disbelieved, with their claims not “beyond reasonable doubt”. With QC Alistair Webster’s report being secret, all we are left with is the impression that one man’s evidence seems to have carried more weight than four women complainants, sharia style.
For those who had never heard of Lord Rennard, in the teacup of the Lib Dem party he is a storming figure. Magician of Lib Dem byelection victories, many senior figures owe their selection, election or preferment to him. Few forget the whisker-thin Clegg-Huhne leadership contest when the Christmas post delayed the postal ballots. Those votes were heavily pro-Huhne, but the Clegg side demanded they be ignored: Rennard adjudicated in Clegg’s favour.
So Rennard had immense power over the four women aspiring to be Lib Dem candidates. If he did what they claim, then surely only that power would have given this physically unprepossessing man the nerve to try his luck with younger more attractive women. Did an implied “come up and see my target seat” let a political supremo make passes at women well out of his league – or did they make it up and risk all for mischief?
Sexual harassment is all about power. When that phrase first flew across the Atlantic, we didn’t know how to pronounce it: harassment or harassment? Nor did we know how bad it had to be before it counted, along the continuum all the way to rape. Back then groping, pinching and outright sexual threats were commonplace. New girls – and “girls” we were – were warned of the worst leches, that it was not safe to be alone in their offices. But no one complained because no one would listen, and it would mark you down as trouble and no fun. In a 1980s newsroom where I was the only woman editor, other women came to me wondering what to do about an editor who promoted via his bedroom and demoted those who refused. A man with power at work over a woman can never have a fair and equal relationship: how will it end, what happens to her if they break up? Whose job is at risk? Never his.
Costly employment tribunal cases taken by brave women may make men more circumspect. As cases are now unearthed from yesteryear, some complain they’re from another age, another culture: if so, any culture change is only because some women dare to call out their abusers. But read the evidence from the Everyday Sexism Project and the change looks cosmetic, with more than 10,000 complaints about workplace harassment received last year – still so insidious, with victims so vulnerable.
How will women in politics feel on hearing these four complainants only suffered “behaviour that violates their personal space and autonomy“? Westminster remains a man’s palace, its 22% women MPs too few to tip the balance. Neither Tories nor Lib Dems learn from Labour that the only way women break past men’s barricades is with women-only shortlists and quotas. Douglas Hurd voiced what both parties think when he said last week that things are “slightly ludicrous” when parties think “there ought to be more women in this or that sphere of our life“.
Tory politicians’ use and abuse of women subordinates is well documented. The Lib Dems were always bad on women: around Jeremy Thorpe was a curious closet-gay coterie unwelcoming to women. Oddly, that unfriendly-to-women aura remained in not-gay David Steel’s milieu. Lib Dem women’s voices are few, with no uprising over this. Labour may promote more women, but more than one cabinet minister needed his women staff protected from slobbery kisses and aggressive fumblings.
Power may be an aphrodisiac, but it certainly gives otherwise unappealing men the chutzpah to imagine so. Touching up women at work is a way to exert power, often an act of aggression to keep them in their place: underneath it all, women’s realm is the bedroom. The politics of sex are too difficult to navigate, men complain. At work, as at home, the only etiquette question is who has the power. And what women hear again from the Lib Dems is, “Not you.”
I’m writing this because it happened a few weeks ago and I’ve not seen the lady in question since on my commute to and from work. I feel it needs to be shared and also because I hope maybe it’ll find it’s way back to her.
Early in October I was walking from Shirley station down the Hasluck’s Green road, and watched one lady I see on my commute occasionally cycling home. She got to a junction and waited on her bicycle for the traffic to clear to turn right into Sansome Road when a hatchback type car passed her slowly and I saw the driver’s hand reach out and touch her bottom. She looked back but carried on cycling home and I took a note of the vehicle registration as they drove away.
I’ve been trying to spot her since then but haven’t seen her, but if in the unlikely event this does get back to her, i’ve got the reg number still on my phone if you want to make a complaint to the police, or if you already have i’m fully happy to make a statement to back you up because what I saw was not okay at all.
When I was 16, I was walking home with a friend when I looked down a side passageway to a house that was being built upon. There was a man down there with his penis out, touching it and looking at us.
In shock I exclaimed ‘Really?!’ and carried on walking. My friend hadn’t seen, so pulled me to one side after minutes of silence and I explained what happened.
We thought very little of it, until we found out it had happened (on multiple occasions) to another girl in our 6th form, who lived on the road. He would see her walking from her house and prepare for when she walked past the house in question.
We then went to the head of 6th form and the case was reported to the police. After we had both given statements, the man was found but was only given a warning after he said that they ‘had to wee down the side of the house as there wasn’t a toilet fitted yet’, and he was trying to start his own business.
He certainly wasn’t weeing when I or the other girl saw him. Whilst we were a little older and could handle the situation, this house was also on a road where there was a high school for 11-14 year olds.
What if this had happened to them?
Walked to my local Tesco Express yesterday in the early evening, whilst it was still light out. Older bearded chap, Captain Birdseye appearance, in a white Mondeo, went out of his way to try and curb crawl by the side of the pavement I was walking on yesterday (by “out of his way”, I mean taking a u-turn at a main road onto the side I was walking and creeping up right by me.)
“Excuse me. Need a ride?” (Creepy grin)
Me: “No. Er, no. I’m just getting my food shopping. But I might check a licence plate so the police know what kind of perv-” The car was gone before I could finish the sentence..!
As much as the road may have once been in history part of a red light district in the small hours, that’s exactly what it is. History. And no-one should expect that level of pathetic in broad daylight – or ever, actually.
I was followed home by a man alone in a hoodie, he continuously wolf whistled at me until I out walked him with speed. I was terrified.