Today I woke up feeling angry. It’s rare for me to wake up with this emotion. Tired? Yes, almost always. Sad? Sometimes. Happy? Now and again when I sleep for 10 hours without waking once.
But today: angry. Restless. I woke up a few times during the night. I thought about the stories I’d read during the day yesterday and the things I already know. I thought about US comedian Louis CK masturbating in front of women. (Thankfully I’ve never heard or seen any of his comedy so I’ve no idea if he’s funny or not. Now I’ll never check him out.)
Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey. I thought about the women and men who have said they’ve been sexually assaulted by these powerful Hollywood players. Then I thought about how Ed Westwick, who plays Chuck Bass in Gossip Girl, has been accused of rape. He’s denied these allegations.
There are other stories, too.
The entertainment industry is clearly awash with men abusing their powerful positions and it’s good to see people coming forward and telling their stories.
And obviously, we all know that it’s not just Hollywood and, in fact, it’s our entire culture, our whole world, from politics to offices and homes.
I thought about how when I was 12-years-old my friend and I saw a man masturbating out a first floor flat window at us. Horrified and shocked, we giggled and ran because we didn’t know what to do. We were walking home from the swimming baths at the time.
I thought about how at school, boys used to perform the ‘nervous test’. They would touch your leg and ask: “Are you nervous?” repeatedly until it got too close to your private parts and you would bat their hand away. “See, you’re nervous!” they would say.
Then when we were around 14 or 15 and everyone talked about sex at school, I remember how boys used to share stories of a girl’s house they went round to in the evenings. “She lets you stick anything up her!” they’d say. Female classmates would discuss how disgusting this girl was. “Slut.” “She can’t stop spreading her legs.” No one said anything about the boys’ behaviour.
Clearly, this 14-year-old girl was being sexually assaulted and violated.
Then I thought about how a couple of years later, female friends and acquaintances would describe being drunk and waking up with a guy who had had sex with them but they couldn’t remember anything. “Can’t believe I let that happen,” they’d say, believing the blame lay with them.
I thought about how, over the last 15 years, I’d made a conscious decision not to wear low-cut tops or tight dresses because of the way I’d been spoken to. Several times at workplaces, when I’ve worn certain types of clothing, I’ve been told things like: “We had no idea you had big boobs, where do you hide them usually?” As if a women’s body should be the topic of a tea break between a group of men.
Conversations revealed other women experienced the same thing and reacted in a similar way.
I thought about a man in a position of power who very openly touched women up in the office. He even had a nickname that alluded to his behaviour. When I was in the office alone with him, I used to think of ways I could avoid being too close to him. I didn’t want him to brush past me again, for example. I heard there were more serious incidents and remember thinking: ‘What would I have done in that situation?’ This went on for years until one very public incident led to a complaint. He was investigated, women shared stories and they were written down. He left the company with a good deal.
I heard that “it’s just the way it’s always been, it’s just a bit of fun,” from some male colleagues.
Then I thought about all the women I’d interviewed who had told their stories of abuse, rape, and assault. I remember a male editor asking me to take out some details from stories, saying they were too graphic for readers. I argued these were the women’s words and we should keep them in. They were taken out.
I thought about the times that I, and women I know, have been harassed, inappropriately touched and frightened while walking home at night. How I’ve always been told: “Don’t walk home alone, get a taxi!” I love walking home in the dark when the streets are quiet, processing my evening in the pub or at a friend’s house. Why shouldn’t it be safe for me to do so? Of course, crime can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, and you have to be vigilant. But why is there an extra layer for women?
When I was younger I went through a phase of loving hip-hop music, especially Snoop Dogg and Eminem. I thought about how the lyrics were nearly always degrading to women. And the videos; women: naked. Men: clothes on. It’s not just hip-hop it’s the music industry.
What must that do to young minds? Does it mean we grow up thinking that’s tolerable, normal?
I feel angry that incidents have often been played down or you’re made to feel that it’s just lads’ behaviour – they don’t mean any harm.
A few years ago on a girls’ holiday, we were subjected to a man masturbating outside our hotel. I found it disgusting and felt really angry. We all talked about it for a long time. I remember one of my friends asked: why should we expect anything different? This is just what some men do.
Today I’m angry.
Adapted from my newsletter, on the road with eu, published on November 11 2017