heart of the art

Naming Harassment

At last the silent years of women (and men) having to accept that sexual harassment and physical invasion of our bodies is, I hope, drawing to an end. 

The Weinstein situation is enabling the development of a space in public and private arenas where it’s ok to speak out and say ‘me too’.

But there’s some debate around what’s serious enough to voice and report and name: Do we only name unwanted advances? Forceful intimacy? Rape? Is a touch on a knee simply part of life? Is workplace innuendo and sexual bullying just part of where we work? And to be accepted? 

Where is the line?

For me it’s simple. Sexual innuendo and harassment and sexual bullying is not ok. Any physical touch without permission is not ok, not in any situation. 

Sadly we’ve lived in a world that has accepted it, indeed worse, normalised it, so that when that sleaze passes too close to you and their hand lingers questionably too long on your arm, leg, bum, instead of standing up and shouting out immediately ‘no’, we instead shrug inwardly at the violation and ignore it.

Sadly, I’ve encountered this time and time again in my life, from idiots on train platforms, out and out sexually charged, debasing, male dominated work environments, the offer of money for a blow job at bus stations, the idiots who don’t get the hint and sod off, sitting too close, 'accidentally' touching your leg.

And sadly it’s still a part of my life, because I swim, and it seems the pool is still an acceptable arena for harassing women. Twice in the past month alone I’ve had two different men swimming close and brushing their hands against me as we pass. 

Repeatedly. Too obvious and unnecessary to be accidental. 

And twice in the past month I’ve ended my swim early and got out the pool. And more than that not said a word. Embarrassed. And accepting that it’s just part of swimming. But is it? Really? 

I’m growing to realise that in accepting the rights, or at best the presumed normality of the actions of these men, I am actually making a statement of acceptance. A statement of my own self belief. A sigh that this is just how it is. 

And I realise with a degree of self anger that in choosing not to report these men for their behaviour, I also choose in my attitude of acceptance to in some way make the problem mine.

And in doing so I’m inadvertently enabling behaviours of harassment that should not be acceptable in our society.

A touch of a knee is an entirely different situation to rape, but the two aren’t entirely inseparable. While-ever we live in a society where we just shrug and accept sexual harassment, then the Weinsteins of the world and the sleazy idiots and the sexualised work spaces will continue to be accepted.

I don’t want that for my children.

So the next time some idiot sees fit to get themselves off by ‘accidentally stroking me’, I intend to speak out loudly and instantly, without embarrassment and say ‘me too’. Report, name and shame.

We need to make our society and culture a place where this behaviour is shunned rather than met with a shrug.

Change begins with actions of bravery.