Post-Weinstein, women all over the world are saying “Me too” on social media about incidences of sexual harassment and assault. I feel unequivocal admiration for their candour, their refusal to keep secrets they never asked to collude in, their insistence on highlighting what is as much part and parcel of the female experience as periods and menopause. I bow to the female actors who’ve put their careers on the line to say this happened to them at the hands of men more powerful, more influential, celebrated and supported. I owe them and every other woman adding her own war stories in solidarity. And yet I spent yesterday in silence, unable to type. Because my overriding emotion was rage. Anger that women are having to reveal themselves on a world stage, fury that they have to pick over the bones of sick-making, emotionally harmful and unsafe occurrences they played no voluntary part in, purely to state what should be perfectly bloody obvious to anyone with opposable thumbs and a pulse.
I shouldn’t have to describe the time when I was 11 years old, and newly started at comprehensive school, and was walking home alone from the bus stop, when a thirtysomething man slowed his van right down next to me, rolled down the window, and asked me whether I was wearing tights or stockings under my school uniform.
The time when I was 16 and got a desperately needed waitressing job in a French restaurant in central London and, when I went down to the wine cellar to get a bottle from a high shelf, felt my manager’s hand on my inner thigh. I went on my lunch break and never came back, not knowing how I’d now afford to eat.
The time soon after that, when I got on a number seven bus at Paddington and, within minutes, the elderly man next to me had exposed himself and made a grab for my thigh. I bellowed at him and burst into tears, while everyone just stared.
The time I worked at an awards party and met a major pop star surrounded by male bodyguards, and he forcibly took my 18-year-old hand, pushed it into his sweatpants and on to his bare, semi-erect penis, then laughed as I swiftly removed it.
The time I worked the door at a nightclub and male patrons frequently tried to grope me.
The time I awoke to find my London flatshare landlord had climbed into my bed, wearing only pants, and was begging me to stroke his nipples. “I’m not even asking for sex,” he protested, as I told him to get out. “Nipples is just my thing.”
The time I woke up, again in my own bed, to find a platonic friend had invited himself into it, and was grinding up against my back, telling me he would never normally do this, but he was horny and please never to tell my boyfriend because I’d “only hurt his feelings”.
The times at gigs when men have exploited my inability to move in a dense crowd and pushed their stiffened crotches into my backside.
The time I worked in a Mayfair bar and an American tourist grabbed my arm and begged me to “touch it”, then the female manager said I should have simply pulled away my hand, giggled and called him “naughty”, so as not to offend him and cause a scene. I lasted one shift and didn’t get paid.
The time I agreed, after months of his pursuing me, to go on a date with a senior member of staff, at which he casually told me I’d now have to transfer to a failing magazine in the company, because our involvement would cause problems at work and he couldn’t possibly move at his level. He then asked for the bill and told me if I paid it, he’d sign it off as a work expense.
The time in a beer garden when a man I didn’t know asked me how to give his girlfriend oral sex.
The time I ended up in a London police station, because a drunk man had pushed me into a train station wall and told me he’d “fuck my mouth”. The frustrated transport police officers told me that if he reported my panicked punch to his face, I may get in trouble, too.
The time I was stopped by a man on Queensway and asked if I’d like to work as an escort.
I want another kind of naked, affirmative confessional. One where men look at the Weinstein case and examine the times they overstepped the mark
All the times unknown men have shouted sexually suggestive statements at me, then, when I didn’t respond positively, insulted my appearance or called me a lesbian.
The time a musician scheduled our interview in a hotel suite, then, during this important work assignment, suggested I stay over.
The time, over 20 years ago, when a soap actor grabbed my arse for his friends’ amusement.
The time, only a year ago, when a TV presenter stroked my arse for his own amusement.
The other times, so many times, when things were more ambiguous. When a touch lingered too long to be polite, when a meeting moved quickly down the agenda while I was still processing an inappropriate comment, unsure if I’d even heard right, when a decision by someone senior seemed to be informed by more than my work. The times when I thought “I’m a tough cookie with a sharp tongue, I’ll give as good as I get” and assumed this personality trait was my civic responsibility in a modern world, like locking my front door or helping a blind man across the road. Until the time I could no longer even imagine being a woman of any age or disposition, in any outfit, in any location or job, without feeling a constant low-level queasiness stirred by the imperceptible threat of permitted sexual harassment.
I have more, dozens more. Some too strong and painful to describe. Many of us do. But I’m already bored of recalling what I’d long since pushed away and filed in my mental Rolodex of things vast swathes of men simply don’t want to acknowledge about their conduct. And, no, “not all men”. Not my men or your men. But lots and lots of men – rich, poor, old, young, handsome, ugly, successful, black, white, charming, boorish, a failure, rightwing conservative or liberal left. Men who’ve no doubt cheerfully forgotten their broadly accepted behaviours, having dismissed them as beer-goggled “banter”. Instead, many of them bleat about how vilified they are, how sensitive, dramatic and discriminatory we women have become. They roll their eyes at another feminist banging her drum, or skim passively past a Facebook post in the hope of finding a good remix, cat video or more palatable political post that allows them to feel simultaneously righteous and detached, silently wishing everyone would stop blowing the acts of one pervy American millionaire out of all proportion.
They’re not rapists. Those are people like Jimmy Savile, as one Tweeter wearily assured me this week. “They’re the type we should be focusing on.” The animals who go too far, who think sick thoughts, who harm lives in a way that can be documented, measured or swabbed for the lab and jury. Because that’s far easier than attempting to understand that the “Me Too” stories are what women mean when we refer to “rape culture”. We’re not exclusively talking about women being so dramatically and aggressively violated that they wonder how they’ll ever live a normal life again. We’re saying that the climate in which to sexualise – either physically or verbally – an unwilling woman’s daily business, to roadblock her trip to the supermarket, office or pub with sexual statements, urges and expectations, is normal life and, to a considerable number of “normal men”, entirely permissible. Because it’s not rape – no decent man would go that far. She’s just a woman and will walk through it, as she always does.
So, yes, “Me too”. Of course, “Me too”, “Her too”, “Them too”. But what about “Him too”? I want another kind of naked, affirmative confessional. One where men look at the Weinstein case and examine the times they overstepped the mark and wonder why they either unwittingly or wilfully didn’t understand the game they were playing, or scrutinise the team they’d joined. Let me see their stories, or even just the posts from all the nice men who, despite never having engaged in any form of sexual harassment, show their unequivocal support for the female victims of their mates, brothers, sons, dads and colleagues. Who, instead of wondering aloud why a woman didn’t scream, go to the police or HR, kick him in the nuts, just wear something more conservative, dump him, resign or have some self-respect by not taking the job in the first place, ask themselves how vulnerable and powerless she may have felt, where she had to go, what she had at stake and whether this should really be her lot. That would be brave; that would be progress. That would allow me to re-close the Rolodex and call true solidarity.