Since time immemorial we have lived in a male dominated world. It is only in the last 80 years that women in the UK have been able to participate in the governing of society or been “allowed” to vote or work in positions of power, and in many countries women still have no such opportunity. The ‘rules’ by which we all live have been made by men and favour men. Anyone who thinks, reasons, feels or acts differently to the Rulers (ie women) have therefore been seen as inferior. Less than. Wrong. Deviant. Stupid. Ignorant. Weak.
I’m sure it’s hard for many young, modern women who take for granted their right to be educated, to walk unaccompanied outside their home, to work, to marry whomever they like or decide not to marry at all, to voice an opinion without being arrested, to vote, to take part in sport and hobbies and who have rights under the law (including the right not to be assaulted) to appreciate the full extent of the suppression of women throughout history but we really should think about it. We should never stop thinking about it, because we’re still fighting the fight.
Britain and America are currently in the grip of a wave of inappropriate sexual behaviour revelations. Quite why they should be revelatory astounds me, as men have been sexually harassing and assaulting women for millennia then blaming the woman for their behaviour (“she was dressed seductively”, “she smiled at me so I thought she was up for it”, “she was drunk”, “she’s my wife and I can do whatever I like to her”). Women who have reported sexual assault have then been blamed for speaking out (“she’s frigid”, “she’s lying”, “she can’t take a bit of banter”, “she’s trying to destroy my career”).
Men have been led by their penises since time began and use the fact that they have testosterone as an excuse to behave like animals. Only they’re not animals. They are human beings with the ability to rein in their behaviour. When I’m hormonal there are times I get so irrationally angry I could genuinely murder someone but, being a human not an animal, I can resist the temptation. We resist the temptation to do things we’d like to do 100 times a day. My dog irritates me so much some days I’d like to kick him into next week, but I resist the urge. I resist the urge to slap the woman who’s pushed in front of me in the queue at the supermarket. I resist the urge to tell my next door neighbour he’s a fucking knob-head. I resist the urge to ram raid the person who’s parked at the entrance to the car wash before they’ve bought a ticket, thereby blocking me from using it. I’d actually like to do all of these things but I know it’s inappropriate and there would be detrimental consequences if I tried.
Here’s the nitty gritty of the situation as I see it. Men and Women are different. Equal, but different. Because historically men have made the rules we have lived in a society where men’s behaviour, reasoning and emotions have been seen as ‘right’ and women’s behaviour, reasoning and emotions as ‘wrong’. Now, however, because women have a voice and, more importantly, legal rights the situation is changing. We are no longer willing to live by men’s rules. The rules haven’t changed as has been suggested – they were inappropriate for women from the get go, we just haven’t had the opportunity to challenge them until now.
Some men are, apparently, confused by the change to the ‘rules’ and now don’t know how to act around women. I don’t see the problem. You can touch and cuddle a child without it being in any way sexual, and you can interact with your male friends without it being in any way sexual, so behave with women the same way. You wouldn’t have a conversation with another man and keep glancing at the bulge in his crotch, so surely you can have a conversation with a woman without staring down her cleavage. You wouldn’t drunkenly grope or try to kiss some bloke you just met at a bar, so don’t drunkenly grope or try to kiss some woman you just met at a bar. Easy peasy. If a woman is sexually interested in you she’ll let you know. She won’t want to miss out on snogging you any more than you want to miss out on snogging her, so fear not she’ll find a way of telling you explicitly, with words (or a text or a Facebook message), that she thinks you’re cute. She won’t wait for you to grope her then make a decision on whether or not to have you arrested depending on how much she fancies you.
It feels like we’re on the cusp of real change. I do hope so. But we have a long way to go. It’s one thing being harassed or assaulted in social settings and quite another when it happens at work where there is a whole other dynamic of power at play. Despite women making up 47% of the workforce in the UK they only make up 13% of the Directorships of the FTSE 250 companies and in all sectors men dominate managerial positions and therefore hold the balance of power. That power includes the ability to deny promotions, make working life a nightmare and ultimately terminate employment.
There are questions being asked as to why women haven’t spoken up until now (there we go blaming the victim again), but you only have to look at the Jimmy Saville case to understand that in the past women have spoken out, only to be silenced or disbelieved. The Harvey Weinstein casting couch has existed since the dawn of film but tell anyone what happens on it and your acting career would have ended before it had begun. As little as 10 years ago, the Rotherham child sex scandal showed that both the Police and Social Services were fully aware of the abuse of vulnerable female children by a large gang of Asian paedophiles but simply ignored the situation – indeed, both the sexual health worker and the police woman who persistently tried reporting the issue to the authorities were sacked. I wonder if the predominantly male police force would have ignored the situation quite so well if the abuse victims had been 12 year old boys.
I’m not some raving feminist who thinks all men are rapists or sexual predators, far from it, but as a former very pretty child then young woman I have suffered consistent inappropriate sexual innuendo, harassment and touching, alongside the negative consequences of rebuffing inappropriate sexual advances. At the age of 11 my parents bought me a dog to protect me after the village paedophile stuck his hand down my knickers. As a teenager, having turned down the advances of boys, I’ve had vile rumours spread about me (I’m apparently both frigid and a raging slut). I’ve had to avoid being alone with certain male work colleagues, including two bosses, and haven’t had one single male friend my entire life who hasn’t at some stage tried to stick his tongue down my throat. I’ve had both my breasts and arse felt up in pubs and clubs and, after suffering constant sexual innuendo by a neighbour I finally flipped and told him to “put your bloody libido away!” he’s never spoken to me since – like I’m the one whose behaviour was in appropriate.
I’m fed up of living by men’s rules. I’m fed up of having to try and hide my periods and my menopause like neither is happening. I’m fed up of the fact I’m more emotionally expressive being seen as weak or hysterical. I’m fed up of the fact that, if I have a strong opinion, I’m classed as “opinionated” and “gobby” but men can have opinions all day long and that’s fine. I’m fed up of the emphasis on sodding sport which dominates our news – in the last ten years 17 million women have been raped in America but let’s never mention that, let’s talk about Everton losing the last 3 games under their new manager. I’m fed up of the sexualization of girls from the day they’re born and only ever seeing flawless, childless, 19 year old girls in adverts. I’m fed up of my female characteristics (nurturing, empathy, negotiation) being seen as weak and unfavourable and male characteristics (dominating, aggression, violence) being seen as strong and favourable. I’m fed up of being treated like an object, not a person.
I dream of a world where there is true equality and I hope that, in the sexual arena at least, that begins now.