Monday, January 8, 2018

Farewell Innocence

Like everybody else in Australia, I woke to the news of the alleged sexual misconduct of yet another male celebrity, and as with other such reports, I immediately felt sad. Sad for the women involved. Angry at the companies who allegedly did not take these women's claim's seriously. Feeling sorry for the actor involved as rightly or wrongly, he's being tried by the media. Rightly or wrongly, his career and reputation are now in tatters.

As the media outlets are footnoting their articles, these reports are not professing the guilt of the said actor, they are merely reporting that the allegations have been made.

Talking to my mother later in the morning, she said she had seen the actor on stage on the weekend. She'd loved the show. She then started to complain about the news.

"Stupid women, why didn't they speak up at the time?"

"They couldn't, Mum. It's not that simple.The theatre is not somewhere where women feel they can speak up."

I get my mother's frustration. I know I was feeling a bit frustrated when I turned on the telly at 6 a.m. to get the news.

Then again, I know my mother, with a 30-year career in nursing through the sixties, seventies and eighties would have seen a lot of the sort of behaviour that's currently been reported and she would have had to turn a blind eye. When a man treated you badly back then, you let others know - keep away from him - tell others to watch their step - get a transfer to another hospital or ward, because you didn't have a choice. To report these types of incidents would have cost you your job. Heavens, if you got married, you were forced to give up your role. This was being phased out around the time I was born, thank heavens.

Mum has the right to feel frustrated.

I then looked at my own working life.

After nearly thirty years in the workforce I do know that things have changed and continue to change.

I remember early on taking the bullying  behaviour of a manager to HR. The HR woman was sympathetic but told me to keep my head down and not to rankle this man's ire. I needed the job. It was the early nineties - jobs were scarce and I had rent to pay. I was heard, but I got on with it, gritting my teeth and moving to London six months after.

Over my career, I've worked all over the world. I've worked my way up. I say I've had little to complain about.

Working in large organisations, there has been the pall of the H.R. department casting its omniscient presence over the workplace. Sometimes, they're helpful, other times not.

I've worked in many male-dominated areas - merchant banks, telecommunications companies, utilities and finance. Thankfully, I've been blessed with great people, men and women, who have had my back.

Then there are the times where a creep comes across your path.

With the #metoo event, many of my friends traded their stories.

I can't speak to them, but some of my memorable gems have included:

  • Being groped by an unknown trader on a trading floor while trying to deliver some paperwork
  • Having my breast size assessed by a group of co-workers
  • Having my sex life discussed across the office
  • Being told that I should wear lower cut tops as to show of my breasts
  • Having a colleague sit on my desk, making suggestive motions towards his crotch.
These are just a few incidents, all from my younger days. Most of which, at the time, I brushed aside fearing repercussions for speaking out.  The last incident on the list was reported to management. The guy was a creep. He was sacked for treating another colleague in a far worse way soon after this happened. Seems I got off lightly.

Still, you come away from every episode feeling dirty, small, humiliated and shamed.

And of course I won't mention the public slights from over the years. The wolf whistles, unwanted comments, gropings and taunts, which I was once told was just a part of being a girl when I was younger. 

Like many, I've grown a thicker skin and a learned to walk away.

My inner reaction to these unwanted attentions, which still occasionally occur, is the desire to find a bottle, smash it and press the shards into the arsehole's neck. 

I never would do that. But I've seethed inside for what seems like an eternity after these events occurred. 

My eternal question - why can't these dickheads leave me in peace? 

I've also been subjected to some bullying by management in my time. Knowing what it is, documenting it, raising flags as soon as you realise something is not right to the appropriate people, and working as a contractor, meant I've been able to escape these places on my own terms. I know this has been one of the good things about contracting.  In both cases, the incidents were documented, recorded and dealt with by the company. Again, the perpetrators did not singled me out.

By some miracle, I managed to get out of both events with my reputation and sanity intact.

The thing that sticks out for me from both of these bullying incidents was thinking at the time that if I did speak out, my job was on the line. If I was to push this, it could be me who wore the consequences? Was I right to think that I was being bullied? How would I keep a roof over my head if I did walk out? HR department or not, there could be consequences.

So I get it. I get why women haven't spoken about this sort of thing over the years. I so get it. Reputation. Keeping your job. Ensuring you keep you 83% of the male working next to you's wage coming in. Not wanting to be perceived as a troublemaker. Even, heaven forbid, thinking that these shameful, humiliating, bothersome and downright hideous behaviours were normal.

I came away from the news this morning, and from the conversation with my mother feeling like a little bit of my innocence had been shattered.

Then I realised that it had been taken from me many years ago.

1 comment:

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Pand,

Yeah - heard about Craig McLachlan. There's too much of this stuff going on at the moment, particularly in the world of celebrity.

And I know it happens elsewhere too.

I think women are well within their rights to just punch the perpetrators in the mouth.

I would applaud it.