Last year a man who had boasted of groping women was elected President of the United States. He dismissed his comments as locker room talk, and many women still voted for him. Older Nephew reckons he’s been in a fair few locker rooms in his time, and this is not locker room talk. Women who didn’t vote for him registered how blatant sexism and misogyny was again disregarded as something minor, unimportant.
On this side of the pond a senior politician has resigned and apologised for behaviours which he says were acceptable ten or fifteen years ago but not now. They were not acceptable ten or fifteen years ago. They have never been acceptable, but they have been accepted. there is a difference. As Vicky Featherstone, the Royal Court theatre’s artistic director, sad in this interview with the Guardian newspaper, women have put up with this behaviour too long while knowing that some men have abused their positions of power.
Here’s a little of what she has to say:
“The reason I’m so angry is I’m so shocked that we’d got to this point and we’d all accepted it. We all knew about it! We. All. Knew.” What exactly did she know a month ago? “I knew that pretty much every single woman I know had suffered sexual harassment in her life. I knew that, and I’d just accepted that. I’m hardwired to accept it. I’m a feminist, and when I talk about it, it shocks me. But I had literally accepted it, like I accept that we have a class system. I’d accepted it like I accept that there are homeless people. And that’s just bizarre – but it’s what we’ve done. And then suddenly someone speaks out, and you start to think, why are we as a society accepting of this situation?”
Read the rest, here’s the link.
More of the boys’ room joking was apparent on HIGNFY on Friday night. The two teams were men, the guest arbiter, a woman. When they joshed and trivialised the women’s complaints, I, and I imagine thousands of other women, felt that old ignored and sinking feeling. I’d missed the start of the programme and the introductions, I didn’t recognise the man next to Ian Hislop. He deftly demonstrated his lack of understanding of the issue when he talked about Michael Fallon’s harassment of journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer when instead of condemning Fallon’s behaviour he described his actions as brave, on the grounds that Ms Hartley-Brewer is “a big strong girl”.
Thank goodness for Jo Brand. Calmly and immediately she said, “She’s a woman, Quentin, she’s not a girl.” I cheered, and I know I wasn’t alone. Actually you should read this from The Independent too, and see the video clip. On Twitter women applauded Jo; so did some men; some men still didn’t get it. In fact Twitter told me more about how uphill a task this is than all the acres of print in the newspapers. So vote for Jo Brand. I would. Quentin turned out to be Quentin Letts. I have read a few pieces by him, and they should come with a health warning. This is a man with a chip on his shoulder the size of the Grand Canyon who uses spite and false outrage in place of argument and reason.
My friend Maria in Barcelona has been messaging me about the situation there. Whatever you think about independence for Catalunya, the Spanish government is not handling things well. High-handed, aggressive, inflexible, domineering – pick your adjective. In a situation which even the least aware people can see requires diplomacy, calmness and bridge-building, the government is throwing around threats of imprisonment, accusations of sedition, apparently in the wildly incorrect belief that oppression is going to resolve everything. Er, no. So democracy in Catalunya and in the rest of the peninsular seems a fragile thing. Shockingly, all these years after Franco’s death, it appears there are still some people who regret his passing and the passing of a dictatorship which saw citizens imprisoned, tortured, killed; a dictatorship which saw human rights as entirely dispensable and women’s rights weren’t even on the agenda.
All rather like any other dictatorship. And if you need a refresher, go to see Armando Iannucci’s film, The Death of Stalin. It is horrific and funny in equal measure, but with the way the world is now it’s a timely reminder of what happens when the state or anyone else has too much power. Simon Russell Beale is wonderful and terrifying as Beria. But there are light touches too, and while the humour is pretty black, don’t let that put you off.
I wasn’t sure what I was going to say when I started this post. I thought it might be about poppies as I have posted my entry on the wherearethepoppiesnow.org.uk site which is trying to locate all the ceramic poppies that were in the moat at the Tower of London three years ago to plot on a virtual map. I have also bought a purple poppy from an RSPCA shop to remember animals killed in war. Its the first time I have even seen such a tribute.
But in the end I have been writing aloud, letting my fingers type my ramblings on to the screen, and I realise this post has been all about the abuse of power, and how it is endemic in societies. Being undermined, silenced or disregarded by someone who has power of them, be it at work, within the family, at school, is probably something everyone who has read this has experienced. It would be nice if respect for each other became a reality rather than a line in numerous codes of conduct.
Your ramblings are pretty much a mirror image of my own thoughts, Isobel. A few weeks ago, something was circulating on facebook, which just said ‘If you are a woman who has suffered from sexual abuse or harassment, just type ‘me too’ and repost’. It’s something that I have buried so deep that I never go to it, but with the same old rise of shame and repulsion, I made myself type ‘Me too’ and reposted. It’s not something I want to think about even now, after more than 40 years. How revolting and distasteful – and endless – all these ‘revelations’ are. I hope it will change things, so that the acceptance (which was indeed pretty universal, however wrong) ends here.
I agree with you totally about Barcelona, which is where one of my sons has his base. How shockingly the Spanish government is handling the situation, and, more worrying still, no country in Europe has said a word. The world suddenly seems a far more frightening place, these days.
Oh, and thank you for the link – two of the ceramic poppies from the Tower of London are here in our house – to remember a great-grandfather and a great-uncle who have several times been singled out for their actions and bravery at Passchendaele, where they lost their lives within half an hour of each other. They were remembered by name, both in this year’s centenary and 10 years ago at the 90th in Tyne Cot when (the same) son made a speech honouring them in front of the Queen and many other politicians, dignitaries and military personnel. I will go to the website to log them.
I think sexual harassment is part and parcel of sexism; women as objects, women as something lesser; condescended to, ignored, trivialised; when women complain about sexist treatment all to often they are derided as over serious, unable to take a joke, man-haters. The woman who has never been on the receiving end of sexist behaviour has yet to be born. It would be nice if he birthday were this week.
In my beloved country a man became president who bragged of sexually assaulting women. We also elected a man as president decades ago who is now accused of sexually harassing women. In between those there was a president who was almost impeached because of his sexual relations with “that woman.”
The real “locker room” joke is what happens on shows like HIGNFY where men trivialize bad behavior. It must have been a sticky moment for Jo Brand – after all, the point of the show is to make jokes about the week’s follies. When is a joke a joke? Jaap’s comment about “blacking up over the weekend” was very off putting from my american perspective.
As a woman who has sat silent when comments were made in order to not “rock the boat”, I am glad she took them to task.
This entire discussion has been waiting to happen for decades. As was made clear today on a news broadcast here, while women in the professions now have the leverage to make a public statement that we hope will have an impact, women working agriculture and other sectors of exploitationare still without a voice.
it is good to have a Sunday rant to start off the week. Thank you.
I’m sorry I don’t understand the Jaap reference; who or what was it, who or what is s/he?
I think we have all sat silent, equally we have all been silenced. Remember Arabella Weir’s character in The Fast Show as the woman who was routinely ignored, not heard, by men?
We are educated very early where our place is; and it’s not being in charge. Some women who do make it to the top do so by playing by the men’s rules, and they are hardly great role models. I think there’s another post on the subject yet to come…
If I spelt his surname correctly, it would help. Miles Jupp.
Please keep posting. This a conversation that should not be allowed to fade away as so many about the status of women do.