This has to be the facial expression of the week for me – a mixture of strength and despair from the wonderful Jo Brand (staking a stance about sexual harassment on Have I Got News For You ). Whilst we all probably agree there needs to be more women on comedy panel programmes, I had an interesting conversation that made me think of how our silence has played such an important part on where we are today “constantly under siege” – or rather, where we aren’t in terms equality.
In the latest allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour, my immediate reaction has been, really? Does this still go on? I think this leads me to part of the problem – generations of mainly but not exclusively women have experienced unwanted inappropriate behaviour from others, but as we develop our armour over the years from those first early jobs, we experience it less? As we develop our armour and confidence presumably we are seen as less easy targets? We remove ourselves from workplaces and situations – I remember a PhD interview where the Professor and Senior Consultant didn’t look me in the eye once. Creep. As we develop our cut-throat witty one liners – it is clear we are not to be meddled with. I’m lucky, I play in bands and drink pints, and I’m pretty convinced that has made my life a lot easier in being one of the blokes and out of the firing line.
Coming back to the generational thing is important. Only recently my 80+ year old mum started to tell me of what life was like getting the tube to work in London and life in the office in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Gropers and meddlers were abound, and flashers on the tube a regular occurrence. As the older children in the family started work, they were told to look after the younger girls and boys – the boys weren’t immune either. She never told me this before, and I’ve still never shared my experiences. Maybe her own experiences meant that we never talked about this stuff in the home. I always put it down to my parents being very Victorian but now I’m not so sure. The moment something mildly sexual came on the telly, my mother would burst forth with a profuseness of tutting, and hail the scenes as “utter filth”. My dad was a hefty man and this was the days before remote controls, but he could get to the telly and change channels faster than Usain Bolt off the starting blocks.
I wonder if each generation probably thinks things have changed and therefore remains silent without doing anything about it.
Of course the problems are more complex than the media portrays, and the rather simplistic binary argument of men versus women is really unhelpful and uncomfortable. I’ve worked in offices with some mortifyingly embarrassing female colleagues, sitting on the knees of directors and going off for private meetings. They were the ones with the power. And as my mum would say “letting the side down”. I’m not surprised that work cultures are confused, although it doesn’t excuse it. We are all complicit in our silence, and society has therefore continued along based on what has not been said.
So we need to talk about it. Mums, nannies, aunts, sisters, talk to your girls and your boys. Hopefully we’ll get to a point where these matters aren’t comedy fodder for men on panel games, and they’ll be able to talk about it too.