The term feminist is as versatile as an egg. What is a feminist? A woman who believes all those who don’t think as she does are wrong? Who believes women are superior to men? Or simply that equality is what matters in status, pay and respect. Package me with the latter.
Women have been split into two camps because of recent expressions of revulsion related to men trying to take advantage of them.
The prime mover of the female defence force was Harvey Weinstein who, in spite of his male chauvinist behaviour, has been the catalyst for a revolution against his sexual predator kind. Some women felt that even the slightest advance was take-him-out worthy, others that a clumsy attempt at a kiss or the brush of a hand is really not worth making a fuss over.
Catherine Deneuve felt that perhaps some scream ‘wolf’ too easily and was castigated for letting the side down. Margaret Atwood, of all people, got a shovel full of contempt when she did something similar. Whoopi Goldberg asked what happened to the good old knock ‘em in the goolies? All three are mature women working in fields that are surely predator laden, yet they have survived by ‘dealing with it.’
There are differences in categories of sexual harassment that women have to deal with and how to call it. We know about the power play of men (or women) that can make or break a career, and the young women (or men) who feel unable to push the aggressors away for fear of losing work.
Chamber maids for example are perfect targets for predators, we know why, and we also know how mostly poor women can be threatened when custom and cash are placed over the value of a woman’s dignity. If a man has made a mild advance, his superiors should be there to reprimand and warn and give a second chance. If he fouls that up, then he has a behaviour problem that needs sterner punishment. If they foul up, they too should be called to account.
I was widowed in my mid-thirties, was reasonably presentable when scrubbed up and often had to deal with men who felt they were doing me a favour by bestowing their ‘blessings’ of sexual interest on me. One even asked when I politely rebuffed him, ‘How can you live without sex?’ He assumed that because I had rejected him I must be frigid. I dealt with him.
Another was a married colleague who drove me home after late shift. I had never given him encouragement at work and was about to get out of the car when he invited himself in for coffee. I replied that I didn’t ask men into my home late at night. His reply, ‘Who do you ask in, women? Are you a lesbian?’
Again, how can you resist my ugly mug, my paunch and my smoke-stained teeth when I am offering you the loan of my penis? I dealt with him. When a well-known businessman (my boss) roughly tried to kiss me and cut my lip, I told him exactly what I thought of him and of myself. But I let it slide, he had been fair with me at work and I gave him the chance to prove he was not going to try that again. He didn’t. I have been in situations where I was worried over losing work with two kids dependent on me. But there are times you have to be strong and hope for the best when you assert your right not to be handled like a piece of meat.
Often the non-aggressive men will give up when faced with determination. Sometimes it took merely a sentence with the right face…’I thought you were better than that.’
Another trick we Catholic girls had when in our teens and hormone-happy boys were keen on delivering us from our virginity. A smile and a…’Oh, I’ve had the most horrendous runny tummy for a few days now.’ That used to kill the mood no problem. Women and girls then had to deal with such over-the-line behaviour on their own; there was nowhere official to go with complaints.
Even today, the attitude of male police officers, depending on age and character, can fail to fathom what sexual harassment does to a woman or girl. Laws should be well defined to cope with the various degrees of sex crimes against women.
The police need re-training in how to treat victims of such crimes. Some men may argue that women take sex and its accessories, groping and grabbing, far too seriously and that men don’t see the harm in enjoying a quick illicit feel.
Female hysteria (we have wombs, dears) is often attributed to women’s complaints (all in the mind/have you a period/are you menopausal?) and one reason why victims often do not report crimes.
Women should not be targets of any kind of sexual harassment but that clear field is still a bit in the distance, a good start has been made but look at the all-male charity fund raiser in the UK even after Weinstein when the colour of the hostesses’ knickers was specified and the same-old, same-old happened!
The Cro-Magnons who are now being forced to drag themselves out of their behaviour crimes, will eventually begin to realise that en masse women can be a powerful force in support of one another with the strong doing battle for the weak.
We don’t all have the same courage but it’s amazing how the knowledge that someone will come if you cry help makes such a difference.
Colette Ni Reamonn Ioannidou, Nicosia