After many months absence, I’m gate-crashing my own blog to give vent to my #Me Too moment. If it helps the revolution along . . !
At the time of Helen Titchener’s trial in The Archers it was “gaslighting”. Now, it’s much more prosaic “sexual harassment”, a term that’s been around since, oh ages, 1970s Spare Rib at least. Surely, we should be over it now, and on to something else, like “genderism”?
Except that we aren’t; I guess it has taken us 50 years to grasp the meaning of the term.
In the 1970s I was a teenager, so I’m of an age to take the view, “Oh what’s the big deal, ladies? Men! They’ve always been like this (and always will be, don’t we just love ‘em girls?. . .)!” Except in my internalised way, I’ve been fighting it all my life. And I’ve paid the price.
Look at me; highly intelligent, educated (two degrees, in very diverse areas), multi-lingual; physically fit (an amateur ballet-dancer) musical (taught myself decent violin from scratch in about two years) and, oh yes, pretty good-looking (in a slightly overripe way, see below) always have been. I come from a relatively privileged background; grammar school and Oxbridge; my father (deceased) was quite a well-known academic in his day and a charismatic personality besides. I know I have my talent from him.
Yet I never married, and am no “career woman” either. My professional high point was probably some international freelance trade journalism back in the late 1990s. The staff jobs I occasionally got (after graduating the second time; after the freelancing) I couldn’t keep; I was fired, or resigned in anticipation of same, after a few weeks or months both times, miserable. “What did you do?” asked despairing family members, genuinely mystified. I could never really say, because I was never quite sure I hadn’t imagined the worst. “I guess I’m just rubbish at office politics,” I would murmur. Obviously, it was all somehow, in some unmentionable way, my fault.
At sixteen, I already had F-cup-size breasts. Where I lived – or anywhere, in fact, pre-Bravissimo – there were no F-cup-size bras available for slim-backed girls. So I flopped about in whatever ill-fitting contraption my mother could source for me, doing my best to conceal it all under floppy smocks, in which I looked squarely obese, but never mind, that was better than the ludicrously porn-star alternative. Except that school uniform did not extend to tents over skinny jeans; there, I had to wear a fitted blouse and skirt like all the other girls. Except that blouses never fitted, but strained and gaped and often as not popped open when least required. You can imagine –at a big mixed school – what this did to my popularity – or my self-perceived popularity. I shrank, friendless, into the school library at every out of lesson moment, from which groups of boys, using good cop-bad cop routines, occasionally attempted to extract me.
Bosom apart, I was a slight, innocuous thing, unused to city life. I was dispatched aged 11 on a 90 minute each way journey from my remotest home (chosen by my father after the birth of his second daughter I have always suspected some ten years earlier as de facto purdah) to my urban mixed grammar school– the only non-boys-only grammar in the county. Sexual harassment, or the threat of, not only from strangers on the train or station platform, but also boys from school, pretty quickly became a constant; but a girl’s “maturity” and consequent “eligibility” (a badge of honour for teenage girls in that time and place) were dependent on being able to suck it up with good grace; a sparkling smile, perhaps, and some flirtatious repartee! If you scowled and buried your face ever deeper into your book, or whatever distraction might be handy, you were frigid, a prude, neurotic, and naturally, obviously, “immature”.
That was ca. 1975, pre-punk, post-hippie. Today they’d say snowflake. How much else has really changed?
In time I “matured”, of course; I learned to suck it all up and not complain, although never managed either with very good grace. And neither did I ever manage to “use it!” very effectively; the other piece of parental advice that came my way if I dared to moan about the stresses and strains of young femalehood. The best tactic – especially, perhaps, in Latin America, where I did my best professional work, such as it was – was to fake an innocence so extreme that insistent aggressors were shamed into retreat. This worked so long as I was conceivably virginal, and being on my own, usually, and always seeming younger than I was, this was workable, in most tricky situations, most of the time. (“Go with you to a hotel room? Why? What for? . . And why are you wearing your dressing gown in the middle of the day?!)
Nowadays, I could still pass for virgin spinster, but for the fact that I, very belatedly, became a mother. Never mind; just-about-coping financially, and contented enough, I have long given up on any kind of professional career (and I never dreamed of marriage!) I’m not putting my professional failures all down to an accumulation of sexual harassment, historical, actual, imminent or possible. Maybe my talents and attitude were never all that anyway. But then again, what an ambitious girl often has to put up with is poison to her ambition; and I know I did have some once, along with my big boobs. I know it all plays a role.