Don’t be a dick. It’s a simple rule, but it’s one I try to live by. If you’re not sure whether you should do something just ask yourself: would a total cock do this? If the answer is yes, don’t do it. Not difficult. That’s why one of my pet hates is when people act like dicks and then wonder why other people don’t respond positively to it. Yes, I am thinking of something specific, and boys, you ‘aint gonna like this!
Now before you start moaning, let me just clarify before we get started proper: I am not talking about ALL men. Not by a long shot. I am pleased to admit that most of my male friends would never dream of doing this, and also agree that guys who do are dicks. However, in my experience, there are quite a lot of men (well, boys, actually, in my experience) who do think that the type of behaviour I want to discuss is acceptable, and to be quite honest, however many it actually totals, is too many.
Now I’m not sure what the collective term for this set of behaviours is but it’s characterised by a couple of things: a group of young-ish ‘lads’; usually booze is involved and often, but not always some sort of pub or night club (although my most recent experience of this took place in the car park outside my house- yes, really!) It can involve comments, gestures, unwanted contact, grabbing and physical violence, all in the name of catching a girl’s attention. It’s the things that groups of boys do to try to impress each other, while secretly hoping that the girl will fall for their cheeky chappie charm. It’s the same mind-set as the wee boy in the playground who pulls the girl he fancies’ hair. Personally, I call these guys gropists.
What I’m actually talking about is sexual harassment, but most of the perpetrators would be horrified with that label. A few months ago I had cause to speak to a group of young boys that I work with about this type of behaviour. When I used the words ‘sexual harassment’ at first, they started giggling. Then this turned into disbelief- they thought I was over-reacting. Then, when I explained how this works in the real world, and the consequences it could lead to for the guilty parties, the look of shame set in as they realised how shitty their behaviour had been. The problem, in my experience however, is that very few of the young men who behave like this are willing to accept that they have done anything wrong.
In my (reasonably) short life time I have been subject to a number of experiences where I have had to defend myself from the unwanted advances of socially-inept young men. I have been grabbed; actually lifted up; yelled at; insulted and followed. I’ve had someone chap my window in the middle of the night. He thought it was like ‘Romeo and Juliet’; I was about thirty seconds away from sending my dad out with the baseball bat. I’ve had someone unexpectedly hand me a pair of prosthetic ears while I was waiting to be served at a student bar. My friend and I used to go out clubbing together quite a lot and coined the phrase ‘circle of love’ to ironically describe the sensation when a group of boys circled us on the dancefloor. I had never realised until that point that young men hunt their prey in packs. I have heard of things worse than this happening. If you haven’t heard of it already, Google ‘slut-dropping’ and prepare to weep.
Most recently I had a pair of charming young men wait for me to return from walking my dog at half past eleven on a Saturday night and tell me that they had been waiting for me to come back. What utterly tremendous stupidity. It takes someone with very little powers of reflection to fail to see why it is not a good idea to say that to a woman on her own late at night.
My responses to these acts of idiocy are varied. Sometimes a withering put down will suffice; or a death stare can be quite effective. I had a fairly standard reaction to gropists who grabbed me; I would grab them back by the wrist and cooly inform them, that should they repeat the action, they would be pulling back a stump. I had to scream in the face of the guy who picked me up before he would put me down. I’ve been so angry on more than one occasion that I have punched the gropist involved. In all of the situations I have described, I never once invited the attention, perhaps other than possibly having the brass-neck to wear a short dress (please, get the irony inferred). In each of them I was left feeling angry, insulted and demeaned. It is difficult not to be offended when someone you don’t know has treated you like you are a bag of crisps on a shop shelf.
To paraphrase one of my favourite authors, one minute you’re a doll, the next you’re a dog, all because you dared to disapprove of being pawed or catcalled. We ladies can’t really win in this situation. There is real danger in the idea pervasive amongst those who are responsible that this is a joke. It can only be considered a joke if the person it is aimed at agrees, not the instigator. Any type of attention can be unwelcome, and that should be respected. No one has the right to touch someone else uninvited, however innocent they think that contact might seem. You do not know a stranger’s circumstances. You don’t know what experiences they have had in the past, and you certainly don’t have the right to decide what is acceptable to do to another person, regardless of your motives.
To be clear, this is not a post about sex offenders. I’m not talking about sexual assault or rape, that’s a whole other subject, and I would hope there is no ambiguity about what is not acceptable there. The real problem here is that a lot of people (the ones responsible) don’t think that there is a problem, and that for me is a bigger problem than the problem itself. Are you lost yet? Nearly there. The attitude that it’s just a bit of fun, and that us harridans who have the nerve to complain about it really need to just lighten up is a throw-back to the times when women were considered to be the property of men, and they had to just put up and shut up. The normalisation amongst some young men of what is blatantly the objectification of women is very worrying, even more so is the fact that many of them have never even considered that they might be doing something offensive. It shows that all the progress made towards economic equality is really just a veneer for an underlying core of old-fashioned sexism: the men are the bosses and can essentially do whatever the hell they like to whomever the hell the like. Providing they are female.
If this attitude goes unchallenged, I think that everything else achieved in the name of feminism seems rather patronising. That ok, we can have our equal pay and employment rights, but really, all the boys are trying to do is shut us up, because deep down, they feel they are superior.
So, who is to blame for this sorry state of affairs? Culturally there is a bit of a tradition of this in nightclubs and student unions, where young women are encouraged to take part in sexualised and often humiliating stunts for some sort of prize, usually shots of some variety. It could be argued that these young women themselves are to blame; if they didn’t join in, these activities would very quickly die out. I must say there have been times when I’ve wanted to shake some wee lassie who I see being hassled on the dancefloor who smiles up through her eyelashes at the cave man groping her arse in order to get her attention, then turn to her friend and roll her eyes. If you don’t want him to do it- tell him to stop! This, however is veering dangerously close to ‘she asked for it’ territory. The fact is that the girl should not have to respond to this sort of behaviour in the first place. Many young women are afraid to challenge this, especially if their particular would-be suitor is a member of an above-mentioned pack.
Ultimately, the fault lies with the perpetrators, not the victims, but how do we tackle a problem that many of the guilty parties are not even aware exists? Does it need to start with the new boys being born? Do we take responsibility for educating our sons and hope that eventually the problem dies out? Do we continue to punch the idiots who do this until we punch some sense into their thick skulls? Do the owners of the establishments where these incidents often occur need to take a tougher stance on this sort of behaviour? Or is it bigger than this? Is this something that we need to be making more noise about on a national level?
The answer is, I don’t know. When it comes down to it, I’m just a torn-faced harridan having a rant about something that really annoys her on a public forum. What I do know for sure, is that I’m not the only person who feels this way. Not by a long shot.