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© 2019 by Ceryn Rowntree. Proudly created with Wix.com

Why it's time we shed a light on sexual harassment

October 17, 2017

 

I know, I know, the Harvey Weinstein scandal has been everywhere over the last week and not only are you probably sick of reading about it, but you’re also likely wondering what a woman who’s only ever spent one day in Hollywood has to say on the matter. Well hear me out.

 

It’s true, I haven’t worked in the movie industry, and have – fortunately – never met Mr Weinsten. But I’m guessing I’m not the only one to say that this whole unfolding story has shaken me to my core.

 

For me it’s brought up arrange of emotions: fury, sisterhood, disgust, sadness, but not disbelief. Because for all I haven’t personally met Harvey Weinstein, I’ve met my own Weinsteins over the years.

 

Sexual harassment, and the culture that tells us that is acceptable, is something that taints so much of our society , and something that goes on and on and on in all manner of environments.

 

I’ve told stories before about the downright unpleasant experiences of harassment my friends and I have had on nights out, but the things I’m talking about are the even deeper ones – the ongoing experiences from the people we know and trust which makes them all the more insidious in their own way.

 

I’ve been working since I was 16, spending over a decade in the corporate world and a few years of that in an incredibly male dominated environment. And time and time again I’ve seen, heard, or personally experienced examples of people just like Harvey Weinstein who use their positions of power as an excuse to behave inappropriately.

 

At 18 I made a complaint at work about a manager whose overly sexual comments and behaviour made me uncomfortable. The complaint was passed on to him, and the next time we worked together less than a week later he told me of course it was innocent – not only did he have a girlfriend but even if he was single he’d never dream of making a pass at someone like me; in fact I should be flattered if anything. You can imagine the affect that had on my already fragile self confidence... in fact who am I kidding? Undoubtedly many of you don't have to imagine because it's something you've experienced for yourself too.

 

There are more stories – the much older, married boss, who would regularly make passes at me on nights out which I’d tell myself I was blowing out of proportion, until a particularly unpleasant incident led to him spreading rumours about me which a colleague pointed out was likely retaliation for the times I’d turned him down; the senior colleague I gave a lift home to after a night out who repeatedly put his hand on my leg despite being asked to move it, only to them lunge across the car and try to kiss me (while I was driving) as the car neared his house.

 

Then there was the work night out when a female colleague turned down the advances of a guy we worked with who was generally considered way more important than us, only for him to approach her from behind, slide his hands down her backless dress and take the opportunity to bite her neck while he had hold of her.

 

Of course these aren’t the only examples, and of course we’re not alone.

 

Yet every time we’re ignored, disbelieved, told that “boys will be boys”, criticised for “over reacting” or mocked because we “should be flattered  by the attention”.

 

It’s reactions like those which don't just excuse or condone this type of behaviour but also encourage the people affected by sexual harassment to stay silent. And it’s also those comments that, in my opinion, cause just as deep marks as the original harassment itself.

 

The trademark of sexual harassment is that it's unwanted, and consequently laves us feeling disgusting, creeped out and unpleasant to say the least. And when we’re told that that’s normal, something we should be grateful for… well is it any wonder that lowers our own opinion of ourselves?

 

For me, the more this happened and the more I was told I should be flattered, the more I came to believe that disgusting, creepy, dirty, and unwanted was all I was worth. So the more those experiences began to happen, and the less I began to complain about them.

 

But the worst thing of all is that this isn’t just my story – it’s the story of so many of us for so long now; from the cat calling in the street to the colleague getting too close at the photocopier, to the friend of a boyfriend you can’t bear to be left alone with.

 

It happens time and time again and it is Not. Fucking Acceptable.

 

It needs to stop – not just for us and our sisters but for the generations that come after us, all of whom deserve the same as we do. All of whom deserve better.

 

Earlier in the week I had a moment of pondering what it would be like to grow up after the revolution that’s currently going on: in a time when the length of a women’s skirt won’t be taken as an invitation for sex; when no one will be encouraged or expected to be sexually harassed in order to get the job they want; when society deems it OK to call out inappropriate behaviour, harassment and even assault without fear of a personal backlash; and when we aren’t automatically deemed as “less” in many environments simply because we’re women.

 

I’ll be honest, despite being a proud and committed feminist, I actually struggled to picture a life where that was the case, and couldn't imagine how different life would be had I been born into that society. And that shook me as much as anything.

 

I applaud the women of Hollywood who are standing up and telling their story. I applaud them for their courage and for the example they’re setting to all of us not to accept the silencing, but instead to shed a light on sexual harassment to put a stop to it once and for all.

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