I have never been sexually harassed. Over the past week, I have concluded, sadly, this is extremely unusual.
In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein many women have felt able to share their stories. "My life has been marked by sexual harassment - just like all women," was the sweeping assumption from Suzanne Moore in the Guardian. "My boss, the creep," "My Weinstein encounter" wrote two New Zealand columnists.
Yet, this was not my experience. Maybe being disregarded as a sexual target was simply the unexpected upside of looking like a frumpy gremlin for much of my life. A bonus for not plucking my eyebrows? Or maybe it was because I was not "woke" and simply didn't notice boundary violations?
I now realise it was neither of these things. I was just freakishly fortunate. I simply happened to work in places - newsrooms mostly - where I got yelled at but not groped.
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But it pays to be careful how you express this. During the past week when I noted that I had not been sexually harassed during my career I was branded a "provocateuress" for saying so. Of course, saying it hasn't happened to me, doesn't lessen my empathy for the women who have suffered. (A sentiment which is starting to sound as dog-eared as offering "thoughts and prayers" after a shooting.)
The Harvey Weinstein scandal seems to have led to a whole lot of finger pointing, and not just at men. It turns out women have to be very careful not to say the wrong thing, lest they get attacked by other women.
Actress Mayim Bialik wrote a piece in the New York Times called "Being a Feminist in Harvey Weinstein's World" in which she said she had always had an uncomfortable relationship with being employed in an industry that profits on the objectification of women. "As a proud feminist with little desire to diet, get plastic surgery or hire a personal trainer, I have almost no personal experience with men asking me to meetings in their hotel rooms. Those of us in Hollywood who don't represent an impossible standard of beauty have the "luxury" of being overlooked and, in many cases, ignored by men in power."
I agreed with her. But then, thought better of it when she was reprimanded by other women for saying this. Psychologist Sherry Hamby said many of Bialik's comments perpetuate common myths about sexual assault. "Bialik offers up her own virtuous behaviour as some kind of talisman that protected her from the worst of Hollywood. Not wearing makeup or skipping a manicure is not sexual assault prevention! It amazes me that even has to be said." It is well established that how you dress has nothing to do with how perpetrators target victims. As hopefully we all know, sexual assault is about power and control.
And then there is the scrap between women over "Shitty Media Men." After the Weinstein story broke, a google spreadsheet titled "Shitty Media Men" was circulating in newsrooms. It contained nearly 70 names of men who were named and shamed for bad behaviour towards women. Buzzfeed writer Doree Shafrir wrote a piece about the spreadsheet, acknowledging its good intentions but pointing out the drawbacks of this anonymous method of information collection: the claims were unsubstantiated, distribution couldn't be controlled, and the misconduct alleged on the list ranged from "weird lunches" and creepy direct-messaging to physical violence and rape. About this time the spreadsheet was deleted from the internet and then Shafrir became the target of attacks herself for being disloyal to women. Can we please make this stop? Not helping.
I was also taken aback to read New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino arguing "like many women I have found myself thinking that the "whisper network" needs to be expanded, and dramatically." She says over time the whisper network always proves reasonably accurate: "firings and settlements and investigations accrue to the names you've been hearing in different anecdotes for years." I'm not so sure about that. As a journalist I have been privy to screeds of gossip which turns out to be untrue and it seems to me the ethical quandaries presented by the spreadsheet are profound. It makes sense not to hire rapists. But should every man who's ever verbally harassed a woman never work again? What about "creeps"? How can women protect one another without trampling the rights of the accused?
I think it would be better not to whisper more, but to speak out loudly clearly with our own truth - whatever that is - and support other people who do. Currently, there is a prevailing notion that if you speak out to defend your boundaries you are an "easily triggered killjoy snowflake" as writer Daley Haggar describes it. Let's not put people down as whiny when they have the courage to call out boundary violations. Successful women are not supposed to complain; they are supposed to kick ass. Yet in this context, "snitching" is the best way to kick arse. Or ass. You know what I mean. Although perhaps I shouldn't use that word.