Some of you may have noticed I was a little quiet on my blog last year. I had nothing much to say and if I did I didn’t have the energy to say it anyway. I forced myself to participate in Sinful Sunday and Kink of the Week but even there I felt I was very negative.
The past few months have been a roller coaster for women, the sexual abuse allegations, the relief we’re finally being heard, although we are still a long way from being treated equally. I can relate to lots of the public cases but I am just going to speak about me.
This is what happened to me last year. I will be writing a post on how it affected my health and linking it to this one but that may take a while so bear with me on that.
When you work in my industry you learn very quickly the conditions you’re expected to deal with. You learn early on which are the ‘handsy’ guys, the ones that will grab your arse or rub past you inappropriately. You have to make a decision about the route you take. Do you say nothing and hope it doesn’t happen again? Do you say something to them so they know they’ve upset you? Or do you tell someone else who will just shrug it off and see you as the trouble maker? It isn’t an easy choice and whichever you make is going to be the wrong choice. Me, I tend to tell them if they touch me again I’ll rip their balls off then, in future, I make sure I’m near the door of a meeting room so I can make a quick escape and prevent it happening again.
I had the privilege at one point of being the first female in the UK of holding my job position. It’s something I’m incredibly proud of but it didn’t come without its difficulties. The call outs in the middle of the night, just for a laugh. Having to go above and beyond what I needed to do just to prove I was capable of doing it. The being spoken over in meetings or being spoken about as if I’m not there because my point of view doesn’t count. Then there are the offers from ‘amateur photographers’ who want to take your pictures, the being told you’re too pretty to do ‘this sort of work’. There were worries about giving me the position in the first place because having a uterus means I’d start having babies. I’ve had people ask me that in interviews and also I was refused a promotion on those grounds too. It’s totally illegal but that doesn’t stop it from happening.
People ask me why I stay in my job, why don’t I leave and find something better. Now, as strange as it seems, I love the industry I work in. For the most part it’s fun, there have been days I’ll leave with my sides hurting from laughing so much. Yes there’s banter but that’s exactly what it is, gentle teasing with nothing malicious behind it. If lines are crossed people are quick to apologise, mostly. But it’s a hard place to be if you don’t identify as a straight, white male. I refuse to give up what I enjoy because certain people don’t believe I belong in that world.
I spent my childhood being bullied, once I left school I realised the bullying was down to children being unkind or projecting their own insecurities. I left school and whilst I still carried the scars, I didn’t look back. Whilst some adults can be cruel, most seem to turn a blind eye and let you live your life. So during my adult life I’ve always stood my ground, stood up for my beliefs and won’t let anyone walk over me. I won’t tolerate those that belittle and bully others and I will always fight for equality.
I didn’t think I could be bullied as an adult, how wrong was I! I’ve had over a year of being targeted by a grown up version of a school playground bully. It was reported but nothing was done. The result was me driving to work in tears on a daily basis and fearing what the day will bring, what new ways will be used to belittle and humiliate me.
It all started when I refused to go for drinks after work. I already had arrangements that evening so I told my manager I couldn’t make it. For the next two weeks I was constantly badgered about it, I had no clue why! I started feeling awkward about why the word no was so uncomfortable to him. What if I’d gone and didn’t want another drink? What would happen when I wanted to leave but he didn’t think I should? The circumstances made me uncomfortable so I decided to be an adult about it and explained that. That was my first of three big mistakes.
The second big mistake followed quickly. I explained to my manager I needed to have a meeting to discuss the arrangements of the London Pride float I was organising. I realised part of me was testing him to see what his reaction would be. On the surface it was fine, he said he supported equality. I quickly learnt he was very good at paying lip service to what people said but behind their backs it was a whole different matter. I mentioned I wasn’t ready for people to know I’m dealing with the float until later in the year when publicity was due to start, I trusted him, I can’t believe how stupid and naive I was. A week or so later a colleague spoke to me and told me he’d asked them what LGBT stood for and why did they think I attended meetings relating to the acronym. I realised then nothing I said to him would be in confidence.
As time went on our working relationship deteriorated. He accused me of being a liar, he uninvited me to key meetings, he gaslighted me, he told me I was stupid and useless and finally he just ignored me. Then the news came through that I was being removed from the team as I was a disruptive influence. I’m grateful that the rest of the team were unhappy about this decision and spoke up on my behalf. This meant another manager was brought in to oversee the team and make drastic changes. Except that wasn’t to happen.
This new manager asked me why I had organised the London Pride float, why I was so keen on ‘that aspect’ of diversity. Not feeling comfortable enough to admit I was bisexual I decided to stick to saying I believe that everyone should be treated equally. He told me he agreed which is why he has women in his team. If we still believe having two genders in a team makes it diverse we have a long, long way to go!
Subsequent conversations with this manager saw him refer to a trans woman he used to work with as him and he. My corrections were ignored but I gave him the benefit of the doubt and saw ignorance rather than bigotry. That all changed when he said gay men shouldn’t have children because it’s not natural. Then at a later date told me a person of colour ‘couldn’t be English’.
This level of hatred continued until I was once again pushed for a response as to why I was involved with London Pride, the direct question was posed ‘you live with a man, you must be straight’. My frustration bubbled over and I made my final and biggest mistake. I responded with the words ‘no, I’m not’.
As soon as the words fell out of my mouth I knew that was the final nail in my coffin and I was proved right when I was told I didn’t belong in the team and I needed to look for another job.
It was only later, as I was transferring to a new job, that I found out some shocking truths. I wasn’t the only one to have been bullied to this extent. Worse still, one of the women was sexually assaulted by our colleague. She not only wasn’t told he would be back at his job sooner than expected, she was informed, by the managing director, she had led him on, it was a misunderstanding and his intention wasn’t to be aggressive.
Yet recently I’ve had a group of men I work with approach me and say what happened to me is wrong. They are no longer staying silent and they are going to stand up for women in the workplace. They’ve asked me what they can do, mostly I really don’t know but I’ve told them if they see something that feels wrong, then it is wrong and they’ll need to speak up. I think this is a fantastic step forward and I’m incredibly proud of them for doing so and hope the momentum continues. It won’t be easy for them, they will make enemies in high places but I believe small ripples can eventually grow into larger waves. Whilst I am a crusader and I won’t stop speaking out and taking action when I see injustices, I’m also a realist. I know I can’t change the world and I take these small wins as something very positive.
Some people have said to me that men know what happens and yet turn a blind eye. There is a certain amount of truth to that but if you don’t experience something yourself you don’t see the full impact. A female in their lives may well have experienced assault but are they aware it happens time and time again to lots of the women around them? Not necessarily. Do women speak up every time something happens? No we don’t. We shrug it off, pretend it hasn’t happened and feel guilt or shame when it does.
One trivial example I experienced personally was when a good, or so I though, friend of mine grabbed me kissed and groped me. I pushed him off and went to find my partner but I couldn’t say anything straight away. I didn’t want to cause a scene and wondered if I’d done something to lead him on. It took a while to admit to my partner what happened who knew something was up but couldn’t put his finger on what. I haven’t spoken to that friend again and speaking to mutual friends, they said it was just him being daft and he does that sort of thing every now and then.
That example wasn’t the only physical assault I’ve experienced, the guys at work who get a bit ‘over friendly’ aren’t the only physical assault I’ve experienced. They are the ones that happen regularly though, the ones I brush off as being nothing to complain about, the ‘everyday’ experiences. It’s just what happens and no one is bothered about them.
One thing I’ve come to realise is I played down the bullying I experienced in the work place. I believed what I went through wasn’t as serious as other people have experienced, it wasn’t a sexual assault so I couldn’t claim it as my #metoo so I shouldn’t speak out. Well actually, that’s wrong. The mental torture that experience put me through damaged me far worse than any physical assault I’d experienced previously had done. By saying that others have experienced far worse so I shouldn’t speak out means I’m only invalidating myself in the same way those overgrown school playground bullies did.
If we don’t speak up every time an assault, be it physical or mental, occurs without feeling any shame or fear, we have no chance of making any changes. We need to stop making excuses for those that commit the assaults and speak up when we see them happening.