Monday, 29 January 2018

Slithers of Silver, Twinkling in the Breeze...

'Sometimes it's haaard to beeee a woman..'. sang Tammy Wynette so memorably. Sadly, rather than go on to lyrically opine about the pain of a misshapen underwire or the rumbling womb-grind of an imminent period, she inexplicably implored us to love our men regardless of their short-comings. It feels an opportunity was missed to pass on real insight.

For indeed, it really is hard to be a woman at times. Rape Crisis reports that in the UK, 85,000 of us are raped every year. Women's Aid tells us that two women are murdered by a partner or ex-partner in England and Wales on a weekly basis. And the Office for National Statistics states that women are five times more likely to experience sexual assault than men. Not the cheeriest set of stats I've read, I'll be honest. And if those awful fates are avoided - through the arbitrary good luck of not being in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong person - there's all the other shit around which we have to navigate. The stuff that just bubbles away in the background. Let me share the first few that come to mind.

Things like...

  • Knowing we are 51% of the population but represented - in an exciting all time high, no less - by only 32% of female MPs. 
  • Enjoying comedy panel shows but recognizing it's an event of epic proportions when female guests outnumber male ones.
  • Seeing ugly rape threats tweeted to women you admire and respect, when they openly express views you share.
  • Watching news programmes and wondering why the male presenter gets to wear a functional suit but the female presenter has to dress up like a wedding guest.
  • Choosing plumbers, electricians and decorators, not on the quality of their work, but on the lack of threat they present when spending time in your home.
  • Walking home from the pub and mentally calculating how quickly you can get your keys in your fist, because you have to pass a guy walking his dog. 

It's neverending. It's always there. 

Jo Brand summed it up best on Have I Got News For You last year. When the panel were being flippant about 'low-level' complaints of male MP behaviour, she stopped their laughing and called them out. It was a moment that made me want to stand up and clap. In fact, the studio audience exploded with applause. It seems they felt Ian Hislop and Quentin Letts had missed the point too. 'If you are constantly being harassed, even in a small way, that builds up and that wears you down.' Spot on, Jo. That's exactly it. This environment of constant yet low-level oppression is exhausting. And if, like me, it gets under your skin and you find yourself ranting more than you wish you had to, it's a bloody pain in the arse.

And so to the silver linings. They really are there. Honestly. For reasons of which I'm not totally sure, (although the far-right's rolling back of women's rights has got to be a factor) there have been shimmering glimmers of hopeful history-making, revealed all around. Slithers of silver that shine an increasingly uncomfortable light on the inequality all around. The inequality that's been 'the norm' for so long. Between the uncovering of the Weinstein scandal, the Westminster scandal, the subsequent #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, Oscar presenters realising it's best to stay at home rather than take to the stage and face potential boos, the (almost) universal outrage of men-only dinners with women-only waiting staff, Carrie Gracie's resignation letter highlighting BBC pay disparity, male TV presenters taking pay cuts to address that disparity, an end to the use of 'Walk-On girls' at the darts, uncomfortable dating experiences being discussed and debated aloud rather than being simply accepted as the norm ...EVERYTHING is getting aired. The shutters have been kicked open and the curtains are fluttering in the breeze. Talk feels revolutionary when silence has masked so much.

And on top of all that, there are 156 women that spoke in court last week at the US Gymnastic team abuse case. One by one they stood and faced their abuser. The now-convicted criminal had to sit and hear each woman speak. They were eloquent, brave, and powerful about the impact of the sexual abuse they experienced as a child. Judge Aquilina let every woman take her turn. No one was censored. Nothing was diminished. When the defendant wrote to the Judge and asked to be spared having to listen to the women's statements for so long, she gave him short shrift. Actually, she spent sixteen minutes responding to each of his points. There are GIFs online that show the three-second clip of Judge Aquilina finally tossing the written complaint aside. Those three seconds represent so much. I chose not to add it here. I don't want to make light of the pain of others with a 'fabulous' GIF. Yet it perfectly sums up a collective disgust built up over time. 

I'm not naive enough to think the recent wave of house clearing has rid the world of abusers and predators for good. Nor do I think all people who are part of the problem will realise it straight away. This stuff has been going on for years in a variety of ways. One handsy stranger in a bar is different to systematic sexual abuse over a period of years. But here's the thing - neither should happen at all. Both situations are wrong. They sit on a spectrum with a bunch of other behaviours in between, but the entire spectrum of crappy to criminal behaviour should not exist in the first place. That's the point. Nothing on that spectrum should be accepted. 

Back to those silver linings though. Bit by bit, the discussions are taking place. People are talking. The shutters are staying open. Tales of 'bad dates' are being debated as to what went wrong and why. Future actions are being considered more wisely. The men with lovely behaviour are asking questions about how they can help. The men with not-so-lovely-behaviour are checking themselves. Hopefully the men with criminal behaviour are scared. And when the dust finally settles, and lessons are learnt as the talk continues, it can only be a good thing for the next generation of actresses, waitresses, gymnasts, politicians, women, men, and everyone.

If you feel that this is coming off as a bit 'anti-men' then please don't allow yourself to be mistaken. It isn't. It's anti-abusive-men. It's anti-entitled-men-thinking-they-don't-need-to-treat-women-as-equals-men. It is anti-those-people. And as long as people are talking openly, there are less secret places for those people to hide. In the meantime, plenty of other men know how to treat people with respect, regardless of gender or sex. And unlike Matt Damon, plenty of other men don't need to be the father of daughters to realise that the non-men around them are also human beings. Perhaps Tammy Wynette should have sung about those guys, instead.

Have a lovely week, folks.

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