Want to know what one of the worst things is about the Harvey Weinstein scandal is? It didn’t shock me. It barely even registered actually. Powerful man abuses his position and women to boot. So what. Same shit, different day. But as the stories kept coming, something shook me out of my apathy. I got angry. Because this isn’t just about vulnerable women far away in Hollywood. It’s about all of us, and the way we are being treated time and again in the workplace.
The first time I realised things were different if you’re a girl was in my first ever interview for a job post-uni. My potential future boss told me he had an illegal request for me if I wanted to work with him. I started to sweat – I desperately needed the job to pay off my too-much-fun-at-uni induced overdraft, but how far was I prepared to go?! When he told me he expected women to wear skirts in the office place ‘because it’s much nicer to look at’ I sighed with relief and immediately said yes without giving it a second thought. I’d been expecting something much worse, wearing a skirt seemed quite tame in comparison.
Except it isn’t fine. I do not go to work merely to provide you something nice to look at. I am here to do a job, and actually, I pride myself on doing it bloody well. By reducing me to an object, the playing field had already been set between me and my male counterparts. And damn it, it was in no way equal. Fast forward a couple of years and I was working at a PR Agency when I found myself in Zurich presenting a client review. We’d done a good job, and later that evening we went for drinks with the client. We then returned to the hotel where my (very) drunk boss proceeded to get ‘handsy’ with my colleague and me. She was only 22. I was 25. He was in his forties, married with kids. He then proceeded to urinate in the middle of the hotel lobby, so I was left paying a cleaning bill for my boss, apologising to hotel staff and trying to persuade them not to kick us all out, all the while trying to act like this was all TOTALLY FINE so as not to upset my colleague who looked about as out of her depth as I felt. I reported what had happened to our MD, who was very kind but ultimately did nothing. I had to continue to work, closely, with that man until I found another job. I cannot imagine what their response would be had I behaved in a similar way.
More recently, while 8 months pregnant, I again experienced a now sadly familiar belittling. I’m pretty senior in my job, and was at a meeting with some very high-level clients to discuss a business critical issue. I was being introduced to a few people I’d not met in person before and one of them commented that we had already talked quite a lot on the phone. He followed this up with the killer line, “and luckily her face doesn’t disappoint”. In one sentence, I had been reduced from a senior consultant, there to guide them through a particularly tricky issue, to a piece of ass. Again.
There is a little part of me that worries I’m being daft for getting upset over this. I tell myself it doesn’t really matter, I shouldn’t make a fuss or speak up. But the reality is, were I a man I’d be afforded respect without ever having to open my mouth. Every day, I fight to be heard and taken seriously in a world that expects women to shut up and sit down. A world where journalists still think it’s ok to question whether if someone ‘consented’ to have sex with a man like Harvey Weinstein in return for a job, it counts as abuse. Where Rose McGowan spoke out for years against Harvey Weinstein and no one believed her. Where a woman has been sacked from her job for sharing body positive images on her social network. Where there’s a chance the next leader of the Conservative party will be a man who doesn’t believe a woman should be allowed an abortion, even in the case of rape.
It is not ok that we still have to protest this shit.