Tag Archives: Everyday Sexism

#Metoo

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#Metoo

I was 7 years old, taking swimming lessons. I told my mum that the swimming instructor was holding me around the crotch area and it made me feel funny. I contracted a whole batch of verrucas from the swimming pool and the lessons stopped. I’ve never liked swimming in pools much since. #Metoo

I had chronic childhood acne, so I went to see the top dermatologist in the city. I told my mum that I got a funny feeling from him, and so I never was taken to see him again. It was later found out that he had sexually assaulted a number of patients, including a girl I worked with later on. In this instance, not #metoo.

I was 13. Like a lot of 13 year olds, I wanted to be older than I was, so I snuck into a disco with my cousins for over-16s. I met a guy there. We met up the next day. He was 25. I told him that I was 13. We kissed. He didn’t seem to mind about my age. #Metoo

I was 14. Lazing in bed in my room. A relative, who was staying, came in. I pretended to be asleep. He stuck his hand down my nightie. A year later, I told my mum. I never saw him again. #Metoo

I was 15. Staying with my best friend in her house in Sicily. We wanted to put on a show, a ‘spettacolo’. We decided our contribution to the show would be to dance around in our bikinis to ‘Papa don’t Preach’. We showed her father our routine. He was horrified and absolutely forbade us to do it. We didn’t understand why. I understand now. It would have been a spectacle and we were spectacularly naive. Not #metoo.

Between the ages of 13-15, I was bullied by two boys at my school. Bullied with daily, relentless gendered insults, whispered sotto voce: Slut’. ‘Bitch’. ‘Cunt’. There was nothing sexual to it, but it was relentless, daily harassment and terrifying. When I watched my dad die, age 16, I knew that nothing they could say could hurt me anymore. The next time they tried to harass me, I tore them down with a sharp-as-an-arrow, whip-accurate retort. They never bothered me again. #Metoo

Aged 16, I go to New York for the summer to au pair. I am on a bus to upstate New York to stay with my grandma. On the bus, a man starts talking to me. He tells me about how his mom, Big Red, would love to meet a real Irish person, and how I should definitely get off the bus at Roscoe with him. I politely decline a number of times, though he is incredibly insistent. I go on to meet my unsuspecting grandma. I had no idea why he was so desperate for me to meet his mom, but something didn’t feel right. Not #metoo.

I’m in my bed in a shared house in Dublin, aged 18. Earlier that evening some friends of the live-in landlord had come to stay. They seemed nice enough. I chatted a little with them and then went to bed. I was woken up by one of them on top of me, trying to hold me down while telling me that ‘I wanted it’. With all my might, I kicked him in the groin, and rushed to a room in the house vacated for the weekend. Luckily, this room has a lock. I lock the door and stay there, heart racing, until I know they’ve gone the next day. I tell the landlord. He tells me I must be mistaken, his friends wouldn’t do that. I move house a few months later. #metoo

I hitchhiked everywhere up until the age of 21. I got a lift one evening from a lorry driver going back to Dublin. We were chatting about AIDs. Suddenly, around Cashel, he said ‘So do you want me to pull over and we can do it?’ I let out a horrified ‘No!’ and very firmly told him to drive or I would kick him with my Doc Martens. We drive in silence to Dublin and as he’s about to let me off on the quays, he said, by way of an excuse ‘You kept talking about AIDs. You made me think you wanted to do ‘it’.’ I thank him, because I’m a polite middle-class young woman, and slam the door shut. I didn’t hitchhike long-distance after that. #metoo

It’s my first sun holiday. I was so excited, and I’d bought a long, navy, figure-hugging dress. I loved that dress. I went through the security barriers at the airport. There was no beeping but the security guards made me go through it again. And again. And again. And again. They started giggling and admitted they just wanted to see me walk in my tight long dress. I felt humiliated. #metoo

I’m walking home from a friend’s on the South Circular Road in Dublin. A man stops and asks me for the time. He then asks me if I would have sex with him. For £20. I shout ‘No!’ and run all the way home. #metoo

I visit Leipzig for the first time. I’m staying with my friend Claudia. We walk past a park. Something looks out of place. It turns out it is a man, with a shirt and tie, and a hedgerow up to his thighs, visibly masturbating. My friend is horrified and assures me this is not acceptable behaviour in Leipzig. I’d already seen a guy do that twice in Cork, walking down the street, masturbating as he walked, his penis sticking up over some very baggy sweatpants. The first time I saw him, he shocked me. The second time, I told him to put it away, or else it would fall off. I’m 26, and already wise to the ways of men. #metoo

I’m on my first job out of drama school. I’m excited to be working. The experience is marred by the constant harassment from an actor in his 60s. He wants to impress upon me what a big deal he is – he’s had some one-hit wonder with a song back in the 70s and been living off the royalties ever since. I tell him to keep his hands to himself and to his side of the room. #metoo

I grow long, Titian-red hair and so am hired for a show which requires nudity. Great, I think, I can do that. I’m comfortable in my own skin, it’s not gratuitous, it’ll be a new experience. For publicity shots for Time Out and The Stage, I’m offered a closed set and I take it. The director and his stage manager keep peeping through one of the windows that have been covered with black-out paper, pointing and giggling. I feel humiliated. I explain to the PR lady after what happened, and why I really don’t want the pictures used. They’re published anyway. I might be comfortable with my body, but I won’t ever put myself in that situation again. #metoo

An older director invites me for tea. We have a lovely afternoon. He grabs my ass as he kisses me on the cheek as I leave. It barely even registers at this point. It’s certainly on the tame side of my experiences in life thus far. But, hey, #metoo

I’m working in a non-acting job. I need it to pay my bills. I’ve fallen into serious debt and need that steady income. They are trying to get rid of me. Not because I’m not good at my job. But because I’ve held them to account on their practices around women. One member of their senior management was allegedly arrested for wife-beating while in a more junior position. This does not stop him getting promoted. There were whispers around another as a rapist. He is also promoted. Yet another would summon young attractive female employees to come sit on his knee. He is one of the owners. Women are ritually undermined, overlooked, humiliated. They get rid of 5 women over a 9 month period in key positions. I do not stand with 4 of those women at the time in a meaningful way. I am ashamed of myself. I am the 5th. I decide to do something meaningful. I prepare a 22-page document with supporting evidence of their sexist practices. I know where this is headed and I know I must stand up now. I must be counted. The boss is affronted. He later rants to a fellow worker ‘How could I be a misogynist? My wife is the biggest feminist there is!’ After a 7-month campaign of bullying, mind-games, harassment, cajoling, a nervous breakdown (mine), I come back to work. I last 4 days before telling them we either settle or go to court, and I don’t care which it is. I’ve had enough. We settle. #metoo

I have been cat-called as many times as I’ve had hot dinners. I’ve been stalked a number of times by ex-boyfriends. I’ve been harassed into dates and even into relationships by men who wouldn’t take no for an answer. I’ve had men pull over in their cars to ask me to get in. I’ve been knocked off my bike by men looking for a date. I’ve worked with men who tell me their wives ‘don’t understand them’. I’ve worked with men who’ve used their power and reputation to bully me in a non-sexual, but nonetheless damaging way. I’ve overheard men on public transport talking about what they were going to do to particular girls in the type of locker room talk that one expects now from the POTUS. I’ve been catfished by someone pretending to be David Haye until I contacted his agent to confirm it was him. I’ve been invited by a producer of porn to contact him. I’ve been the subject of death threats for having an opinion online. #Metoo. #Metoo. #Metoo. More times than I am capable of remembering or writing about: #MEFUCKINGTOO

And yet: I’m lucky. Despite several near-misses, only a portion of them listed above, I’ve never been raped, unlike several friends who’ve confided in me. Unlike other friends, no man has ever attempted to hit me. I’m tall, athletic and strong. I keep myself athletic and strong and always on guard. My keys are my weapon of choice. I’ve developed a persona that is my armour. The strong woman. The warrior woman. The woman with the big voice and the big laugh. I like this woman. She protects me. She takes on my adversaries one by one, the bullies, the misogynists, the would-be abusers and belittlers of women and vanquishes them. One by one. I cover my vulnerability not because I want to, but because I have to. As a woman, never give away all of your heart, I was once told. I thought that was dispiriting at the time, and now I see the wisdom of it. I thought I thought I’d be done with this shit once I hit my thirties. Oh the innocence. Every time something happens, I am jolted from my reality of being a human being to the reality of living in a world that does not favour the human beings with vaginas.

Can we change it? I don’t know. I know it will not happen if men do not help.

Should we change it? Yes. Absolutely yes. The only objectors to this would be  people who want to continue harassing and abusing.

How do we change it? The first step is listening. Believing women and their stories. Whether it’s misogynistic bullying, sexual harassment, assault: giving the benefit of the doubt. Not many women would want to go through even a workplace hearing to tell their stories of harassment and abuse unless it was true. That in itself can be a harrowing and mentally traumatising experience. It says something that in the #Cosby case over 60 women came forward, in the #Weinstein case over 30, and still there are murmurings of ‘Why didn’t they come forward sooner? Is this a vendetta against men?’. This very thinking is a silencing mechanism, because women know the cost of being visible. It’s something we live with all our lives. It’s a technique that men like Weinstein use to great effect. After that – I’m not sure. Make certain more women are involved in power positions? It can’t hurt to at least try that. After all, it’s not really been done before, and we can tell from the #metoo stories emerging that this is not just a Hollywood/arts industry problem. The industry of story-telling has merely been the catalyst for women from all walks of life to tell their stories.

Let me tell you why this is important. I’m not going to tell you a story about why this is important for your daughters, your wives, your sisters. I was house-sitting in a very wealthy part of London last year. The house belonged to a wealthy older woman of 87. She’d led a privileged life, and her husband had worked in close proximity with a relative of the Royal Family. She was in the early stages of dementia, in and out of lucidity. One day, when I was sitting down with her, she told me of her driving lessons, aged 17. She spent at least as much time fending off the driving instructor from touching her up. She didn’t want to tell her father, because she felt he would have done nothing. She didn’t want to tell her mother, who would have made a scene and that would have stopped her learning to drive, which signified freedom. So, 70 years later, this patrician, Cambridge-educated lady in the first stages of losing her mind, still remembered this ritual humiliation, this abuse of power, this demonstration of privilege. Despite all she had achieved in her life (and it was considerable), that scar still burned bright. Her fear, anger and upset was palpable.

That’s the power of the #metoo hashtag. We’re finally visible. Telling our stories. This is not an attack on all men, but it sure is about as personal as it can get. Because until we tell our stories, reconcile the truth of those stories with the fiction of the patriarchal narrative, how can we hope to create space in this world for every human being to live safely, to reach our potential as a species and to evolve and thrive accordingly? That’s what I want – do #youtoo?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Awakening

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There was a great meme doing the rounds a few weeks, that showed how few women there are in the political landscape worldwide. The pictures depicted lone women sitting down in various governments and organisations, with the men around them taken out. The pictures were a stark reminder of how much work needs to be done before female equality is achieved, and also, whether we realise it or not, our lives are dictated by a one-gender world viewpoint.

Something strange and wonderful has been happening within the Irish community however, both worldwide and at home, over the last couple of weeks. People have been looking for the missing women. Ignited by the Abbey Theatre’s virtual exclusion of women in its centenary celebrations, the conversation started by Lian Bell and #WakingtheFeminists is having an open discussion at the Abbey today. I am cautiously optimistic about this. The first part in any process is dialogue, hence the optimism. The caution because, let’s face it, most women have been in this place before. I marched on the original Miss X marches in Dublin, and was reminded of this starkly when Savita Halappanavar died. Those of us who’ve emigrated and been away from Ireland always have this dichotomy when it comes to the motherland: we love its optimism, we hate the inertia towards meaningful change. And yet, quietly hopeful since the Yes Equality vote that maybe real change for women is possible.

There has also been the inevitable backlash from some quarters – fairly quiet, but inevitable. Regarding the Abbey, I’ve seen a few comments on social media along the lines of ‘Maybe women haven’t been submitting plays to the Abbey theatre and that’s why they haven’t been chosen’. Yes – well, maybe. But the way to dispel that train of thought is to get the figures on submissions from the Abbey Theatre itself. I’m fairly confident that is not the issue however, as the Abbey itself has acknowledged potential unconscious bias in its selection. Also, if that were the case, there would need to be questions asked as to (a) why was this lack not identified  and (b) what are the impediments to women writing and the solutions i.e. a room of one’s own, childcare etc. We also have to recognise that opinions and preferences are formed, by and large, by our life experiences; and no one person’s, or group of people’s opinion is infallible. We only have to look at the history of the Abbey Theatre (as an example – the theatre is far from the only institution to reject great works) to see that is the case: the rejection of ‘The Silver Tassie’ by O’Casey, several early works by John B Keane, and also of the modern Synge himself, Martin McDonagh.

Women are hamstrung in the world of film, theatre and TV, more than our male counterparts. That’s a worldwide issue, not just an Irish one. And it happens to women across the spectrum. Reese Witherspoon made a valid point when she joked to Amy Schumer this week that she, at age 39, would probably now only be able (in the prevailing patriarchal ‘wisdom’ of Hollywood) to play Schumer’s grandmother, and Schumer would have to play her own mother in a biopic of Schumer’s life. Ageism and sexism mainly has an adverse effect on women, to the detriment of fulsome storytelling in society. In a way, when we look at the gender bias in parliaments and board rooms worldwide, this is not surprising. In Dáil Éireann, the Irish parliament, women make up 20.5% of the total TDs (MPs). That’s an increase last year, by the way, and was seen as a ‘record high’. In a patriarchal society, the dominance of the stories of one gender takes precedence over the other, and that is down to a number of factors – social status, economic status, power prerogative – which all have their roots in inequality. One of the more imaginative campaigns that is challenging that narrative is that of my namesake, Gráinne Maguire, who has taken to live-tweeting the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, her menstrual cycle. A light-hearted approach to a serious issue, she makes an important point: Irish women are such second-class citizens in our own country that our bodies are not our own and our voices and stories go unheard.

Maybe it is the case that women have to be more vociferous in the telling of our stories. There are economic factors that sometimes mitigate against that however, one of the biggest being economic. When you are living a life, trying to put food on the table, be you married or single, it is made more challenging by the fact that women work the best part of two months of the year for free. As Laura Luchador tweeted to @EverydaySexism this week: “If I had a pound for everytime I was told I didn’t need feminism I’d have 85p each time”. There’s childcare. There’s trying to operate in a man’s world with female biology. As Oona King recounted, she was expected to do her job despite suffering monthly with endometriosis, to the extent of collapsing on the House of Commons floor and being stretchered out on an ambulance. I sometimes wonder whether there would be a sea-change in Irish men’s opinions on female equality in Irish society if they sat down with their mothers and had a frank discussion about the challenges in her life: maybe the men who sexually harassed her, even in casual instances of everyday sexism; the expectations placed on sexual self-restraint and the real consequences in the era of the Magdalen laundries should she fall short of that; the fact that she could not legally buy contraception and had to give up her job up till the 1970s if she married. Maybe we could start an #AsktheMammy campaign. I’m sure it would be an eye-opener for some men into the world of women.

And here’s the crux of this issue: women are usually well-versed in the ways of men, because we live in a world dominated by their systems and stories, whereas the reverse is rarely true. So this latest chapter in the history of the Abbey Theatre is of paramount importance not only on an artistic level, but on a national, and potentially, because of the history of great writers in the English language our country has produced, on an international level also. To be fair to a lot of men out there, they are keen to know more. I’ve been inspired and grateful for their support and interest and their stories of the great women who’ve inspired and helped them in their lives and careers. To be fair to the Abbey, they are engaging and hosting this discussion today and that is a very positive  step in the right direction. But with a mere 10% of the female experience originally proposed for such a seminal centenary by the theatre that had as one of its founders the playwright Lady Gregory – well, there’s a lot of discussion and constructive action to be had. I’m looking forward to it.

#WakingtheFeminists #WakingtheNation