When I was 19, someone yelled “show me ya tits” at me while I was at work.
I worked at a tertiary education campus, in the engineering section no less, and didn’t have to wear corporate clothes – so I guess they thought I was just another student as I strolled along the corridor and that it was therefore “OK”.
That event was 25 years ago – not long after sexual harassment legislation came into force. Not that it made much difference back then. Generations of bad workplace behaviour takes more than a new law to turn it around.
But I was one of the lucky ones.
My boss at the time was a man of many principles. He was probably the same age that I am now and was the father of two teenage sons.
As I rushed back to my office reeling from the type of language that I’d regularly encountered simply walking down the street, but never at work, I came across my boss and he could see straight away that something was up.
If our paths hadn’t crossed, I’m not sure I would have said anything because, well, men had often made sexual comments to me (and all my female friends) – perhaps because they believed they had a right to do so and we were just sexual objects, right?
It was a very “blokey” work environment but my boss was a softly-spoken, academic type of guy and when I outlined what had taken place he became something different entirely.
He was outraged and appalled.
Within two hours, he had identified the culprits and hauled them into his office where they were threatened with expulsion from their degrees unless they made amends to me in a number of ways – including a formal, and sincere, apology.
My boss gave me the option of hearing the apologies in person or by letter – I choose the latter because I didn’t really want to ever see them again.
In the past few weeks, with the Harvey Weinstein scandal, I’ve thought about that experience many times.
And it’s not as if it was the worst thing that has happened to me in my life as a female because it’s not even close.
What was so memorable about that was that my boss – a white successful male – acted immediately when he became aware of sexual harassment on his turf.
It’s quite sad to realise that was quarter of a century ago and it appears that in some industries not much has changed since such abhorrent workplace behaviour became illegal.
Of course, Weinstein’s behaviour was all about power and using his position to satisfy his creepy desires.
I read recently that the only way that a woman can truly protect herself from “getting into such a situation” – apart from some men simply acting like decent human beings – is to have power herself and that usually means having money.
While there is a supposed push to redress the gender imbalance in business and the arts, one only needs to look at the continued poor representation of women in board rooms and that out of the 18 Emmy nominations this year for drama or comedy writing two were women – and they were part of male writing teams.
In fact, a blind screenwriting competition I recently entered resulted in one female finalist and five males.
It seems that even when you don’t have your name attached to a film, the bias still skews to male stories rather than female ones.
The woman won, which I’d like to think was purely on merit, but does seem a little like tokenism to some degree.
I’ve tried to get better at not watching purely male stories lately and have been known to walk out of cinemas if the female characters are non-existent or their only dialogue is a vehicle to progress a male story arc. If there is less demand, surely one day there will be less supply?
Ditto why I haven’t watched such wonderful new TV series such as The Deuce, which is “a look at life in New York City during the 1970s and 80s when porn and prostitution were rampant in Manhattan” or the delightfully titled “SMILF”.
One thing I’ve always struggled with is the huge number of TV show and movies that feature prostitutes or business meetings that conveniently happen in strip clubs.
I mean, really? How many people do you know that go to a strip club to talk about a new start-up business?
But we all know it’s about tits and arse because revolting men like Harvey Weinstein commissioned the story in the first place.
But I digress, what my reminiscing over the past few weeks has taught me is that I wish there were – and will be – more men in the world like my old boss.
The type of man who not only doesn’t partake in inappropriate behaviour because he has all the power, but the type of man who takes action when he witnesses sexual harassment of any kind anywhere.
Only then, I believe, will things truly start to change.