The above was the question put forward by a gentleman at the end of the EventHuddle debate I had the pleasure of chairing today, although he was really making more of a statement than asking a question.
The point he wanted to get across was that maybe things are getting out of hand, having debates on sexual harassment was over the top, the title of the event (which was The Sexualisation and Exploitation Annihilation) was over the top, and that we were in danger of things going too far.
His reasoning for this ‘statement’ was that he had customers who were now afraid to be alone in a room with a female member of hospitality staff in case they were accused of assault.
Really? Surely if they just keep their hands to themselves and don’t behave in a suggestive manner that would possibly make a member of the opposite sex, or the same sex for that matter, feel intimidated or uncomfortable, there would be no grounds for complaint? It’s not rocket science is it?
I know there are some who would say surely there’s no harm in a bit of ‘innocent’ flirting is there?
Thankfully there was a discrimination lawyer and specialist sat on the panel yesterday who offered some clarity, and it was this; whatever the intention may have been, in the eyes of the law this has no relevance as it’s about the impact of the behaviour on the recipient and how it made them feel.
I have a few quite recent and personal examples that I wanted to share.
The first was working at a charity fundraiser (fancy that), one of my duties was taking auction bids and selling raffle tickets. One gentleman said he would buy some tickets if I performed a sexual act on his friend. But that was just a harmless joke right?
The second, funnily enough (or maybe not) was at the same charity fundraiser, one guest insisted on passing me his number and not just once, because obviously I was giving him signals that I wanted his number by topping up his wine glass and being polite and courteous?
It’s important for me to mention here that for this particular function I wasn’t wearing a glamorous dress, nor high heels, nor was I wearing a black dress with a high waisted belt, I don’t even think I was ‘made up’ particularly. I was in fact wearing a polo shirt, black trousers and a baseball cap! So it can’t have been because I was wearing ‘provocative’ clothing, was in a place I shouldn’t have been, or even had one too many, and why should all of that even matter?
I was however in an environment of money and alcohol, and where power games of the rich and famous can be a very toxic mix.
I also have a quite shocking personal experience roughly 4 months ago, near to my home. I was on the way home from an event, so not at one this time. I’m not sure how long the man had been following me in his car, but he waited until I had walked off the busy main road onto a quieter street before he pulled up alongside me on the pavement, and jumped out of his car because he just had to tell me that he thought I was beautiful and ask to take me out.
Seriously frightening! But nothing compared to the guilt I felt afterwards for not reporting the incident to the police, and believing that he might have gone on to harass another woman, or maybe even worse.
These are just 3 recent experiences, I’m in my mid 40s and these are certainly not the first, and sadly they’ll not be the last. I’ve experienced many others, unsolicited and without provocation, so no, my personal feeling on this is that it’s really not an exaggeration and no, I really do not fear that there is a danger this could get out of control, or that it could be taken too far, or that there will be a sudden uprising of women falsely accusing men of assault or harassment.
This recent so called ‘feminist’ movement started with revelations from the entertainment industry and Hollywood, swiftly followed by details from within UK politics, our industry and now the charity sector, there will be more to follow I’m sure because this is not just an industry only issue, it’s a societal issue.
There are established institutions and industries where cultures are deep rooted, as with the above industries, and nothing if honest that anyone was really ‘unaware’ went on. For example, we’ve all heard of the jokes made about the casting couch, and we’ve all made a joke or two about a ‘pervy’ MP at some point. We’ve all also made jokes about rich older men chasing after young women.
I don’t see this as the latest feminist revolt but simply women standing up and saying “you know what, enough now”. Which is exactly what has been seen with the recent #metoo campaign. I call that empowerment not feminism, that’s women letting other women know that they’re not alone in their experiences, and what it has worryingly done has highlight how widespread and common the problem really is.
It must come as quite a shock to most. Many women, myself included, have come to accept that certain behaviour was just part of being a woman, just one of those things maybe that you had to accept, not from being submissive, but just ignoring and turning a blind eye because it was just one of those things that you could do nothing about.
Positions of Power
What does need to change is people in perceived ‘positions of power’ thinking they can behave exactly how they like away from their homes and places of business, sometimes just being away from their homes, for the simple reason that they see having money or political advantage as a bargaining tool.
This perceived power can be incredibly intimidating for people further down the ‘food chain’, and in particular young impressionable women who may not have the same level of wisdom and confidence as their older counterparts.
Thankfully, the majority of people I know would not mistreat another person in a way that could be seen as being coerced, harassed or intimidated. My personal experiences have always arisen when I’ve been in a competitive and toxic environment of power and money, so something needs to give.
The good thing that’s emerging from recent events is that it is driving both genders to engage in debate and discussion. Like EventHuddle this morning men and women are now starting to sit down in the same forums to discuss these matters, and that can only be a good thing that needs to continue and happen more and more often.
I’ve never been a big fan of female or male only initiatives, events and forums, as I believe wholeheartedly that in order to resolve any conflict resolution and drive inclusiveness, openness and honesty you need both parties present at the table.
We need to continue talking and we need to start educating. It’s time for all family members, not just parents, whatever your role may be; aunty, uncle, grandfather, sister, to start speaking up about what is and is not acceptable behaviour, and we need to keep reminding ourselves of this; would you be happy if your daughter, wife, sister, mother, niece were the recipient?
The movement and events we’re seeing will not be the end of men and women being friends at work, dating their colleagues, flirting even, and you’ll still be able to take a colleague on a date, get married even, and here’s the important stuff – as long as you’re both consenting adults and whatever feeling or behaviour you may be exhibiting is reciprocated you can still do what the hell you like, as long as it is lawful that is.
It’s also important that a culture of blame does not begin and, for not really wanting to agree with the gentleman this morning but feel I must, that indeed we don’t get carried away.
Let’s continue having these conversations together sensibly and diplomatically, and let’s continue this really important debate so that men and women come up with satisfactory solutions and practices ‘together’.
It’s not the sole responsibility of men, nor women, nor employers even in regards to the behaviour of their employees, it’s the responsibility of all of us as a society.
I do wonder what Emmeline Pankhurst would have to say about it all.
2018 marks 100 years since, some not all, women received the right to vote in the UK. Sensationalised media headlines in response to all of this are not too dissimilar to those of the early 1900s. The same ridiculous statements and questions are still being seen; “the end of men”, “what will ‘they’ want next?”, “I won’t be able to talk to women at work now”, it’s all a bit ludicrous.
What women want, and rightly deserve, is to be treated equally, it’s as simple as that. No world domination, no downfall of men, just to be treated with dignity and respect and to live and work in an environment that’s free from harassment and intimidation.
Oh and whilst we’re there, maybe finally paying us the same salaries would be nice too!
Until next time #eventprofs…