Diary: 'The more a certain behaviour is expected, the easier it is to get away with'

IssueFebruary - March 2018
Comment by Claire Poyner

When I was a teenager, my schoolfriends and I would walk out from school past a timber merchants. Every time a lorry came in or out we’d get horns tooting and drivers leaning out and expressing their opinions on our bodies and what they’d like to do to them.

That’s the way it was in the mid-1970s. In my late 40s, I noticed that this was no longer happening. Great! Men had finally grown up and no longer felt the need to yell out invitations for a quickie in the car park.

Er, no. My daughter confirmed otherwise some 10 years ago when she was 13. It’s just, you know, being over 40 meant I was no longer worth commenting on. Result!

The latest Weinstein et al stories must surely prove that men definitely have not grown up. Most women have been cat-called at some point, and many have suffered gropings on public transport, witnessed ‘flashers’, and had to put up with constant comments from work colleagues or acquaintances.

Many men don’t get it. Witness Woody Allen (ugh!) describing the recent events as ‘a witch hunt… where every guy in an office who winks at a woman is suddenly having to call a lawyer’. Other men have expressed a worry that the human race would die out if men didn’t ‘hit on’ complete strangers, or demand sex from their co-workers. Sometimes people have got together with their life partner at work (yup!) but not after a long campaign of sexual harassment.

Sadly, some women don’t get it either. I’ve only this week had a long Facebook discussion with a woman who maintained that women didn’t need to go on the recent march as they have equality in the UK. Equal pay and all that. As if that were the only criterion (or even true).

Let’s be clear here, very few, if any, people have met the love of their life, or even just got a date, by making crude comments about women’s bodies, or demanding sex from a complete stranger.

Most women don’t like it. Most of us know it’s not meant to be flattering but meant to demean and amuse their mates.

On the few occasions when I have ‘answered back’, I got abuse hurled at me along with a ‘well I wasn’t interested anyway.…’ So the reasoning isn’t to get a date (or sex) but just to embarrass and even intimidate.

So why has this been in the news lately? The showbiz revelations might be a catalyst but these stories have come out before but then been forgotten about.

Is it just that women have had enough? Women are at last being listened to, making others feel bolder at telling their own stories.

It seems to have been expected that men would behave in a certain way. The ‘casting couch’ – expected. The boss sidling up to a young employee and making sexist comments – expected. A chorus of personal remarks from a building site – expected.

The more a certain behaviour is expected, the easier it is to get away with (and for the recipients of such behaviour to shrug and put up with it). That’s just the way men are.

Except they are not all like that. I can’t imagine any man I know behaving in this way. What would really help, I think, is for the men who do not go in for crass sexist comments and gropings to call out those who do. Male readers of PN: have you ever heard other men joking about this behaviour? And not said anything?

Oh, and, finally, we do have to smash the patriarchy.

Topics: Feminism
See more of: Diary