What you need to know about everyday sexual harassment


Note: This post is somewhat off topic, but it needs to be written and what’s written wants to be read, so I’m posting it here, and apologies to anyone who hoped for a post about food.

My friend Gavin posted this blog by Gretchen Kelly and this one by Katyboo1 yesterday. They both struck a chord with me.

What de-escalation is

Gretchen introduces the term ‘de-escalation’. I haven’t heard it used in this context, but I know exactly what she means. She says it is the:

Minimizing. Quietly acquiescing.

that women do when approached inappropriately, leered at, jeered at, or otherwise treated as sexual objects.

De-escalation is when you quietly ignore, without protest, the whistles and dirty shouts. The comments on your sexuality and how often you have sex. The staring.

The fucking staring.

But, see, here’s the thing. I’m not someone who thinks on her feet too well. I need time to process information. And I’m not very good at de-escalating. I’m loud and reactionary, and immediate with it, so you’d think I’d be doing much better than those women who de-escalate.

Well, guess what?

What happens when you escalate it

Do you think, just because a woman says there is a problem, men back down immediately, and let her go her merry way?

Do you imagine other people sort it out for her? Ask him to leave? Tell him he shouldn’t have done that?

Only if they happen to be there at the time. Even if they were, they’ll only do so if they saw it for themselves. If they don’t recognise that something unacceptable just happened, they don’t.

It’s hidden. It’s a secret brush up, a look, or an insinuation as often as it’s a loud group of drunks on public transport. It’s still frightening.

If you escalate it yourself … ask the man why he just said ‘that’ to you, ask him what he’s staring at, or flip him the finger when you get off the bus … you can quickly find yourself being made to feel humiliated, stupid, or aggressive, from some kind of vicious insult, or even aggrieved anger.

Male friends often miss it, even if they would be shocked that it happened, and telling them about it makes you sound like a crazy.

If nobody else saw it, they don’t really believe you.

Escalation isn’t always worth the risk.

In dangerous situations, I’ve learned to smile at them and walk on as quickly as possible. It’s the best I can do, because an angry word or face usually results in derisory shouts and actual approaches by men, and ignoring them can sometimes be that.

They’re more likely to leave you alone if you smile.

That is awful.

Sounds trivial? Small? Something we should live with?

Why should we? Almost 50% of the population is affected by this. It may often be one of those low-level intolerances; the sort that most of us can live with, like a dull hum of ych y fi, but why should it be allowed at any level?

No other abuse is tolerated.

The usefulness of sexual harassment policies and other myths

Companies that have sexual harassment policies simply chair a ‘he said she said’ situation, and there’s a need to judge how serious the abuse will be seen as, even before you go to the Police or to your HR department, because the system puts everyone through painful processes. If you press charges at any level – employer or Police –  you better make sure your evidence is watertight. (What evidence?)

If you’re already vulnerable, it’s pretty hard to decide to go through that, especially if you’re already blaming yourself.

What determines a vulnerable woman?

Most women are not little mice that stay quiet and acquiesce easily. Most women are strong, brave, and capable of enduring hardships, but many are no less vulnerable for all that. Even the loud, gobby ones, like myself.

There are a lot of different reasons for people’s vulnerabilities. Living alone, desperate for love, presenting opportunities by accident, low self-esteem, individual fears … all of these can make a woman vulnerable.

And then there are those women who seem to present some sort of challenge to men, just because they are noisy, obnoxious, or smarter.

To escalate or not isn’t the point

Clearly, de-escalation and escalation are two sides of the same coin. They’re both a defence against the same thing. Whether one is better than the other is moot – de-escalation is probably safer … sort of.

The problem of course is that so many men believe that they have some kind of right to our bodies and sexualities. Not all men, of course not. But so many you couldn’t imagine.

I have some vague idea that trial and punishment are not the way to change the way that people think. Culture change would surely be more effective at changing wholesale behaviour, but where do you start with that? How do you get an entire culture to promote the fact that women have the only rights to their bodies and sexualities and their lives?

Sure, there are many people in need in the world, some terrible situations with appalling personal losses, but although this may not be life-or-death for all of them, it affects maybe half of the people in the world and is life-or-death for many of them. This is important, and people should listen.

If not to me, then to other more sensible thinking women like Gretchen Kelly and Katieboo1.

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