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Changing The Future Of What It Means To Be Female

Author: Lauren Coleman

Jess guest authored a post for us last year and contacted me earlier this week as news of the Presidents Club scandal broke. I was appalled by the allegations and highly commend Jess for being brave enough to share her own sexual harassment experience with us in the hope of shaping change for the future.

“This is not proper harassment, this is a journalist who has said herself she was simply after a story. She must have known what she was letting herself in for”. As I listen to the head of a female business organisation on Radio Two attack Financial Times journalist Madison Marriage over her report of the President’s Association Dinner, I feel incensed. This reporter has been so brave to attend an event undercover and write her revealing account of what occurred. She must have felt nervous to reveal the allegations, after all, it’s an exposé on how a secret society of the most privileged and publicly respected men in the UK truly act behind closed doors. And sadly, probably not just the doors of The Dorchester.

This one journalist showed such courage in telling her story and facing the potential onslaught of criticism that I immediately pulled my car over and tweeted her to share my sentiments. Because until now I haven’t shared my sentiments. Haven’t been involved in the #MeToo debate or all of the stories breaking about this topic. If I’m honest, I don’t think I felt brave enough to say it publicly, that I’ve experienced sexual harassment, as I’m sure so many of us have. I worried that I would get questioned or wouldn’t be believed, that it wouldn’t class as “real” sexual harassment or I would be branded an attention seeker or as another feminist.

But today something changed in me and I realised that if I continue to sit in silence then how will I ever change anything and I don’t really have a right to be angry when I haven’t contributed to changing the future for the women growing up behind us, women like my daughter. So today I’m being courageous and saying boldly “me too” but most importantly “no more.”

I am not a journalist, an actress or a hostess, I am simply a writer based in Cornwall, not some high-flying city location. Yet, I have experienced many men approaching me. I’ve been told by a businessman at an event that he loves being taller than me as he can “see my tits”, by a different businessman that he finds the way I talk sexy, and one even approached me at a public event and told me some of the things he had always wanted to do to me (not publishable).

One man repeatedly commented on how I look, my clothes, how sexy he thinks I am… that over a period of months I started walking different routes around our shared office building simply to avoid contact with him. When I confided in a friend he said perhaps it was how I dressed as I wore smart but tailored outfits. I started to dress in baggier clothes, take less care of my appearance, all to get this man to stop his behaviour. He didn’t. Eventually, after months of putting up with his inappropriate comments and even letting himself into my office because he was senior and had access to a key, I spoke to his equal. I told her openly and honestly what had occurred. She said I was just over-reacting and that he was a nice guy, he goes to church every week and was known for his charity work.

I felt both ashamed that I had questioned his behaviour, and upset that I wasn’t supported by this respected woman and I never mentioned it again. I moved out of the building shortly after that. But it stayed with me and I’ve gone on to endure comments about my figure, my chest, my confidence, my hair, being patted on the head and sexual innuendos by many men in similar positions. After having my daughter I cut off from the local business community and started working out of county more. I discovered other women who have experienced this behaviour but we don’t talk about it, probably because we’re worried that someone will say “don’t be silly, you’re being too sensitive, he is a good man who gives to charity.”

Now it’s apparent looking at today’s story, giving to charity means very little when it comes to the actions of men like this. Is there a correlation between money, power and this behaviour? Maybe it’s just because people in power have the contacts, the gravitas and the money to leverage themselves should anything become public knowledge, after all, nobody believed me – not one of my closest friends or a powerful, successful woman in business. Today I stand appalled at what was witnessed by Madison Marriage but sadly not surprised. I have decided I will share my story and reach out to local schools to speak to young women that are about to go out in the world and may encounter men like this on their journey. I would like to inform them of how to find their voice and not to be afraid or intimidated.

One of the calls on Radio Two today came from a woman who had experienced a very similar episode to the President’s Club Dinner event in 1983 and was shocked that 35 years later things remained the same, just even more covert and protected. I was born in 1983, now I am a grown woman experiencing this same behaviour and it’s still hidden behind the doors of secret societies and gentlemen’s handshakes, preying on the assumption that women will be too vulnerable to speak up. I know that it’s my responsibility to ensure that when my daughter turns 35 she isn’t still sharing that same story. So today I am one woman who has stood up and said enough. This is my commitment to changing the future of what it means to be female.

If you are a victim of harassment then please read Charlotte’s previous article with advice on actions you may choose to take.

{Contributors}

Guest post by Jess Collins

Author
Lauren likes Paris, Prosecco and Paint Charts
Follow Lauren on instagram @mrslaurencoleman

31 thoughts on “Changing The Future Of What It Means To Be Female

    1. Back to add more now I’m at work and I can type faster!

      I did my dissertation on feminism back in the day and I remember being surprised to learn there was a wave of feminism which was about empowerment through exploitation. Questions as to whether we, as women, yield higher power because men are, in essence, trapped into submission by a pretty face and pert breasts. I kind of got it then in my 19 year old impressionable state – these women certainly wrote powerfully about it but actually, now I’m older and have been in the workplace I can see the traditional feminist viewpoint of this neo-feminist one – that patriarchy has shaped their views to warp them in some way but then isn’t this just WOMEN JUDGING OTHER WOMEN?

      I guess what I’m trying to say is that I think the issue is too diverse to have a single solitary “opinion” on it. Whereas societies views towards racism changed because society recognised it as BAD, the issues around gender inequality and oppression are so wide that there is never just going to be a single solitary feminist viewpoint on it. Until you have women as a whole standing up for the issue then nothing will change.

      I think maybe we need to treat each issue separately. First stop PAY ME THE DAMN SAME.

      1. Hi Rebecca,

        Thank you for your comments. I actually did my dissertation on women and body image and the concept of sex in the arts interestingly enough (seems a long time ago now!) I think it’s such a complex topic and one that was driven home to me when I was told perhaps it was how I was dressing that was attracting the behaviour in the first place (it wasn’t). So much could be written on the topic but I share your sentiment and the gender pay gap is definitely something that needs to be addressed.

  1. Yes to this, but two things to add:

    1) I am proud to be “another feminist,” another person who thinks men and women should be treated as the equals we are. I remember telling a uni mentor that I felt we were post feminism back in 2008 (cringe) and how she didn’t roll her eyes at me I don’t know. Yes, the famous “second wave” icons like Greer are problematic now (putting it mildly) but (intersectional) feminism is more relevant than ever right now- and not just in not being assaulted and harassed but in misogyny in medicine/research, child and social care, representation, everywhere.

    2) Yes my daughter, but also my son: I will not raise a loving gentle little boy who gets corrupted by rape culture (that’s what it is isn’t it- entitlement to a woman’s body regardless of her will). I will not let my son become afraid of his emotions and intellect thanks to toxic masculinity.

    Oh, and 3) if you can, switch to 6 Music. You won’t regret it 😉

    1. I agree with you Lucy.

      Jess your experience is appalling and we must empower women to speak out as you have done but we must also educate boys and men so that they don’t abuse women in the first place. My son is 7 weeks old and I’m already thinking about how to tell him about the importance of valuing people for who they are and of not exploiting women. It feels like a big responsibility but one my husband and I feel we absolutely can’t shy away from.

      1. Thank you Francesca, you are absolutely right and I hope by the time your son has grown up, he witnesses a very different world – I know that we are moving in the right direction by talking about it and educating young children to know how to treat others. Thank you and congratulations on your baby boy!

    2. Thank you so much Lucy, you make such excellent points. Firstly, apologies for the “another feminist” comment – it did say “SIMPLY another feminist” but I had to ruthlessly cut words (the article was a lot longer! Ha!) but I think my main concern here was it being commented on in that way as I have experienced previously and in truth I am a feminist but for me it’s about so much more than that. I should have made this clearer really.

      Secondly, yes yes yes to your (and everyone else’s son!) I don’t have a son and when I wrote it I was thinking about how it feels to have to respond to this behaviour as a female but I completely agree that we have to educate our sons so that they can avoid the corrupt culture. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and I will check out 6 Music! 😉

    3. Lucy, I am glad you mentioned your son here… A lot of the time on RMS we are pro-women and so we should be but a few times after reading an article about our ‘daughters’ etc and what will their world be like I have thought to myself what about ‘our little boys’. As a mum to a 3 year old boy I think they are also the key aren’t they because as their role models we need to raise them so that the next generation changes its attitudes.

      1. Hi Nicola,
        I absolutely agree with this. I know Jess was approaching this as a mother to a daughter and sees the importance of addressing the future generation. As you all know I’m not a mother but I also feel it my duty to teach my godson the importance of equality and respect (even though his mother and father do a sterling job) and also to teach my twelve year old niece the power of her voice. We all need to see the example we are setting for the future generation.

      2. Hi Nicola,

        Thank you so much, of course it is so important for sons as much as daughters. I don’t have a son and it just drove home to me so strongly when I heard the radio story that I had been my daughter’s age when a particular story was reported and that now I have a daughter of my own and do not want her in a position where she has to endure what I have. Sons have to be role models in order to change attitudes as you so rightly state, I’m sorry the article was not more balanced in this viewpoint from a lack of my personal experience but I wanted to reply to let you know I 100% agree with your sentiments.

  2. I think the recent spotlight put onto this is fantastic and things must change. I think we’re on a journey with how humans respect each other. This isn’t just about men and women but also Christians and Muslims, people from different background or race. We need to be better with how we treat each other. At a primal level humans are no different from any other animal and are programmed to be attracted to other humans (it keeps the population going!) however we have the intellect to change and adapt our behaviour as society evolves. I hope I’m not naive in believing that we have the capability to do this (we’ve done it before). We need to keep our voices x

    1. Lizzy, I’ve thought a lot about the idea of attraction, keeping the species going etc and how we are still animals but with the intellectual capacity to understand our behaviour. I partly agree with that and find it interesting, people are always going to find others attractive, but I think this goes way beyond attraction.

      Most of the abuse and harassment I have experienced has had nothing to do with attraction and everything to do with domination. Those men didn’t assault me because they fancied me so much, they did it because they could and they liked exerting their power over me. They sneered at me afterwards and found my fear amusing. It was an act of violence. The harassment has been bullying rather than being unable to keep their thoughts to themselves because they like me so much. They found it amusing (or angering) that I would consider myself to be equal, so made comments to remind me that I am a sexual object and put me in my place. I certainly don’t go around harassing people I’m attracted to and I’m as much of a human/animal as the next person 😄

      1. Totally agree and I’m sorry I didn’t recognise the full spectrum of abuse toward women. We should not accept this level of abuse towards anyone x

        1. No need to apologise, I wasn’t trying to moderate your comments. Just wondered what you thought about this since I often wonder about nature/nurture. I now believe that nurture plays a huge part in this and in subtle ways. In my experience, I can tell my son until I am blue in the face that people are all equal, that women should be treated with respect, but he still has eyes and ears. He still sees newspapers and magazines with half naked women on the covers and still hears people telling him not to behave ‘like a girl’. It’s difficult to fight against it when there is so much of it.

  3. I totally agree with Lucy. Also proud to be ‘another feminist’. I have two sons. It is very difficult to raise them the way I believe is right when society is doing the opposite. My ten year old now just rolls his eyes at me cos I am boring old mom who doesn’t know anything. My eyes were only opened to the way things really work when I had my first child. I had naively believed that feminism was all done, no longer necessary. I can really relate to your cringe 😄

    Great article, Jess 👍🏼

    1. Thank you Jade, having a child is what opened my eyes to it all as well and since I’ve had her I’ve found I’m much more assertive and aware of the behaviour around and towards me. I have been branded a feminist many times in the past (and indeed I am) but for me it wasn’t just about women’s rights but moral right and wrong. Put clearly, repeatedly being treated this way felt abusive to me and I’m sad that I’m only just finding the courage to address it now. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment.

    2. This is what concerns me Jade, how do we keep our sons ‘on track’ when a lot of society is doing the opposite! This is often something that worries me 🙁 as a mum of a little 3 year old boy.

  4. Yes! I am extremely fortunate that I haven’t, or at least don’t recall, any particular issues that I have faced beyond a passing comment easily brushed aside. But I am more than aware than I am very much the minority. It shocks and saddens me so much that this is going on, not that I am naive as I am very aware that it does but I too very much hope that together we can all ensure it doesn’t continue forever more. The current news shows so much courage and I hope that everyone together can work to bring about a change. And yes to Lucy and Francesca above, this is about educating girls and boys, men and women, to change the way society behaves, not just arming girls with the ability to deal with such behaviour. Great post Jess and RMS, thank you as always for not shying away from the oh so important topics. xx

  5. Yes.

    I am 100% behind this. I remember growing up when things like this would come out and it would be treated as something rare, a scandal, but it has become so clear how ubiquitous this is, and how it pervades society, and that is largely down to women saying that this, too, is not ok with us.

    When #metoo started and I saw friends and sisters sharing their stories, I kept quiet. I have in many ways been lucky, I have never been on the receiving end of harassment from colleagues, and, due to circumstance, have not had to step a toe into the dating pool. But I have overheard banter between colleagues that spoke volumes about their lack of respect for women, and I have been on the receiving end of street harassment, that left me feeling anxious when walking home alone. In the case of the first the women in my office made a collective complaint, and we were lucky enough to be taken seriously – I think it helped that we were not a lone voice.

    Jess, I was particularly horrified by ‘he’s a good man, he gives to charity.’ As though d being good in one area of your life means that you can’t have failings another. ‘He’s a good man, he’s a fantastic actor.’ ‘He’s a good man, he’s a great father.’ ‘He’s a good man, he’s so successful.’ All of those can accompany stories of abuse.

    I also hope it doesn’t take another 35 years. Time’s up.

    1. Thank you Rebecca, your reply has really resonated with me. I have also seen and heard some awful things in the workplace and at one point I was the only female manager in a group of ten managers. On my first week some men in the boardroom said I would only be “good for one thing” and started laughing about my dress and what they wanted to do to me. Immediately the leading (male) manager dressed them down and gave them a warning for their behaviour but it really opened my eyes to what so many women deal with every day in office environments. Yes, I think what let me down most was that the “he’s a nice guy comments” were made by a woman – and a woman I greatly respected. I’m sad that I just walked away and took her reply as a given and didn’t challenge it. But at least I’m challenging it today and reading the comments here from so many women (and mothers of sons as well as daughters) I know that it IS changing, we are collectively changing it and as you so rightly say, time is most definitely up. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment.

  6. Excellent feature Jess, thanks so much for writing such an eloquent and insightful piece for RMS.

    It was interesting reading some of your experiences – I always focus on my very obvious harassment situation that happened in the workplace when I was in my early 20’s, yet actually, there have been many many situations that have made me feel uncomfortable (albeit briefly) that I brushed off in a bid to move on and not have to deal with the consequences of reporting/speaking up. I even did the whole change of appearance as you mentioned – never wore a skirt or dress to work for years, nothing tight fitting or what could be considered “glamorous”, I essentially ignored my personal style in a bid to be taken seriously and climb the career ladder.

    I really hope we are going to witness a huge change and it’s articles like this, and the bravery of Madison Marriage that give us a powerful united voice.

    x

    1. Thank you Charlotte, I enjoyed writing this piece but I would not be honest if I didn’t admit I felt nervous when it went live. I have never spoken about the topic publicly but I think now is the time, it takes all of us to make these changes happen and my story is as valid as anyones. I cannot thank you enough for the platform and the support, and I vow never again to stay silent in fear of speaking up or rocking the boat.

  7. Empower our daughters, educate our sons. Every time someone says to me “oh he’s going to break some hearts when he’s older” my response is “that may be but he will know and understand what consent means and looks like”

  8. Very late to this, but thank you to Jess for sharing and to the RMS team for posting. Read this post out to my husband who cannot get his head round why men treat women this way. Having moved my career into the tech sector 18 months ago, I have sadly seen quite a lot more sexist attitudes, which has been very disappointing, and so am no surprised (sadly).

    Here’s to having other women (and men’s) backs in the face of any harassment. This should have ended decades ago. It has to end now.

  9. Great article, Jess – thank you for writing it. I think there is SO much to unpick around how our society has developed and I’m so sensitive to it now that I have a son – far more so than I was. I feel a huge responsibility around ensuring he grows up to see women as equals – and it’s demoralising to realise that in many ways society will be working completely against me in that aim.

    This isn’t really related but I do think it’s part of a similar issue around how we perceive men and women: after Federer won his millionth Grand Slam yesterday, the BBC uploaded a video of him on the winner’s podium but took the piss out of the fact he got emotional. Because grown men don’t cry, amirite? Even if he’s arguably one of greatest sportsmen ever (and I’m SO HAPPY that Fed cried; that he showed real men that being emotional is awesome and amazing). It really annoyed me because it’s such a SMALL BUT NASTY GESTURE from the BBC, but it’s all the tiny, tiny paper cuts that mean men are forced into these ridiculous straightjackets and create the perfect breeding ground for the pernicious and abusive among them to take control. We really need a double-pronged attack, like someone said above, of women being empowered and men being educated.

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