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.