There has been a lot of attention given to misogyny and sexual abuse in the media over the past few months, precipitated by the horrific revelations about Jimmy Saville and the subsequent investigations into a ‘culture of abuse’ that existed in the 60s and 70s. The implication is that such a culture no longer exists- it is confined to the past, because to identify it in the present would be to confront some harsh and disturbing realities about the way men treat women, and also about the way women have been encouraged to treat other women.
Amongst the disturbing and sickening revelations were allegations of endemic abuse of female staff at the BBC, and news that an inquiry would be launched into this ‘culture of abuse’. Disclosures of molestation, groping, sexual threats towards female staff by men in authority were shocking, but sadly not surprising. I am grateful to and proud of those women who spoke out about their experiences, because the louder we are the harder it is to ignore us. What does worry me is the notion that such behaviours and attitudes were confined to the BBC, an impression not helped by the glee with which certain Daily Mail type newspapers reported the BBC’s troubles. As I said before, this abuse culture is not confined to the past and nor is it confined to the BBC. Sexual mistreatment of female staff is endemic in many industries and institutions. I’m defining sexual mistreatment quite broadly, because the problem extends beyond actions of abuse to the responses to it; ignoring complaints about sexual harassment by staff, arguments that it’s ‘part of the job’ to be groped and verbally abused and genuine disregard for the right to dignity at work. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve asked what the company’s policy is on sexual harassment of staff only to be told ‘there isn’t one’- to me that is wilful sexual mistreatment of a large proportion of the workforce, and it’s done for profit. I’m writing to Head Office about this, and I will post the letter I send plus any replies on the blog, but it will include requests for better training for managers to deal with this, signs in the pubs saying that this behaviour will not be tolerated and a commitment from senior employees to act on our complaints not just ignore us. If this kind of behaviour, from both managers and customers, is confronted and not tolerated, it could start a snowball of change. It seems to me that bars are almost the front-line in confronting misogyny and abuse of women, because men seem to think that bar-staff are ‘fair game’ in a way that they don’t think about women in shops or High-Street banks. I’ve never heard a female supermarket employee be told to smile more, or that she’d be smiling if she ‘got fucked hard tonight’.
I’ve been thinking for a while now about what causes people to behave in this way, and there have been a couple of articles in the press this week that pretty much sum up what I’ve been thinking. First, this article by Christina Patterson appeared in the Independent yesterday http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/yes-page-3-is-bad-for-women-but-so-are-the-photos-in-ok-magazine-8492193.html and today Hadley Freeman follows on in The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/feb/12/murdoch-page-3-sexism-media. Both of these focus on Page 3 as a regressive and misogynistic aspect of the British media, but I particularly liked Christina Patterson’s suggestion that the commodification of women’s bodies has gone beyond selling tits and sex to men and onto selling perfection-by-proxy to other women. I would agree that both are equally harmful when it comes to battling sexism in the street and in the workplace, because it has created an environment in which women’s bodies exist to be judged, commented upon and objectified. It has created a norm that it’s fine to assess a woman’s body and report to her what that assessment is. It means that a man can walk past me in the street and call me a ‘fucking whore bitch’ for ignoring him when he shouts ‘oi love, you wanna fuck?’ or that a man can stop me in the street and shout ‘FIT’ so close to my face that his spit lands on my cheek. It means that my managers at work tell me to put up and shut up when customers comment on my body, or even grope me.
I’m fed up of being an object, a pawn in a man’s ploy to enrich himself at the expense of my welfare, and the welfare of the thousands of other women who work for him. The culture of abuse goes hand in hand with capitalism; objectification is synonymous with commodification. Sex sells, and it’s costing women dearly.
Just a note to say there’s now a Twitter account for you to share your experiences of misogyny whilst at work. @BarmaidTimes.