Column Road Comment

I was sexually harassed and I’m angry about it

Sexual harassment occurring under the fluorescent lights of a night club is just as bad as sexual harassment anywhere else. Source: bangkok.com

Earlier this term, Gair Rhydd published a piece about lad culture, which as a columnist who has written on the subject and a reader who has experienced it, I found both provocative and accurate.

In the weeks since this article was published, surprise surprise, the plague of lad culture has not ceased. Girls have been groped on nights out, women have been cat-called walking down the street, and countless people have been made to feel uncomfortable because a poisonous culture of masculine dominance still reigns strong. I, along with many fellow women, have experienced this time and time again and while I appreciate and admire the explanation given in Gair Rhydd’s previous article, I think it’s time we took some time to discuss how this pervasive lad culture is affecting women.

If disseccted, the “poisonous social construct” of lad culture can be found to have hyper masculinity at its very core. As Gair Rhydd previously wrote, “Alcohol obviously has a significant role here, removing inhibitors and allowing inappropriate comments and actions to be made. The need to assert masculine dominance also leads many ‘lads’ to desire power over women, frequently through sexual conquest.” While I would no means solely credit alcohol for the abhorrent behaviour engaged in by many men in night clubs and bars, it is the nature of these alcoholic environments which somehow seem to normalise behaviour which is being increasingly red flagged in other areas of public life.

Last week I was lucky enough to bag myself a free trip Prague with Give It A Go. The only catch, I was expected to join the Law Society on a bar crawl to various pubs and clubs, which albeit wasn’t on the top of my bucket list, but as I figured, when in Prague. The first stop on the crawl was an open bar where the intended aim, strongly encouraged by the staff, was clear from the start, drink as much as you possibly can. Events which unfolded later in the evening could be put down the weight of alcohol consumed in an environment where promiscuity is normalised, or they could be put down to the independent actions of an ignorant, debauched individual with a lack of respect for women.

To be blunt, I was sexually harassed in Prague and I’m angry about it.

Recently we have seen a surge in women speaking out against sexual harassment. The #MeToo movement, which supports women who have experienced and survived sexual harassment and abuse, has helped thousands of women speak out about traumatic and demoralising experiences. As a result, the news has been rife with stories of empowered women speaking out about sexual harassment they have endured in the workplace, from creative industries like Hollywood to political environments such as Westminster. However, there is still wide space where sexual harassment and assault occurs far too frequently and is just as frequently brushed off: nightlife.

I understand that there are many instances where these situations are flipped; men can be on the receiving end of sexual harassment too. But, for this piece I want to focus on experiences I and other women have faced, which are becoming increasingly shrugged off and normalised in our society which is still dangerously complacent about sexual harassment. When a drunken guy grabs you in a club, you can feel any number of things. Anger, fear, disgust, but you may still brush it off because at this point you really can’t be bothered, it happens all the time, what can you do? Well, there is more everyone can do. Women should not have to endure this behaviour just because we’re women.

I was asked to attend a focus group by a friend working on a project for her course, where she was looking to get girls’ first-hand experiences of lad culture. Whether it occurred on a night out, while walking down the street, or even by a customer in the workplace, the girls I engaged with on the subject all have their own experiences of sexual harassment, manipulation and even sexual assault.

I spoke with a friend of mine who felt that one of the biggest problems is that people don’t bat enough of an eyelid at it. “My housemates and I go to Live Lounge and it’s a regular occurrence that one of them will have a strangers arm snaked around their waste. They just brush it off. Some people have gotten so used to it that they don’t make a point of saying it’s not okay.”

You wouldn’t expect to just walk into a shopping centre and have somebody grab you just because they liked the look of you (I hope). Yet, somehow, the rules are different in the club when the lights are dimmed and there’s alcohol present. As women, we expect this sort of behaviour on a night out, and that’s both a scary and depressing thing.

If you have had the courage to call out sexual harassment you have probably endured a number of painful responses. I was recently subject to a man try to apologise for his ‘animal instinct’ which had lead him to treat me like a fellow animal he could grab. Sometimes if you call it out, you’ll receive a genuine seeming apology, and sometimes that is the worst response of all. If you knew it was so wrong that you should apologise, why do it at all?

Something I am personally sick of is the righteous indignation of the men who treat an angry response at being sexually harassed as a scornful rejection. If you want a girl’s attention there are far more intelligent and respectful ways of getting it, besides grabbing her from behind.

This isn’t to say that night clubs are the only places where this behaviour still occurs, sadly that is far from the case. Another friend of mine recounted a reoccurring experience she had while working in a café local in her home town. “There was an elderly regular who would basically just tap my bum to grab my attention. It started off with clicking and pointing and eventually got to tapping. It went on for ages, even after I told my boss, but eventually we ended up getting him banned.”

While a man of a certain age may not immediately strike you as part of this culture of laddish behaviour, our culture of sexually inappropriate behaviour towards women spawns from the normalisation in thinking that behaviour which disempowers and objectifies women is in any way acceptable. This is an issue which is widely present in lad culture.

Ultimately, we need to curb our culture of acceptance when it comes to behaviour which is bypassed as ‘laddish’ and not serious, when it is actually disgusting and demoralising to women.

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