An exciting debate took place between Edwina Currie and Laura Bates (Everyday Sexism) about how women should deal with sexism in the workplace. I mean there's the issue right there with how women should deal.. because I don't think this issue just applies to women, surely men need to be privy to these discussions too. In the same way that diversity or race relations training isn't just for ethnic minorities; white people need to be in the room too.
I was disappointed to hear Currie advise that women should aim to deal with these situations with good humour and concentrate on the serious stuff; that women who make a fuss are creating an atmosphere where people can't say anything in the workplace anymore. And if women receive a comment that leaves a man's mouth as a compliment should be received with gratitude, even if said comment reaches the woman's ear as an insult.
I honestly thought Bates was going to explode in contained frustration trying to explain that women shouldn't have to put up with these comments and certainly shouldn't be advised on how to deal with them; when no one is challenging the fact that the comments were said in the first place.
This is not to say that we should be policing every sentence, expression in a 'let's stop singing baa baa black sheep' idealogy but there must be clear, acceptable lines of respect in the workplace. I actually believe that in most places there is, methinks that the hallowed halls of parliament (where the incident took place) are steeped firmly in the dark past and gets tripped up on 21st century conversational etiquette.
Here's why I believe we need to call out the people who step over the mark in the workplace and empower women to do so:
1. On my first day as a fully fledged teacher, walking to my first ever staff meeting feeling very professional, an experienced older male teacher (although I do believe he was my current age now - 40s) said that I looked very sexy in my outfit, like a naughty police woman and then proceeded to growl deeply in his throat. I was wearing a black knee length shift dress with a short sleeved white collared blouse underneath and maybe a jacket or cardigan. (I'm annoyed with myself that I feel that I have to mention this...). This was my very first day ladies and gentleman - who the hell was I going to complain to? I shrank to a minuscule me as I approached the staffroom.
2. Before my teaching career I worked sporadically at various units of a well known chain, to get me through university. A manager I worked with used to take great pains to follow me into the store cupboard, large freezer, office and close down my leaving space so he could tell me how lovely, sexy, hot, blah blah blah I was and what he would like to do to me. This became so commonplace I became quite adapt at spotting his footsteps and making quick getaways. We had all observed his regular explosive temper so I became frightened at the prospect of telling him to get lost; it was easier to conjure up different ways to escape. Until I started working late shifts as duty manager and he would call from home ordering me to take the call in the office (despite the restaurant floor being busy with customers) and proceed to 'pleasure himself' in the comfort of his own home. I once hung up during the event and he called back repeatedly until I would take the call and he could 'finish'. I was 19.
In both instances, of which I would describe as sexual harassment, I was unable to adopt a sense of humour in these situations. I would hate to think of my daughters in similar predicaments and think they didn't feel they could speak up and talk to the right people. None of it was my fault, yet I imagine I was the only one who walked away feeling grubby.