#MeToo has changed how we see sexual abuse, and I for one am grateful
A year in, the campaign has prompted me and many other battle-worn women to re-evaluate our entire existences
The first anniversary of the #MeToo movement will soon be upon us: that moment when the litany of sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein prompted Hollywood womanhood – and then what seemed like all womanhood – to throw up their hands and declare: “This happened to them, this happened to me, this happens to all of us, and, frankly, we’ve had enough.”
But it has become customary for women of my fortysomething generation and beyond to roll their eyes and dismiss #MeToo in some way or other. It has been criticised for limiting men’s “freedom to pester” (Catherine Deneuve), for threatening to “wipe out men” (Maureen Lipman), for “pathetic” whining (Ann Widdecombe), and taking down a “good friend” (Judi Dench, speaking of Kevin Spacey).
Well, you won’t hear any of this from me. I am grateful – profoundly, tearily grateful – to these women for defamiliarising behaviour to which many of us had become so inured we no longer really saw it.
These are not snowflakes, but warrior women forging a new model of society that we all badly need. The #MeToo campaign has prompted me and many other battle-worn feminists to re-evaluate our entire existences, finding them a catalogue of abuses ignored – because why pick on one, when it’s merely business as usual?
Curiously, I have found myself haunted by an occurrence that, in some ways, was the least of these events. Blame Germaine Greer and her argument that rape should be seen as “bad sex” rather than an act of violence; questionable etiquette rather than a crime.
Five or so years ago, I experienced such “bad sex”, an occurrence I have privately given the shorthand “technical rape”. I’d had drunken sex with a new partner, after which both of us fell asleep. I woke hours later to find him inside me, condom-less, and kicked him away in shock. He claimed to have thought me awake and consenting, and I believed him. He was also burdened by the naivety that can come of escaping a long and sexless marriage, hence the condom ignorance.
I understood what happened and that poor etiquette was probably the sum of it. And yet, still, it felled me. For 72 hours I lay in a foetal position, unable to speak or move, hoping that, if I put sleep between myself and the incident, I would emerge clean-slated. I felt wretched, sullied, distressed in a way that I can’t fully articulate.
And this not a situation in which I was beaten, like Greer’s own rape, or petrified of suffocation, as recounted by Dr Christine Blasey Ford.
Like all women, I have experienced far more menacing circumstances – having to hide from attempted assailants; assaults both threatened and actual. And yet, this instance stays with me precisely because of its relative innocuousness – because still it confounded me, chipping away at my sense of self.
That said, I also know that I am lucky (lucky!) not to have been on the receiving end of anything more savage as I head towards 50. Not that the verbal threats aren’t savage, of course. As a journalist, I have a voice, and women with voices continue to be terrorised with rape, as they were when they first engaged with the printed word about 400 years ago. As then, in a crude conflation of orifices, women who speak out are considered fair game, sexual violence the ultimate gagging gesture.
My own best-worst example followed an article published in The Daily Telegraph regarding the imminent release of a computer game, which I argued might prove popular among male readers. The piece was posted on online forums, where outrage flourished among men who appeared not to have read it. It became amusing/arousing to such individuals to imagine how I should be killed: not least, being gang-raped to death using my severed limbs; one of which was also to be deployed as a gag, lest their meaning be insufficiently clear.
Still, the standard reaction to such occurrences among male colleagues is: “Really! This never happens to me.” That’s rather the point. You can make your way in the world without constant exhortations to smile, without being leered at, groped or, as once happened to me, having a prominent human rights lawyer twist your arm behind you in a taxi when you remove his hand from up your skirt, while informing you: “You know you want it.”
My favourite insight into the life so many of us appeared oblivious to, pre-#MeToo, occurred in an episode of the UK TV series Fresh Meat, in which a female character was asked if she ever felt sexually objectified. “No way,” she responded. “Well, not me. I mean, when I was at school, yeah, because men in white vans always beep at you when you’re in school uniform. But other than that, only when I’m walking home alone late at night, or going past a building site, or wearing a short skirt, or on a beach. Sometimes at a club, maybe? Oh, and once, I was in Florence and there was a strange man who put a hand on my arse and showed me his willy, and, when I got back to the hotel, I found jizz on my rucksack. But, other than that, it’s not really a big deal.”
Only now it is – and not before time.
– © The Daily Telegraph