*Trigger warning: discussion of sexual harassment*
Painful accounts that have previously only been uttered in hushed tones, accompanied by tears and unfolding into the arms of loved ones, have in recent weeks been printed in bold and appeared on newsstands across the world.
To most women, I doubt this feels much like news. Sexual harassment is and always has been part of our experience. The chronicles of abuse appearing now in our media resemble the experiences that we, our sisters, our mothers, our friends have also endured.
This aspect of the shared female consciousness has been largely undocumented in the media until now and quite naturally, some people are surprised. “I thought this was all a thing of the past,” they say.
In 2017, I have no doubt that there are far more organisations to support victims of sexual abuse and far more channels by which to report it than there were in the 1960s, 1860s, 1460s, 1160s. Society is radically better for women post-feminism.
So how is it that we are only just beginning to admit that the casting-couch era is not over? And that casting-couch culture is not exclusive to Hollywood? How is it that this shared experience of half the population has previously been absent in the mainstream media?
When I was 11 and my bum was squeezed in the lunch queue by a boy much older than me, I was overcome by humiliation and it did not occur to me that this was something I could address. Or even that it was symptomatic of gender inequality.
It felt like a personal, rather than political, attack. It wasn’t an ‘issue’. It was just something I had to deal with myself.
Equally, when friends have found themselves being rubbed aggressively by sweaty crotches or grabbed at by insistent hands in the crowd at gigs, our response is always to move, switch places, form a protective barrier. Cope.
In those moments, these men are sex pests not necessarily misogynists. It is ingrained in us all from an early age that boys make sexual conquests and girls just put up with them.
This is not to say that all victims of sexual abuse are female, but there is a systemic problem in how the sexual codes of conduct differ for men and women.
Regarding sexual harassment as a personal experience rather than a political issue has ensured our silence and deprived us of access to a shared female consciousness and solidarity, which is finally beginning to emerge.
I became starkly aware of this shared experience recently when I asked a man to refrain from loudly and jovially singing references to sexual abuse and domestic violence in a public environment. He snarled that I was getting ‘emotional’ and that I am a ‘nasty woman’.
It took this very explicit link with Hillary Clinton’s traumatic experience battling Trump in last year’s US presidential election for me to realise that we are all subject to a systemic misogyny.
The politicisation of personal experience inevitably brings about change. We are all nasty women.
The hashtag #MeToo is bringing personal narratives to the forefront of political debate. The dam is broken. An irreversible and revolutionary step towards empowering women has occurred.
Dealing with sexual harassment on a personal level and seeking emotional support is crucial and in itself courageous.
But we, women, have really rocked the boat over these past couple of weeks and I hope from now on our priority is not just surviving but thriving.
Ella Marshall is currently on a gap year between school and university. She is the founder of the Freedom of Mind festival and a former Member of the UK Youth Parliament for Bristol. This is the first in her new fortnightly column for Bristol24/7.
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