Sexual harassment: There’s one way this conversation ends

Image by the fabulous Stuart F Taylor

The last few weeks have been a barrage of news about sexual assault and harassment. Guys in powerful positions in a number of industries are getting called out for doing things that are wholly inappropriate, to people they hold power over. Is anybody else completely exhausted? I know I am. Not exhausted by the call-outs, but exhausted by the response.

We need bingo cards to cover the responses to sexual harassment. When a powerful dude is accused of something, he’ll start ticking things off the list:

Apology. Explanation that it was different back then. Mention of the fact that he was drunk. Hint that the person making the allegation was lying or exaggerating. Resignation or sideshuffle into a position of slightly less prominence. Possible check-in to a sex addiction clinic or promise that he’ll ‘seek help.’ Powerful friend sticking up for him. Powerful stranger raising the prospect of ‘witch hunts’. Long, navel-gazing discussion about how it’s impossible to chat anyone up any more, because what will the human race do if a pervy bloke can’t put a skeezy hand on someone’s knee?

See? Exhausting.

It’s probably exhausting for men as well. It must be absolutely knackering for dudes to keep rehashing these same old excuses and responses. Not quite as knackering as it is to have to keep raising the objections, of course, but still.

I know that many men are exhausted by the sheer thought of having to consider this stuff. There are dudes who will claim to be ‘terrified’ of being falsely accused of doing something, and they are usually the same men who will be keen to explain – when they’re told exactly what they shouldn’t do – that they couldn’t possibly have known not to do this. And anyway they’re sorry. And it was a different time. And besides it’s impossible to chat anyone up now, because how is anyone supposed to get together if you can’t lay a skeezy hand on a knee from time to time?

And we’re back here again.

FYI, people who are the victims of this kind of harassment (predominantly but not exclusively women) aren’t going to stop talking about this. You’ve learned this recently – you powerful men who are shocked that we keep secret spreadsheets of known creeps, or whisper to each other about who to avoid bumping into at the bar. You know that we won’t stop talking about it. Humanity is not going to breathe a collective sigh and agree that there’s nothing we can do to prevent people being arseholes. We won’t wake up one morning and decide that actually it’s fine, we’re not that bothered, feel free to continue sexually harassing us. We will continue to share information – in public or in private – to keep ourselves and others safe.

Given this, if you’re as exhausted as we are, there is only one way to stop this conversation: stop doing it.

Stop excusing it.

Stop pretending that you don’t know.

You know what constitutes harassment

Here’s the headline: you know what constitutes harassment. You know. Whispered conversations about how you can help someone’s career if they’ll just stay for one more drink. Advances on people who fear for their jobs if they turn you down. Leery stares. Bum-slaps. Skeezy hands on trembling knees. You know.

As many people have said this week: you wouldn’t do this to someone who had the power to fire you. Therefore: you know.

If you wouldn’t do it to your boss, ask yourself why. Is it because you know it would be inappropriate? Then don’t do it. If you cannot possibly imagine a woman in a position of power over you, then picture your male boss instead and ask yourself: would I be comfortable with him treating me this way? If no, don’t do it.

You’d know sexual harassment if it happened to you. And in fact if a woman said to you ‘please don’t touch my leg like that’, you’d understand that the appropriate thing to do would be to STOP TOUCHING HER LEG.

Well, that’s what’s happening now. This is people across the country – and in fact the world – saying to you, here and now: ‘please stop touching our legs.’ Stop it. Just fucking stop it.

It is more than possible to avoid sexually harassing people because – as so many of you have thrilled in reminding us for so so so long – not all men do this.

I’m sorry. But it was different back then and I was drunk. And how am I supposed to know? Men can’t possibly know… and besides not all of them do it – how dare you imply that they do? I am a good guy, I was only being friendly. I’ll seek help. But this is a witch hunt. It’s gone too far.

Back here again. Again.

If you’re reading this and you think you might have harmed someone, don’t busy yourself trying to come up with edge cases and counterpoints: pissing around in the ‘grey areas’ and ‘playing devil’s advocate.’ If you think there are edge cases, you must surely acknowledge that giant area in the centre of the map. The one labelled ‘HUGE PROBLEM.’ Maybe stop holding women to different standards than men: asking why we struggle to call people out, or attacking us for individual actions, and making this whole thing our problem. One that leads you to critique how we navigate and judge men rather than questioning why it is that we are having to do all this work in the first place.

And if you think this isn’t you, then please don’t waste time telling me or others that you’re not the problem. Instead ask how you can be the solution.


Sexual harassment what good dudes can do

A guy asked me recently if I thought the latest wave of sexual harassment news was a significant milestone. He wanted to know whether I thought this was ‘the beginning of the end’ for powerful men abusing their positions. I laughed bitterly and pointed out that no, it is probably not: it is just a point at which we’re able to shout these things more loudly. We’ll do as much as we can right now to try and hammer the point home. But realistically few people will give a shit in six months’ time.

I asked him if he would give a shit in six months’ time.

“Will you personally still be asking questions next April about sexual harassment? Will you be chasing your employers about their workplace protections? Or will you simply keep your head down, be glad you’re not involved, then let it slip from your mind like last week’s news? You, who even has an angry feminist friend to remind you of this shit day in, day out – will even you still be as filled with rage about this whole situation when you’ve had a few months to forget about it?”

And he looked at me with sadness, the spark of hope gone from his eyes, and just said ‘Oh. Yeah.’

Yeah indeed, mate.

Shoutout to the people who won’t forget about this: whether you’re examining your own behaviour and holding yourself to higher standards than this childish ‘I can’t help being a skeeze, it’s in my genes!’ bullshit. Shoutout to the men who will ask pointed questions of the higher-ups at work about sexual harassment policies and procedures – who will support colleagues who highlight instances of sexual harassment, and will help those colleagues to bring complaints if they choose to.

To those who will smack down their boys who argue that it’s a witch hunt: this is vital too. You need to challenge the dudes who – almost unbelievably – still try to claim that there’s been a ‘trial by twitter’ or that a person is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Recognise that in so so many of these cases, there is absolutely no opportunity for a proper investigation, because the slimy shitbags are stepping down before we can even ask the questions, and when someone steps down we drop the issue.

You know why these guys are stepping down?




Teaching consent

I am accused, probably on a roughly 50/50 basis, of patronising men and also not giving them enough information.

If I say ‘don’t sexually harass people’, I am told that actually NOT ALL MEN sexually harass people and how dare I assume that most men don’t know this. If some well-meaning person sets up a consent workshop, they are told that this is ridiculously basic information and no one needs to be told not to rape. We are told we are patronising, because OF COURSE men know this.

Then stories come out about harassment, and powerful men ask ‘how could I possibly know? No one told me this wasn’t OK! I always thought my colleagues ENJOYED my playful banter about their lovely peachy arse! Back then it was all in good fun!’ So we sigh, and offer more information – explain about consent and power and how not to sexually harass people.

Then we’re back to being patronising. And the cycle continues.

Listen, lads: we don’t want to teach this fucking class any more than you want to sit through it. But it will not stop until you stop.

Stop doing it. Stop excusing it. Stop pretending that you don’t know.

If you’re sick of sitting in the classroom, pass the fucking test.


  • SweetTheSting says:

    Well said. Thank you.

  • Molly says:

    I taught this class to my Dad this weekend. Sadly he explored some of those bongo theories with me but when I pointed out his errors I will give him his due he seemed to really listen and i hope he thinks about it. He is 80 years old though, and I am not offering it as an excuse but actually the opposite because this man who often finds the world confusing now asked me to help him understand and that in my opinion is something more men need to do


  • Bex says:

    Thank you for saying this so much better than I have been able to.

  • LXC says:

    I’m a ballroom dancer. The ballroom hold is quite intimate, chests touching, and when the man strides out, his right thigh goes right between the woman’s legs. And you might be dancing with a complete stranger. It would be easy to make a grab, and in the chaos of the dance floor, it’s not actually that unusual for a hand to accidentally go somewhere it shouldn’t. But any woman with at least half a brain will know whether it’s really an accident or not. Even if she decides not to make an issue of it at the time, that man will soon find himself without partners. I’ve never heard of it happening, even with the many beautiful young girls who dance. Some people do have self-control.

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