We have a problem. It appears to involve attitudes to women and not just in the workplace. It appears to be `still widespread` but I'm not exactly sure how wide that spread actually is because I haven't studied it, but I know many have and they say it is.
Having started work as a sixteen year old in the late 60's (when teenagers really did work - ooh, another sweeping generalisation?) I found myself in a little agricultural unit where there was a disproportionate number of women working on a sort of production line where carrots were cleaned and bagged. I worked at the heavy humping end, or rather the beginning, of this line. Every now and again I would have to enter the place where the women were. I was warned about it. It wasn't so much a `forbidden zone` or even a `no-go` area, it was more a `go carefully or `be prepared` area. When I did have to enter the domain of the she-beasts I found it both highly amusing and strangely enjoyable, but then again I only had to be in there for a few minutes before re-joining the men's section where I toiled with another young guy and the occasional presence of the foreman. I even had my lunch separate from the ladies, although I suppose I could have joined them. I don't think anybody did though.
My memory of entering the ladies zone is now one of vague images of women whose ages I cannot be sure of and whose faces I can no longer conjure up with any accuracy. I can just recall the noisy banter that came my way, banter that included graphic, highly detailed physical activities involving me and random women from this little gang, activities that I had a vague idea about but absolutely no experience of. I think I made some jaunty, jovial reply that caused a few laughs and giggles. I never stayed there long enough to find out if this would have worn me down or made my life miserable, but a few years on I would occasionally think of them and wonder how I'd fare if I took some leave from my career and go back for a couple of weeks casual labour, just to see what might transpire now that I was armed with a little more experience. This remained a mere passing fantasy.
I heard some of this lady's speech on the BBC radio news this morning. Wow! She was firing on all cylinders. It was great stuff. The article put me in mind of a great piece of writing by the author, world circumnavigator by motorbike and journalist, Ted Simon, on his thoughts about the Australian leg of his 4 year journey as recounted in his best selling book "Jupiter's Travels". Here's an extract:
It was a continent I only knew as a caricature. perhaps because it was so far away, the only images that seemed to travel the distance were absurdly overblown. Australians were the ancient Gauls of the twentieth century, a good hearted people so untouched by the nicities of civilisation that with one sweep of their good intentions they could do more damage than an elephant in Harrods.
Australian women, I knew, were big and brazen and went about the streets dressed and made up for the stage in the belief that the right way to catch a man was to incite him to rape. The wounds sustained during this savage form of courtship were soothed by swimming two hundred lengths before breakfast.
Australian men were big and bronzed and wore shorts and singlets from which their muscled limbs extended like four strings of sausages. At the end of one of the upper strings was attached either a tennis raquet or a small bottle of beer called a `stubbie`. They ambled about in hot sunshine being disgustingly frank about their natural functions and waiting to be incited to rape. If one of these King Kong figures appeared over the skyline the thing to do was run for your life.
This was a remarkably perceptive piece of writing and, for me, pretty much captured the comic images as capitalised by the wonderfully erudite Barry Humphries and his most famous Australian alter egos Dame Edna Everage and Sir Les Patterson. Of course Ted Simon was merely making a point on prejudice and the above passage was immediately clarified by the following:
I looked around me with the freshest eye I could imagine in the dusty December heat. I saw men ambling in singlets and shorts. Their muscles looked remarkably like sausages. I saw women who had apparently slipped offstage during the interval of a matinee performace of Cabaret. They looked as though anything less than rape might be mistaken for indifference. I noticed that many men wore tailored shorts with cute little slits up the seams like cheongsams to show a little extra flash of thigh, and the obscene thought crossed my mind that maybe they were hoping to be raped as well.
I saw some men, still in their youth, with the grossest beer bellies it was possible to imagine, cultivated at great expense, and I was overcome by the noise people made and the difficulty they had in showing each other affection.
Then one day I set out to photograph these things I had noticed. Not one revolting beer belly came my way; not one girl was dressed in such tasteless extravagance as to be worth recording. To my annoyance I saw men and women appearing to be softly and openly appreciative of each other. The truth bore in on me that I had been seeing only extremes in the crowd; the most flamboyant, the most threatening, the most crass, just as an Australian in London would see only Poms in pin-striped suits and bowler hats.
And so here were are, once again, being treated to the debate about male sexual predators. I have seen them in the workplace. I have even evidenced examples of it and brought my concerns to the attention of senior managers through formal and established policy and procedures. In the case I flagged up, nothing was done and I believe that others suffered from this failure of senior `management` to act. I admire anyone who stands their ground and where necessary blows the whistle. I despise those who fail them when they do. The current celebrity case that has become headline news does not surprise me in the least. I once met the individual and if ever someone had `something of the night` about them then, in my opinion, this one did.
But I do hate to hear the `all men are rapists`crowd who use these cases to claim quod erat demonstrandum. They are out there among us, that is true. The really clever ones are often those you might consider the least likely. Some end up in court - and some get knighted.