I entered the workforce in the 1980s, overseas, when smoke hung above your desk and some men thought it was ok to leer, touch your backside, assume that pretty meant interested, and that any form of polite rejection was likely to be a career-limiting move. This was just at work.
In those days, your male friends or colleagues going to the bar for you was appreciated as an act of chivalry, because it was likely to be a gauntlet of lewd comments and incidental touches if you went yourself; the movies were full of coercion and ‘girl gets boy when she romantically succumbs’; ‘the director’s couch’ was a common term (everyone knew what it meant) and everyone thought that this was the natural order of things.
As a young woman I felt at risk, never wanting any attention paid to my appearance or sexuality, good or bad, yet it was always present.
Roll forward to 2021 and there has definitely been progress on the surface, but clearly not enough has changed.
Of all the women in the world, Australian women stand out as being able to stand up for themselves, we have rights that many women around the world cannot fathom and can only dream of for their own daughters.
I don’t think we use these rights well enough to drive true gender balance into our society. We don’t always call situations that just aren’t ok, and maybe if we don’t call the ‘smaller’ incidents every single time, maybe the ‘bigger’ ones start to seem more permissible – fewer obstacles along the way.
We may not be calling them because we don’t recognise them … and if that’s the case, here’s my guide for those who can’t see the bleeding obvious – and these apply to everyone:
- if you are thinking about someone you work with in a sexual way, and they get any inkling of this – by the way you look at them, speak to them, comment about them, behave around them, do any of these things with colleagues behind their back – it’s not ok
- if any of the above happens to you, or a colleague, you need to call it; you can’t look the other way, because that person then thinks you’re saying it’s ok.
I like to think that in 2021, in Australia, if someone found me a bit lost and vulnerable anywhere, the last thing they would think about is satisfying their own sexual urge by violating me and my body.
Finally, just for this week, can we stop talking about sexual harassment in the workplace. This week we’re talking about alleged rape. Yes, nasty word, very nasty deed, no sugar coating.
P.S. Would you believe that I had second thoughts about submitting this column, worried about the backlash – but then we agreed, that’s what people do, self-censor to avoid a negative judgment – and it’s not good enough. (This is the light version.)
If you or someone you know is affected by sexual assault or violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732, or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.