One night last week, a few friends and I ended up in a discussion about sexual harassment. We have young children and we are all agreed that the time to start talking about what is OK and what is not in this regard is before they start trying to find out elsewhere.
Perhaps from less-than-reliable sources such as TV, magazines and social media.
Over the course of the conversation a difference of view and opinion was expressed based on experience. One friend believes that nearly all women, (of our generation at least) were sexually harassed at some point in their lives.
Was this luck or was this situational, I queried?
Another disagreed and, while acknowledging that she is aware of friends and acquaintances who have been subjected to sexual harassment, personally it was not something that she had experienced. Was this luck or was this situational, I queried? I will admit that, until recently, when I had a similar discussion with a different group of friends the first view of “all” would also have been my view. I can’t remember a time when I was not conscious of it. I was warned about certain industries and places of work that were “notorious for it”, and have often spoken to friends and relatives with direct experience.
When I read this month’s Desperate Farmwife column, I circled one line to query with her to ensure that I understood what she was saying – As a girl, I was socialised to make the men in my life feel at ease. I must have read it 100 times since but she confirmed that it was these types of comments that she was referring to: “Don’t make a fuss”; “He meant nothing by it”; “Sure he is just a bit handsy, it’s harmless”; “I wouldn’t say anything about that, it will do you no good”.
I asked my mother what she thought. She said that it was bred into us to be “polite” which is effectively the same thing
How many of our readers have heard one of these comments when relating a situation which has made them feel uncomfortable? Or worse still, as our Desperate Farmwife experienced, to have her experience brushed aside. I asked my mother what she thought. She said that it was bred into us to be “polite” which is effectively the same thing – manners that hide your discomfort to put someone else at ease about their behaviour.
Most men (I don’t have figures to back this up, but I am willing to make the assumption) don’t like this behavior either. Sexual harassment and the imaginary line between “it’s only a bit of banter” and “completely inappropriate” can be unclear. It can be confusing for men to see something that makes them uncomfortable if a woman doesn’t say anything to stop the behaviour. Language can be a first step toward physical impropriety though and then the line is not at all blurry – it’s red.
Some of these kids have effectively gone from fourth year in school to college without the experiences of growing up from that time
Consent being a continuous conversation is a positive thing. The second year of my college course started back last week. As I walked to the business school for my first live lecture in nearly a year, groups of young people (it was freshers’ week) were playing hurling/camogie on the pitches, standing around talking, joining societies and socialising. A friend expressed concern for their wellbeing. He said: “Some of these kids have effectively gone from fourth year in school to college without the experiences of growing up from that time.” I had not thought of that impact of COVID-19, but it’s true. I hope colleges, older students, parents and schools take that on board and keep talking about consent. It is not just “a bit of banter”.