If you are a man in a work environment you have probably never felt singled out for being a man, embarrassed by personal comments on your appearance or attire, or been the butt of endless jokes about your love life, sex life, inability to be as good as your female colleagues just by dint of being a man
If that’s the case then I can understand why so many men look at women being outspoken about lad culture and the incessant irritating incidents of everyday sexism and just think ‘oh come on it is nothing’ because unless you have experienced these things it probably does feel like nothing
Mike Smith is one of these lovely chaps, speaking out in today’s papers to say that the whole Jimmy Saville affair is an overreaction and most of the stuff that happened at the BBC was just ‘mucking around’
That is EXACTLY what the problem is
As a man it is mucking around but as a woman on the receiving end it is usually far from a laugh
Yes we have to play along with it because if we don’t we’re branded as ‘can’t take a joke’ or ‘stuck up’ or some other schoolboy insult
If you have to listen to the same pathetic tripe trotted out as humour every day it can rapidly begin to become very not funny
And you do become sort of inured to it – you develop a hard skin and sadly write it off as just being part of the job rather than continuing to push against it and live with the damage that will do to your career
I spent a decade in investment banking working on floors where I was usually the only woman, apart from the secretarial team. Every outfit I wore was critiqued, my love life the butt of many jokes and I had to take to spending most of Friday afternoons stood up with a cup of hot tea to avoid getting a rugby ball chucked at the back of my head from the other side of the floor… It was intensely male and if you couldn’t conform to a brutally male standard of behaviour then you didn’t tend to last long.
Was I wrong to just carry on and develop a thick skin?
Was I wrong to shrug my shoulders as another woman left because she didn’t like working there?
Was I wrong to turn off when the lads ranked the secretaries according to bust size?
Was I wrong to join in the banter even when I didn’t really feel it was my sort of thing?
I was lucky – nobody ever laid a finger on me, although I was repeatedly pressured by various people to go to dinner with them to the extent of it feeling really very uncomfortable – but I do know several girls who were on the wrong end of a fumble – or just someone ‘mucking around’ as Mike Smith would have us believe
It isn’t harmless, it isn’t fun and if we shrug it off and behave as if women are just making a fuss about nothing, the message is clearly put out there that all women are fair game
If just one of the allegations against Jimmy Saville is true, if there was a culture at the BBC that covered it up we need a long hard look at the culture that made that sort of thing acceptable
Each small act of sexism that is brushed under the carpet is a small step towards suggesting that something bigger, something nastier might be acceptable when it really, really isn’t
Perhaps this is the wake up call we all needed