Updated: 2 days ago
This weekend has felt like a resurgence of #MeToo memories for many of us. Against a backdrop of conspiracy and misogyny with the hollow echo of "You can't laugh at anything these days" from the last decade clanging to the ground.
This mic drop moment seems to have fallen with a very clear divide between those who believe women, and those who are not willing to believe women when it does not align with their political views.
Whilst everyone seems to be turning over the embers of the What Happened burning coals, I am feeling a lot of sadness for how it happened.
A lot of the sadness is because I was part of a culture that allowed this kind of behaviour to thrive. I worked in it. I participated in it. I laughed along with it. Sometimes, I actively encouraged it. And. I was also a child.
I began working on events in entertainment early. I think my first nightclub gig was at age 14. I was working in venues I was not legally old enough to be served in. I had audacity and was bolshy, and I had a filthy sense of humour that kept up with the lads, so I never thought anyone questioned my age. Apart from looking back on it – I clearly look like a child.
Nightclubs, circus, cabaret, comedy, the 90s / 00s mix was a heady one. There was debauchery all around, a lot of “fun’ being had, and a lot of boundaries being pushed. And I was in it with the best of them, the difference being I had to be back at school on Monday morning.
When I heard about the Dispatches programme, my heart skipped a beat. It was not who it was going to be about, which rattled around my brain, but which one. This is about so much more than one man. He just happens to be a very easy frontman for a pervasive culture which allowed this to happen. And I should know because I was part of it.
It is hard to recall now, but there was a moment when comedians were treated like rock stars; they were doing stadium tours and could get away with anything - and often tried. Being the focal point of attention of someone famous, someone from TV, someone you admire, or had made you laugh, or who had left the adoring fans and made you the focus of their attention was intoxicating. Looking back with adult eyes, I often think the people actively sought out for the flashes of flirtation were young women and girls who seemed a bit vulnerable, were going through stuff, or were struggling. And the sugar rush of feeling like you are being chosen when you don’t think you are worth very much, is dazzling.
And I wanted to be chosen.
And I played up to it.
And I laughed along.
And sometimes, I flirted.
And these were grown men, and I was a child.
We can look back and ask why people did not speak out at the time, but I know that for myself, I did not speak out because I felt guilty. I felt guilty for my role in it. I felt guilty for falling for it. And then, as a special added extra, I felt guilty for not being good enough for it to have “worked out” (I mean, really). As an adult, I looked back on this and saw men who often had partners and families at home who had been out there swiping through their audiences and backstage crew like real-life Tinder and I felt such shame for fawning for the egos. And for disregarding people I should have known would be hurt by their behaviour. And shame is such a silencer.
It was not just that I felt guilty. I was guilty. I wanted to be chosen. I wanted to be seen. I wanted to be liked. I wanted to be special. I thought when these older, funny, charismatic men selected me, they were telling me I was important; that I must be something special when so many other people wanted them, that these powerful, witty men wanted to share their precious, valuable time with me, must mean I wasn’t as bad as I was feeling. If these charming men (and by god, every single one of them was charming) wanted me, then it gave me value. If this person I adore can like me, then I can’t be so terrible. I am not implying this is the case for every Survivor, nor that this was what was going on for the women in the documentary, but I do know it was the case for me, and I am certain I cannot be the only one.
My stomach lurches when I think about how wounded deer the whole thing was. And how many others, just like me, must be trying to navigate a path through the choices they made when they were young. And the choices they had taken away from them.
When I saw on Dispatches that only one comedian was willing to speak on camera, I had to ask to why. And the answer to me, seems very obvious. I do not believe it is because of the repercussions of speaking out, but because there are a fair few who, for once, do not want the spotlight shone on them.
This is the end result of a society which teaches that “Boys will be boys” and asks, “What was she wearing?”. This is entertainment for those values. Men throwing their promiscuity around like a blowtorch, disregarding women’s wellbeing as collateral and decades of labelling coercion as “banter”. And it is the result of a society which brings young girls up to believe that their value resides in being chosen. That they are not good enough until they are selected. And that the attention of one, is the elixir which will drown out the cacophony of all of the other societal messaging that we are not good enough. Not pretty enough. Not thin enough. It is relentless.
Unless we work on raising our young people to know their inherent worth, they will always be at risk of seeking that from others.
And this is where we must begin to do our work. We can easily distract ourselves with finger-pointing and pretend we shoulder no responsibility. And if things are going to change, we are going to need to do better than that. We need to begin by working on how we can support those around us. We need to work on those inner gremlins within us which tell us someone else saying we are okay is more important than us believing we are okay.
The more comfortable with who we are, the more confident we are to stand up to other's questionable behaviour in everyday life.
And yes, of course we need to educate men on entitlement too, but guys, you need to step up on this one for a minute.
I was at an event recently, and I noticed an old acquaintance was actively asking people if they wanted a hug, rather than just going in for one as a greeting. I watched him do this to people of all genders, every time there was an interaction. He was normalising it, possibly for himself as much as others. We need a million mini-actions like this. We need a thousand reassurances and reminders to those around us that when they (and we) are being self-critical, it makes you less discerning about whose validation you are willing to seek. We need to recommit to speak up, act up and step in when things don’t feel right, but we think it is probably not our place. We are going to have to be willing to rock a few boats, and dislike a few people who we might have followed on social media. We are going to need to be willing to hear testimony against someone who has made us laugh, if we are to possibly contemplate that one of our friends may be doing something untoward (and statistically, if 1 in 4 women in the UK have been raped – chances are, you know someone who is a perpetrator). It's a lot easier to judge someone on TV than it is speak to your mate about the way he is treating his girlfriend.
I am not here to dish dirt, but I do think it is important that the way we respond to big stories like this teaches us a lot about how we may respond to hearing of allegations closer to home.
If your instinct is to defend rather than listen, then you sit with most people in the UK, and that is why we have under 1% conviction rate for reported rapes in this country. It does not mean you're a bad person, it means we are all steeped in the same water that laughs at predatory behaviour and then whinges "well why didn't she report it?" to a police force crammed full of rotten apples. We are surrounded by this stuff, of COURSE we absorb it.
We can do better. We can learn more. We can learn to listen more. We can watch ourselves not wanting to believe bad things about people we like / love / laugh with / admire and still realise that we can like / love / laugh with / admire people who have done some pretty vicious shit in their time and that does not make us terrible people for liking / loving / laughing with / admiring them. It means we are human. And complicated. And sometimes tricked. And often want to think the best of people. And often want to be right.
And when we know better we can do better. But it has to be a conscious choice. And it is one you can make.
Additional Support for folk who need it:
24 hours a day, 7 days a week Telephone: 116 123 (24 hour)
National Domestic Violence Helpline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
Tel: 0808 2000 247
Solace - www.solacewomensaid.org
Nia - www.niaendingviolence.org.uk
Rape Crisis - www.rapecrisis.org.uk
Refuge - www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk
LAWA - www.awadv.org.uk/en/contact
Centre for Women's Justice www.centreforwomensjustice.org.uk
Southall Black Sisters - www.southallblacksisters.org.uk
Surviving Economic Abuse - www.survivingeconomicabuse.org
Rights of Women - https://rightsofwomen.org.uk