A boring story we have all heard before.

walking home by katy warner

A male passenger in a white van stuck his head out of the window and yelled. At me. I was walking down the street, nearly home after a long day at work when they drove by. A quiet street. My quiet street.

I couldn’t hear the words exactly but I could hear the sound. Like when someone speaks in a foreign language and even though you don’t know what they’re saying, you know what they’re saying. Know what I’m saying? Something in that tone, that leering face, jolted me. He made that certain kind of sound you will sometimes hear certain groups of certain kinds of men make at certain establishments when they have reached a certain level of a certain thing I shall call “jerk-ness”.

I stopped. I turned around, flung my arms in the air, in that Tom Hanks I’m-acting-like-I-can’t-believe-you-just-did-that fashion (which I always thought was kind of unrealistic until I found myself doing it) and watched the van continue on its way. Come back, I thought, come back and have a conversation with me. Get out of the car, look me in the eye, and repeat what you said.

He didn’t. Of course. Even though I knew they could see me, standing there all Tom-Hanks-esque and angry. No, of course they didn’t come back…

This happens from time to time. Most of the time. Because, to some men, when women walk down the street they are not people. Not fellow human beings. We are objects to be objectified. Of course. Yell, whistle, beep the horn.

It is not flattering. It is not funny. It is not harmless.

It is intimidating and pathetic. It is vile.

These are not sincere, heartfelt compliments given from one human to another. These men don’t look you in the eye. They couldn’t.

You never see these cowards again. You never know who they are.

However …

This van was marked with a company name.

I tweeted them.

They got back to me. Quickly. That sort of thing doesn’t look so great on social media.

They were sorry. They wanted more details. They would follow-up. They took this seriously.

Good, I thought.

Then –

The managing director, who was shocked and wanted to call me right away, called me right away.

She had been given a different story.

She thought I should be told the Different Story.

Here it is: A couple of young guys driving to football training with the radio up, singing loudly, having a good time. The passenger is not an employee. The driver is. And he is a great guy. Polite. Hardworking. Finishing his masters degree at a top university. From a good family. He doesn’t remember any incident … But he remembers singing, having a laugh with his friend.

The story ends.

Silence.

And I wait.

Silence.

The managing director takes my complaint seriously. She told me so. Many times. 

And because she Takes This Sort Of Thing Seriously she would have to fire him. He would have to go. Her hands were tied on this one. The company takes a strong stance on this type of thing.

Unless ….

Is there any doubt in your mind? she asked.

Doubt?

Could it have been a couple of guys singing and having harmless fun? she wanted to make sure. 

I heard no music. I heard no singing. I heard a man yell. At me. I saw his face. Hanging out the window. At me. It made me stop. It made me fling my arms in the air. It made me red, it made me shake … 

It made me change the route I walk home. 

If that is this case, she told me, then he would be fired. Will be fired. The company takes a strong stance on this type of thing. Her hands were tied on this one.

But … If there is any chance I was mistaken … well … then she wouldn’t have to fire him. He would get a warning but he wouldn’t be fired. 

I told her again – I didn’t hear what was said even though I knew what was said, you know? (I don’t think she did.) But, yes, I suppose … Doubt.

And that was that.

She thanked me for my considerate handling of the situation.

Considerate.

He would get a warning: A Serious Warning. 

He would write me an apology letter.

I got the letter. I don’t know if he got the warning. 

In the apology letter he wanted me to know he was polite and responsible and goes to a top university and comes from a good family. He wanted me to know he had learnt from the actions he said he had no recollection of.

I didn’t get to tell him I am polite and responsible and went to a top university and come from a good family.

I read his email, keep my head down and my iPod on. Loud.

And that was that.  

Except it isn’t.

It’s not.

Is it?

(PS: I have had this post written for some time but never wanted to publish it until I read Girl in the Hat’s excellent post If I Had a Dollar (Why I Am a Feminist). My story ain’t all that important. It doesn’t even matter in the scheme of things. It doesn’t even register when we consider what other women (and men) deal with on a daily basis. I have dealt with a lot worse but I know I have it a lot better than many, many women (and men) on this planet. This didn’t hurt me. This just made me think; what the hell? But I think what is interesting is my reluctance to post it … Are there any posts you have been reluctant to publish?)

 

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Punch them in the face (not literally); or, why I wish Fiona Scott had said something …

I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons

Tony Abbott

I watched Fiona Scott laugh, the broad smile firmly plastered to her face, as Tony Abbott, the man who wants to be the next Prime Minister of Australia, spoke of her “sex appeal”. I watched as her office fended off questions about the sex appeal comment with “No Comment.” I watched as others loudly provided their own opinion on her level of sex appeal. I watched as Abbott didn’t apologise for his comment (it was a “dad moment”) but provided instead this supposed compliment wrapped in a cliché – “…she ain’t just a pretty face.”

I wondered why she didn’t speak up. I wondered why she didn’t punch Abbott in the face. I wondered why she didn’t come back with some witty remark to render Mark Latham speechless (now that would be something). I wondered why she didn’t stand up and make an eloquent speech about the misogyny that is so embedded in Australian politics. I wondered and wondered until I remembered …

I have been Fiona Scott; minus the conservative political beliefs and MBA and opposition to marriage equality. I am sure many of us have been her – laughing half-heartedly at the sexist, inappropriate comments of our male colleagues and bosses because … Why? So as not to make a scene? So as not to look like you can’t take a joke? So as to keep the job? So, so, so ….

I had done it.

I smiled and laughed politely at the grossly inappropriate comments from male customers when I worked on checkouts at Kmart (my first job whilst studying at university). After-all, they were the customer, right? And they were always right, right? And “you do smile a lot so you’re kinda asking for that sort of thing,” said the supervisor. “Plus, you wear make-up.” Right?

I didn’t tell anyone about the so-called compliments my manager at the local video store (another job through university) would give me even though they made me feel very uncomfortable and unsafe. He went on to create a fake entry for the in-store video search computer; he made up this pornographic film with my name in the title, starring me including an explicit blurb as to what I would do and with whom in this “film”. It was just a joke. It was just hilarious. He brought his friends in to read his literary genius when I was working. When I didn’t laugh I was a stuck up bitch. When I complained I was too sensitive – “he just likes you, that’s all” the owner said.

I smiled politely when my head of department told me he had given me the job because I was blonde. I smiled politely when I was told I only got a job because I was attractive. I laughed off the groping hands and sloppy kisses and lurid stares of older men who should have known better.

I wish I hadn’t.

I wish I had said something.

But back then I didn’t feel I had the words. I didn’t punch anyone in the face or snap back with biting repartee or make an eloquent speech. Then, as I saw Fiona Scott’s reaction to Tony Abbott’s completely unacceptable comment, I was taken back to those moments when I too I just smiled and laughed and made “no comment”; when I should have said something but, instead, felt utterly foolish and silly and uncomfortable and overly sensitive.

As in my situation, it is not her fault. Here she is trying to deal with a sexist boss – in many ways just like that awful manager at the local video store. Describing your candidate as having “sex appeal” or telling your employee she looks like she would “give good head” – these are not compliments, not in these scenarios (I don’t know where the would be … but maybe for some). No. A compliment would be, in Scott’s case, something to do with her ability in politics and, in my case circa 1999, something to do with my excellent shelving of the videos both alphabetically AND by genre. Instead these are belittling statements that reduce women to nothing. I should have said something. Scott should have said something.

And then she did. She finally spoke up. Scott called Abbott’s “sex appeal” comment “a charming complaint” and I realised, in that moment, no, I have actually never, ever been Fiona Scott.

But I cannot blame her.

We had a political leader who stood up and said something and look where that got her. Australian politics prefer the women who laugh and smile and make “no comment”. Sadly it looks like the voters do too.