Enough is enough. On the back of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, Stylist says it's time to speak up. The revolution is now.
Us too. Us bloody too.
For the past two weeks, in this office, we have been doing what many, many other women have been doing. Me too, we’ve said. There was that time when… Well, I was only young… I just brushed it off when it happened… Oh, you know that guy… I didn’t think they’d speak about me like that…
But you know what has been different? We spoke openly this time. No whispers. No hiding. Us too. This time it feels like being part of a wave, part of a gathering storm, part of a revolution. So, yes, us too. Us bloody too!
Me too: a status update spilling across social media platforms.
The phrase was coined 10 years ago by American activist Tarana Burke and, in the wake of the news about Harvey Weinstein, the actress Alyssa Milano suggested in a tweet that everyone who had experienced sexual abuse or harassment should use it.
The storm around Weinstein, the revelations about a whole career of abusing power and privilege, grew into something without limits. Women started to add their own experiences. And we found it was as we always knew. It’s everyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Hollywood star, a teenager with a Saturday job, a barista, a lawyer. Me too. Five letters and a space – just six characters to represent hundreds of thousands of forced smiles, un-dodged squeezes, ignored refusals and horror. In stockrooms and staffrooms, in bathrooms and boardrooms.
These six characters are the start of too many stories. I have a story. You have a story. She has a story. We all have stories. But at least, now, they are being told.
“My first boss was a predator who told me he wanted to f*ck me and then made me feel like a fool when I confronted him about being out of line. I was 21, he claimed to be 38. The two of us worked in a small office together and when I tried to confide in another female manager, she said, ‘I just presumed you were sleeping with him and liked it.’ I am so angry for younger me.”
Doesn’t it make you feel livid, blood-boilingly furious, for all of us?
But something is different this year. This hellscape, this 2017, has been book-ended by two outpourings of worldwide feminine anger.
On 21 January around five million people marched following the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States. From around 600,000 in Washington DC (there are many logistical complexities to counting numbers at protests) to one brave person in Show Low, Arizona, people turned up to shout about reproductive rights, sexual harassment, LGBTQ rights, immigration reform, climate change and workers’ rights. The scale of it – the solidarity, the diversity, the feeling you were not alone in your views or this world – that was really something.
This current outpouring has a similar feel. Yes, these are terrible tales coming out, but they are at long last out in the open. They are no longer girls huddled into the same toilet cubicle. Not a friend crying on the phone. Not even a group bonding and eye-rolling in the pub.
We’ve been telling these tales for a long time. They’ve functioned as a warped version of feminine solidarity (I believe you where others haven’t), but also as an underground network (this is who you stay away from). These tales are as old as Little Red Riding Hood trotting through the woods, keeping an eye out for the big bad wolf. This goes back lifetimes, actual millennia.
Doesn’t it make you want to cry with sheer frustration? Think of all those women, changed, shamed and stopped in their tracks while trying to progress or simply be themselves. Let’s use that anger.
“A writer, older than me and well-known in my corner of journalism, had come over from America. The staff of the magazine I worked for took him out for drinks. It was my first job and I was very young. He hit on me so obviously, so inappropriately, that my male colleagues intervened. And I though, ‘Well, it must have been not right because even they noticed.’”
Have you ever noticed how hard it is to explain all this to men? Even the most well-intentioned, thoughtful men. In an odd way it’s harder to get the decent dudes, the natural allies, to understand. They want to, but it’s largely outside their experience. They don’t do it, but it also doesn’t happen to them, not to the same extent. “It’s all of them,” our male friends say, in appalled wonder, as the me toos pile up. “All of them are saying it. How didn’t we realise?” Half the world has accepted abuse as part of their day-to-day life and the other half has walked around blind.
How would it be to walk around without fear, with this blithe blindness?
In Naomi Alderman’s novel The Power, women develop the ability to shoot bolts of electricity from their hands, making them the stronger sex. The characters begin to feel “a sort of constant ease, as if it’s high summer all the time”. Could we walk in that high summer atmosphere? Or is the fear so much a daily thing, a background constant, that walking without it would feel like having forgotten your house keys? Out in the world, we are conditioned to walk in well-lit areas, take taxis, avoid certain places. In the workplace, we are conditioned to shut up and smile.
So, this ends now. Right? We get everyone on board. We accept the men who have opened their eyes. We acknowledge there are extra difficulties if you are trans, gay or of colour. We acknowledge your youth may feel like a burden. We acknowledge financial fear can squeeze and freeze you and stop you from speaking up or walking out, but also that your Oscar, your corner office, your professorship, will not protect you. We are speaking with multiple voices and now we are too loud to ignore.
Here is the message for men like Weinstein: we are many and you are done. Not such a big man now.
“It’s exhausting, cataloguing everything you can think of. Just exhausting.”
Some days the anger takes you, but some days you are too depleted to do much else but shrug. Because even with this huge outpouring, it’s still on us. OK, in a court of law the burden of proof rests with the prosecution.
But for every voice speaking, for every me too, there’s someone reliving things they’d rather forget, someone still processing something they don’t quite understand, someone, so sadly, still blaming themselves. It’s brave and it’s valuable, this speaking, but it shouldn’t be mandatory. Let’s keep our sympathy running high, too.
“I realised too late that innocently leaning over a lightbox with relatively big boobs was fuelling all sorts of attention from a certain part of the office, and that the main protagonist – married – was speaking openly about my appearance to others, and making a beeline for me on drunken nights out. And I was absolutely mortified to read a line on my leaving card about how I supposedly loved ‘inserting a chocolate finger at lunchtime’.
“I felt so grubby and violated by those words, made so publicly, and to think that work colleagues had even thought that about me made my skin crawl. Even as someone who drew on the power of words professionally, I couldn’t believe the visceral reaction of revulsion it produced. It still does, to be honest.”
Few of us work in industries where invitations to hotel rooms are normal, but all of us have heard that grotesque phrase “just a bit of banter” – a phrase that takes your experience, and turns it to sand that runs through your fingers. (For the record, none of this is about flirting. Flirting is charming and mutual and anyone with sense knows the difference.)
“I was at a work conference a few years ago – an overnight one where you stay in a hotel. We’d had a few drinks and at the end of the night I couldn’t find my room key. I went to the hotel reception and asked someone to let me in and a porter came with me to help. In my room he lunged at me. I pushed him off and told him no, and he tried again. I said no again. He eventually left – and I found he had left his number in my room.
“The next day I told a couple of colleagues about it. Later, in a group of about 40 people, we were doing an exercise and in front of everyone a man made a joke about me inviting the porter to my room. I was mortified and felt sick, but didn’t feel I could say anything as I was a junior member of the team and had to laugh along. I also didn’t report it to the hotel as I was worried about getting him in trouble (FFS!) or them not believing me because I’d had a drink.”
This is where things must change. No more dismissing whistleblowers (even that expression needs to morph), the Rose McGowans, the Courtney Loves, as the crazy ones. No more tight smiles. No more shame. No more silence.
To quote a sign seen on many of the Women’s Marches, “If we are all snowflakes, then this is a blizzard.” Together we are a force of nature. Together we have more power than any one abuser in any one industry. Together, our name is legion, for we are many.
Together, now, we make men like Harvey Weinstein feel f*cking small.
Right now it’s Thursday 19 October and we are just about to send this magazine to the printers. The stories in this piece are from our staff, about our world in journalism. Award-winning author Emma Cline has just written a piece about sexual harassment in publishing. Olympic gold gymnast McKayla Maroney has just posted about how she was abused by her coach from the age of 13.
How much has already been written about tech and academia? The music industry? Finance? Law? How many people at the top of their power structures are starting to wonder if their thrones will be the next to crumble? What’s next? How many women who have previously been voiceless will find a way?
This is a revolution: our Sixties, our Berlin Wall. This is unprecedented. This is history. Speak, sister, if you can. We’re with you.
Images: Rex Features