I’m feeling a little bit proud of myself. In the past 24 hours, I’ve made two complaints to supervisors about the marginally (ie socially) acceptable behaviour of young men, and been taken seriously. (Incidentally, both of the supervisors I spoke to were named Rachel. So: kudos to Rachels!)
There are descriptions of the complaints I made at the bottom of this post, but for me, the meat of it is about whingeing as a feminist act.
Whingeing, complaining, bitching (and their close relation, nagging) are all modes of communication that women are said to engage in more than men. Whenever we point out that something is wrong, we are accused of whingeing. Whenever we ask someone to do something, we are nagging. My apologies for the lack of links – I can’t think of any concrete examples. But my guess is that it’s happened to all of us. And it’s such a truism, it’s the subject of many jokes & cartoons (again, no concrete examples spring to mind).
[One exception: the trope that "men whinge when they're sick". But although that's often the subject of jokes, it's generally considered ok. Because they're such reasonable manly macho men the rest of the time!]
[Yes, that was sarcasm. In case you were wondering.]
Add to that the simple ubiquity of marginally acceptable behaviour – by which I mean, behaviour which is socially acceptable, but which is essentially harassment, such as ogling, wolf-whistles, “smile!”, and even some touching – and the fact that it’s often happening to someone else, and the idea of saying something often seems like too much effort, at least, it does to me.
And yet, I do honestly believe that most men (or women, for that matter) who engage in this sort of behaviour aren’t doing it on purpose (ok, a lot in that statement, but you probably know what I mean), that at least some of them would change a little if they were forced to think about it a little bit (although there are always those who Don’t Get It (And Most Likely Never Will)), and that, occasionally, their superiors will care enough about the public image of the organisation to maybe take a little disciplinary action, even if that’s just a bit of a chat.
And that even if that’s all a bit too optimistic, a little consciousness-raising never hurts.
So that’s where my actions over the last couple of days come in. It still feels a little cowardly – I didn’t call these guys out at the time, and I could have done that. (In the case of the Cancer Council guys, I decided not to because I figured that they probably wouldn’t get it, life is – and lunch breaks are – too short, and they probably would have used the “you’re just jealous” card. Um, yeah, whatever.)
And my phone manner was all: “I’m really sorry, but unfortunately I do need to make this complaint, and this may seem a bit trivial, but I happen to think it’s important, and I have no idea how she felt, but if I’d been in her position…”
That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s still not really like me at all.
And it’s entirely possible that the women I spoke to were just fobbing me off.
But still. I feel I’ve lifted my teaspoon today.
One of the complaints I made was about the yoga instructor I mentioned the week before last. (I didn’t mention the healthist remark – that was a conscious choice, and I’m still not absolutely sure it was the right one. You are welcome to take me to task for it.)
The second complaint I made was about a couple of charity collectors from the Cancer Council. They were both young men (around 20, at a rough guess), and I walked past them a couple of times at lunchtime. One of them in particular I saw behaving pretty inappropriately towards a couple of young women (he was ogling them, one of them he insisted on touching – shaking her hand, even though she clearly didn’t want to – her hand was hanging straight down by her side, elbow locked, and she looked tense and uncomfortable as hell); the other walked up to me and said “hello young lady”, to which I responded “I’m probably old than you” and kept walking (as he then said “but have you heard about …”).
As I said, kudos to both of the women I spoke to about this behaviour – in both cases, they said they would talk to the men involved and make it clear that the behaviour I mentioned is inappropriate. I pretty much expected this from the gym, but had no idea what to expect from the Cancer Council (especially when the switch operator referred to the woman I needed to speak to as a girl!).