I’ve kept my mouth shut so far on #MeToo, but foolishly I cannot seem to keep quiet any longer. That’s because of the generational divide that seems to be opening up between women my age and older, and the younger generation on the topic of sexual harassment under the #MeToo campaign.
I am sad to see so many older female icons like Catherine Deneuve being attacked for expressing an opinion on the #metoo campaign. But I actually wish they would stay quiet, or at least be a little more nuanced. Because warning of potential consequences of the #MeToo movement is fairly pointless. No one knows. The main consequence of speaking out is that the media are now salivating at the prospect of portraying this as a battle between different groups of women (just like the stay at home versus working mum debate) and this has the potential to totally obscure the original point of the campaign. So please can everyone calm down and stop rising to the media bait.
Yet here I am, speaking out too.
Because the world was a different place when we were young. And perhaps we have internalised misogyny, as was said on twitter this morning. But there was no Stay Safe programme in schools to help us work out what was acceptable, there was no internet to tell us, and we didn’t confide in our parents in those days either. We just dealt with it as best we could, and we’ve been dealing with it for 50, 60, 70 or more years, but not necessarily in ways that would be acceptable to today’s women.
Sexual harassment on the street? Change the way you dress. An older man puts his hand on your leg when you’re eight? Keep out of his way. Factory production line stops and cheers as you walk through in your suit and high heels like they’ve never seen a woman before? Hold your head up high and concentrate on not tripping over. Work colleagues bring you to a lunch time pub with a stripper? Make them sit outside.
These are some of the challenges I have dealt with over the years. I haven’t forgotten them, but I don’t think they traumatised me.
And remember I have always been socially awkward, always jealous of those women (especially Liverpool and Dublin women) who always seem to have a smart answer for any man who dared to give them grief.
Hopefully if the #metoo campaign succeeds, it will make life easier for all women, in all situations. But I don’t think that misogyny will completely disappear, I think it will just go underground and women will still need to be ready and able to cope with it at times.
Relationships between younger men and women may well change as a result of this campaign, but hopefully it will all work out in a positive way: every time I see a young dad hugging his child to his chest in a sling, my heart lifts at the changes that have already happened.
At the same time, I think that most of us older women have the confidence and experience to continue our relationships with men in the way that we choose. We shouldn’t be criticising the younger generation for the changes they want to see.
It’s true that the behaviours that negatively affected my life are not covered by the #MeToo campaign as far as I know, and I do not write about them publicly. But perhaps if the campaign really succeeds, it will ultimately improve all human behavior. And that would certainly be a very good thing.