LAST week I wrote about my tendency to colour my hair the second I see a single grey hair, and my reluctance to embrace the grey. My motivation was innocent enough. I presumed that other women might have found themselves in the same situation during lockdown and that they might have related to the column in some way.
Just like all Irish News columns, this content was printed in the paper and a link to the online version posted on social media. We welcome connection with the readers. That’s why we write. We don’t wish to invite lewd, rude, sexist commentary.
It was my turn to be on the receiving end of such commentary last week.
I had spent the best part of the weekend and Monday of last week reading and dissecting #Ibelieveher on Twitter and Instagram. It all started with a revealing comment by a female comic about a personal experience in the Irish comedy circuit – and the floodgates opened.
A tsunami of shocking stories of derogatory, undermining commentary, coercive and sexual attacks by men against women followed.
It turns out that the Irish comedy circuit isn’t a very funny place to be if you’re female. The music, theatre, film and television industries aren’t much fun either at times. The extent of the abuse revealed varied from woman to woman.
One young woman’s post on Instagram really got to me. I messaged her and asked, ‘not you too?’ She replied that fortunately her experience had not been as bad as most of the others coming forward. She then added that very few women have never been unwillingly groped in their lives, have they? We just accept it as part of life and move on. That is the sad reality.
Many will be shocked that this behaviour has happened in the first place, or that it has been tolerated for this long before being called out. Some will accuse these women of whinging and whining, of exaggerating, of lying. To those I ask, do you have mothers, wives, sisters, daughters? Is it really OK for them to be repeatedly treated like this?
Men are not the enemy. I want to be very clear about that. Men can be incredibly supportive of women. Sometimes, women do not support women. But the comments made about my column last week are not acceptable – in any context.
There’s a scene in Normal People where the lead character Connell’s friend shares an intimate photo of a girlfriend with a group of friends. Connell calls him out on it. Could this behaviour become part of our new norm?
Locker-room banter and innuendo continues to be ‘a bit of craic’. ‘Wise up, you can’t take a joke’ is something I hear regularly when I choose to call out casual sexism – because that’s what it is. THAT is the problem. It’s so engrained in everyday life, that it has become normalised, tolerated at worst and accepted at best.
Please, please start calling it out.
I could provide a litany of derogatory things that have been said to my face, both in the workplace and in my personal life in order to undermine me as a female. “You’re very feisty.” “You’re very ambitious.” How dare I know my own mind or want to be the best I can be? I’m only a woman.
I have been in production meetings where the looks of female presenters are torn apart, without a spare thought for their integrity, humility or professionalism. I have been in meetings where crass, sexist comments are made as a matter of course, and I have laughed awkwardly, while dying inside. Did my silence on these occasions make me part of the problem?
When my bump started to show during pregnancy, a man in a work environment, said to me: “Who’s been a naughty girl then?” I didn’t know where to look. Again, I said nothing.
That’s the thing about being a freelancer in the comedy/music/film/entertainment/TV industry. You don’t know where your next job is coming from so you are under pressure to conform, to smile, to toe the line. The last thing you want to be known as is a troublemaker. It’s a woman’s place to be nice.
Are all these women who have shared their stories via social media this week troublemakers? Are their experiences to be dismissed as ‘a bit of craic?’
Should I have just shrugged off the lewd comments made about last week’s column, and accept that things will never change?
Over to you.