In an example of hideous irony, it was the week of the ‘Me Too’ campaign. Facebook was sadder than usual, every single woman you knew posting a black heart to show that they had been sexually harassed or abused at some point in their life. Harvey Weinstein shambled out into the light of the twenty-first century like a hairy-backed dinosaur coming out of a velvet cave, alternatively contrite and self-pitying: “I came of age in the 60s and 70s.” Actress Rose McGowan made things uncomfortable for Hollywood men like Ben Affleck, who knew about the sexual abuse of others and yet profited from the company that allowed it. It was a week of calling out society’s dramatic imbalance of power, breaking silences, of women being strong, standing up, not being cowed by how much they needed the job to complain. Women’s voices were being heard, loud. It was the end of an era. Things would never be the same again, they said.
Like anyone busty and short, easy to loom over, leer down at, I’ve had more ‘Me Too’s than hot dinners. From the broadcaster of this parish who cornered me when I was a waitress (until someone introduced me as my mother’s daughter and he pulled himself up sharpish), to the sales manager who, during a job interview said, “Good thing this desk isn’t see through. Are they real?” … to numerous gropes, pinches and ‘accidental’ breast grazes. Sweaty hands and ‘go team’ bum pats. In India I was ‘Eve-teased’ into a state resembling an agitator washing machine with a bad attitude: elbows constantly at the ready. I was even masturbated on once, on public transport. India and I do not see eye-to-eye on feminism.
So yeah, me too buster, ad nauseum. But this isn’t about me, this is about a young woman I love, who went to a party the week the casting couch was trundled off to the dump, the week those who spoke out were called ‘heroes’ by actress Meryl Streep; she went to a party and someone put something in her drink. You are perhaps unaware, as I was, that this sort of stuff happens in Dunedin all the time. A guy or group of guys think it is funny to drug a girl and watch what happens. She doesn’t know why she suddenly feels so drunk. How the hell did it happen? She only had a couple. My girl, the girl I love, was sick, terrified and paralysed, seeing what was happening as if from behind glass. Luckily, she was with a friend who noticed her slip away from the party, but before he found her she spent a short time wandering in the Octagon utterly disorientated, totally confused, feeling she had no control over her legs, and nobody came to her aid, I expect because they thought she was pissed.
Worse, this young woman now feels ashamed because of what someone else did to her. People saw her out of control, it could be anyone passing her on the street, how would she know? She feels judged. She feels anxious walking home from work. Really, she was very, very lucky – I know of five women who were stupefied, and two of them were raped. They told no one, at the time. She told no one, until she decided to tell me, and I decided to tell you. Let’s not keep quiet about this. I know its difficult stuff, distasteful. I know it’s hard to accept the world contains people so evil. Drugging a woman is not just sexual, it doesn’t just mean you have power over her as you watch the chemicals take hold, choose your moment and offer the villainous chivalry of the predator; it does her down as a human, makes her a thing.
If I could get my hands on the person responsible, a young man who came of age in the 90s, I’m not sure what I’d do. “I’ll take the kneecaps and leave the face for you,” said MMM, who’s own daughter is only two. “If this is OK now, what the hell will be OK when she’s in her twenties?” Of course it’s not OK. But why, when women have a voice, when we all agree about what is right and what is wrong, are we still breeding men who want to shut them up?