Women in particular

There’s always the “it’s just part of life, get over it” defense. Being groped or plied with drinks or raped is just what happens if you’re female and young.

Rosie Millard makes that [cough] argument in the Independent. She starts off reasonably enough by saying that squeezing a woman’s breasts probably doesn’t merit a prison sentence. But then she veers off into full-on “deal with it” mode.

Yet in many people’s eyes, Dave Lee Travis – another name from the 1970s whose fame surrounded him like a blinding cloud – will have “got away” with it, as if his actions were as repugnant and evil as those of Clifford, Harris and Savile. The unnamed victim of the assault, who said she was paralysed with fear at the time, has spoken of her luck in being able to get on with the rest of her life after the event – the event being having your breasts squeezed for 15 seconds, backstage at The Mrs Merton Show. Hello? If such things really caused deep trauma, half the female population of the UK would be in long-term therapy. Women get their breasts squeezed. They get their bottoms pinched. Without asking for it. It is not particularly exciting, but it is part of life. Get over it.

Um, no?

Those are two different things. A jail sentence for breast-squeezing is one thing and treating unrequested unwanted breast-squeezing as part of life that you have to get over is quite another. Physical molestation, even minor varieties, shouldn’t be taken as normal and just part of the price of being female.

I have worked in television shows similar to Mrs Merton; this sort of thing happened all the time, so much so that it was almost funny. While I was working on one show years ago, one of the executive producers was so used to it that he devised a simple slogan to yell at us humble researchers: “Look, loves, don’t fuck the turns!” Because you know, the turns would turn up and they would, well… hope to have favours granted. Again, I am not referring to or indeed excusing sexual assault. I am pointing out that there was, and probably always will be, a certain amount of irresponsible behaviour in the entertainment world, whether from Radio 1 DJs or anyone else, and women in particular have to negotiate it as they see fit.

But that’s not ok. Dumping an extra burden on “women in particular” is not ok. Treating women as there for the fucking is not ok.


  1. johnthedrunkard says

    How far would anyone get if they were applying this ludicrous ‘human nature’ argument to a racial issue?

  2. Maureen Brian says

    Well, at the request of four people, the matter has been referred to the Attorney General who has been asked to decide whether the sentence was too lenient.

    We shall see. In the meantime perhaps DLT could assist himself by not asserting he’s done nothing wrong. The law under which he was charged was passed in 1956 by a House of Commons with all of 24 women MPs (3.8%) and a House of Lords with no women at all. Did all those men intend the women to have the full protection of the law? Seems so.

    I really, really hate the people who want to write extra tests into things because the case depended on the testimony of a woman. Sharia courts, anyone?

  3. doublereed says

    A older relative of mine once told me about minor physical touching and molestation she experienced on the job and how she didn’t really think anything of it at the time. I was kind of lost about how to respond. I find it really strange how such behavior becomes tolerable.

  4. smhll says

    I know someone who was a Congressional Page when female pages were fairly new (early 80s). Men in power grabbing the asses of secretaries and pages in the elevators in Washington DC was commonplace. We’ve made a lot of progress in the realm of casual grabbing in the workplace. People who excuse the behavior just because they have put up with it themselves are an anchor on progress, though.

  5. brett says

    Great post. I’d add that letting groping go unpunished or uncriticized tends to increase the sense of impunity among those doing it, pushing some of them to go further in terms of sex crimes. It’s not uncommon when someone is finally nailed for rape to find out that they had a string of sexual harassment and crime incidents going back further (like what’s happening with Sam Pepper the youtube comedian).

  6. Lady Mondegreen (aka Stacy) says

    A knee to the groin could also be accounted “just a part of life,” I suppose; one that men in particular have to learn to negotiate as they see fit. I mean if that’s the world Rosie and friends want.

  7. tecolata says

    So if I walk up to a strange man on the street and grab his balls HARD it’s just something he has to deal with? He wouldn’t, you know, punch me in the face?

  8. leni says

    I find it really strange how such behavior becomes tolerable.

    People can get used to anything. I heard a report on ISIS on NPR recently, where and Iraqi interviewee mentioned how horrifying s/he (can’t remember) found it that a woman was eating lunch with her small children next to the decapitated heads of the people they were murdering in public that day.

    Obviously breast groping isn’t as bad as show trials and public beheadings, but if something that extreme can become normal in months, imagine what a lifetime of lesser bullshit would do.

    Well, you don’t have to imagine. You’ve already seen it and the article above is yet another of several million examples we’ve all seen.

    Anyway, if Millard thinks the best way to negotiate is to shut up about it, one wonders why she doesn’t do just that.

  9. moarscienceplz says

    I find it really strange how such behavior becomes tolerable.

    Over the weekend, I watched The Mouse That Roared, a very funny Peter Sellers movie from 1959 about a tiny fictional European country that declares war on the US and invades New York. During the invasion, they take prisoner (or, kidnap) a physicist and his beautiful daughter. During the boat trip back to Europe, the commander decides he is in love with the daughter. She is quite properly angry at him and orders him out of her cabin. He then grabs her by the shoulders and forces a kiss on her. She yells more, and gets him to leave her alone, but the music makes clear that she had begun to be attracted to him, too. By the end of the movie, they are engaged to be married.

    Women (or, “girls”) need a man to force himself on her a bit in order to get her heart beating faster, and then she will be receptive to him. This was the common view (in movies and TV, at least) at that time. But, just like watching an old movie and seeing Stepin Fetchit do his ‘fearful and ignorant’ negro shtick makes us uncomfortable today, we should all recoil from this ‘rape as foreplay’ meme. Unfortunately, this is still much too accepted.

  10. John Horstman says

    Hold up, why should someone not get a jail sentence for unwanted breast-squeezing? That’s a physical assault. Seriously, why should that be any different than any other unwanted violation of bodily integrity? People need to get past this fucked-up idea that they have any right to someone else’s body. Just don’t touch people without consent, at all – it’s really not difficult. Given that it’s not difficult to not sexually assault people (even if you don’t know that what you’re doing constitutes sexual assault, becasue you shouldn’t be touching people without consent in non-sexual ways either) and that it can cause great harm to sexually assault someone, why should we not mandate jail time for even ‘minor’ kinds of assault?

    If I was going around jabbing people with pins, should I not be arrested and possibly thrown in prison if I wouldn’t stop? I’m very unlikely to do more than cause someone discomfort (in the form of momentary physiological pain) – I’m unlikely to cause lasting damage (for the sake of my hypothetical analogy, let’s say I’m sterilizing the needles – perhaps even swabbing my victim’s skin first – so introducing an infectious agent is extremely unlikely). Should I not face jail time just because I’m stabbing people in a minor way, as opposed to stabbing people with a larger knife?

    @tiko #6: Ditto.

  11. doublereed says

    @13 John Horstman

    You would throw someone in prison for jabbing somebody with a pin? And ‘mandating’ jailtime sounds like you’re just not allowing any kind of judgement call or extenuating circumstances.

    Should I not face jail time just because I’m stabbing people in a minor way, as opposed to stabbing people with a larger knife?

    Uhm. No? What?

    Some crimes are worse than others. That shouldn’t need to be said.

    It’s not like prison is the only punishment we have as a society, and it’s obviously not practical for every situation. You’re being weird.

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