2 days ago, at the NME awards, Katherine Ryan, a successful female comedian, was sexually harassed onstage by ‘progressive’ rapper Slowthai. It happened in front of a huge crowd of fans, celebrities, journalists and others in the entertainment industry. Whilst accepting an award for Hero of the Year, the rapper took his ‘flirty banter’ too far by leering at Ryan, getting very, very close to her and saying "You ain't never had someone play with you liked I'd play with you." He later added, "If you want to do something, see me later".
Ryan, being the great comedian she is, and clearly being used to dealing with drunken idiots, managed to defuse the situation with sarcastic quips as she replied, "You are like the hottest guy I've seen."
The following day on Twitter, Slowthai apologised for his shameful behaviour, whilst Ryan commented “He didn’t make me uncomfortable. This is why we need women in positions of power…” Although Ryan has been praised for her handling of the situation, many people have brought up the point that what if this had happened to a person who was not as confident as a famous comedian?
What’s more is the event came just before The Trades Union Congress revealed the results of a report that showed that 50% of women are still experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace.
Having been in this position myself, I know how shitty the situation can be. Although it did not happen to me on a stage and for the world to see, it did happen in front of a room of co-workers who stood by as the CEO of the firm as I was working at got very, very close to me, saying very gross sexual things to me whilst pulling me towards him. He also told me to call him later.
I was left in a position where I did not know what to do, I did not know how to respond and in fear of being fired on the spot (or worse if I was left alone with him). All I could do was laugh politely, say the odd sarcastic remark and desperately ask a friend to step in.
I know that he had preyed on me because I was vulnerable and wouldn’t say anything back to him. I knew this because he had spent a great length of time telling me how vulnerable and lovely I was.But I also know that being 'vulnerable' doesn't make me, or anybody, weak! Whenever I tried to defuse the situation by telling him how horrible I really was, he would call me ‘a bad girl’ with disgusting, dribbly eyes.
With no HR department in my job and nobody above me, I didn’t have anyone to report it to, unless it went to court. I told a few people at work what happened and although the women were supportive, the response from one guy was that I should have punched him - although I appreciate the support, when a guy twice my weight is grabbing my coat and staring in face, it was not an easy option. Whilst someone else said that I just couldn’t handle his banter and that I was just sensitive.
With every email the CEO sent me and every phone call I got from him; my anxiety grew worse. My boss did not address the situation and I was left with no choice but to quit my job - I also knew that doing this also wasn't weak. The CEO had ‘no recollection’ of his behaviour when I told him why I was leaving. But the consequence of his actions had meant I was left unemployed whilst NOTHING happened to him. Although I did report it, I was being punished for his behaviour. I was the one who would have to explain the situation in every interview, I was the one who had to justify to my friends and family why I had left the job over and over again (I didn’t want to lie, I had nothing to be ashamed of, but repeating the story was not fun either) and I was the one that had to borrow money off my mum to pay the rent. Not him.
This didn’t happen at a star-studded music event, where the whole world would know what sexist and horrible actions had taken place, this happened whilst working as a journalist writing about tech. And the more people I told about this the more stories that people told me who had been through similar things. So many people told me that they had quit their job because of the misogynistic, racist or homophobic behaviour they had experienced from a man in a position higher than them. All with no consequence to the offender. And this is what made me angry about what had happened - that in 2020 this is still happening to so many people.
We need to stop punishing women and victims for the actions of the perpetrators. If a woman can’t diffuse a situation with a witty quip or by punching the wrongdoer in the crotch, it doesn’t make them weak! Men and boys need to learn that this abusive and harassing behaviour is not okay and just because they want something, that doesn’t mean they can instantly have it! It’s 2020, let’s stop living like we are in the past!
If anybody needs to talk to anybody regarding sexual harassment please contact Safeline or find out more information on harassment in the workplace at THIS website.