#MeToo: My Advice to Sexual Harassment Sufferers
Updated: Feb 24
The words #MeToo represent different things to different people. For survivors, it means empowerment and knowing you’re not alone. For others, it’s a reminder of the fight females still face every day. And for far too many, it’s simply a good punch line at the end of your joke. Personally, #MeToo represents finding your voice even in the most difficult of times and being brave by stepping up for what’s right. I’ve been wanting to write about my experience for a while, but I’ve found myself scared, anxious and intimidated… all the things I felt when suffering sexual harassment. I realised recently, my silence and fear of speaking out was the last strand of power that my harasser had over me and that’s what this is all about really isn’t it? Power.
I’ve been reading a lot of literature about sexual harassment recently, watching a lot of documentaries and trying to unpack how I’m feeling with some theory. An article that resonated with me was by Warren and Popovich who highlighted that sexual harassment was once considered an “acceptable” fact of work-life but now is an action with massive consequences not only for the individual but the organisation in which the harassment occurs. The paper described sexual harassment as a classic abuse of organisational power. Furthermore, sexual harassment is often not about an attraction to the individual but intimidation of the individual’s ability. This is why in my opinion; you classically hear of a female being harassed by a (misogynistic) male.
This blog post isn’t an attempt at revenge or a gossip piece but an attempt at making good from the bad. I am a firm believer that there is a positive lesson to be learnt from every negative situation that you come across. A positive, I will not allow myself to be treated in such a horrible way in silence again, but the biggest positive for me? Using my voice and my experiences to help other females, young or old who have felt in the past or are feeling in the present, belittled, controlled and HARASSED.
My experiences have given me the ability to offer some key and important advice to anyone whether you’ve been through or are going through sexual harassment.
1. IT IS NOT BANTER! Cambridge dictionary describes banter as:
“conversation that is funny and not serious”
If you are being continuously belittled or judged, it’s not funny and it is serious. If your personal social media accounts are being probed or sexualised, it’s not funny and it is serious. Above anything, you as an individual can establish whether something makes you uncomfortable or not. If it’s the latter, there’s definitely a reason for this and never, ever let it be excused as ‘just banter’.
2. TRUST YOUR GUT! As stated previously, if something is making you uncomfortable there will always be a reason for this. I can certainly say that I have been brought up to respect everyone but especially my elders and management. This is commonly why I feel young people allow certain behaviours from those older than them. There is a definite moral confusion between when is the right time to be respectful and when is the right time to defend yourself. My advice is to try to be brave and always trust your gut, regardless of who you're up against.
3. TALK TO SOMEONE! If you’re struggling to make sense of a situation, how someone’s spoken to you or how it’s made you feel, then speak to someone. Whether it’s a colleague, a friend or a family member, validation that how you’ve been treated was wrong can be a huge weight off your shoulders. From my own experience, I can definitely say speaking to close colleagues was my greatest relief. You can always expect support from family or friends but a colleague confirming that they’ve shared or observed your harassment can be unshackling.
4. YOU’RE NOT ALONE! Whilst at first, this statement reassured me… it now repulses me. If you are a female reading this now, I can guarantee you have at least one story to tell about when a man has harassed you. My first memory of harassment is walking to middle school with friends at only ten years old and experiencing the classic building site leering from men old enough to be your grandad. This has only worsened with age where I’ve experienced being touched inappropriately in night clubs, followed home from work, cars following me walking to university. Whilst the abhorrence and rejection of this behaviour is improving, it’s still very much alive in our society today.
5. BE BRAVE! Perhaps the hardest and most difficult statement to employ. It took me 12 months and copious amounts of convincing and reassuring to come forward and share my experience but it’s the best thing I could have done. My bravery hasn’t just saved myself from further harassment but the other females in my vicinity and the females who may have crossed paths with this person in the future. Feminist Maya Angelou was quoted saying “Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.”, a statement which I repeated to myself frequently throughout the harder times.
6. TIME IS A HEALER! This I can both promise and hope. Each day is better than the last and I am slowly feeling more confident and happier in myself again. However, I can also say I’m not fully there yet and that’s ok. My experience of harassment left me feeling hateful towards myself, mistrusting of my capability across all elements of my life and in general just… sad. Anyone who knows me personally will know that these feelings are completely foreign for me which is perhaps why it hit me so hard. My advice: find something you love to do and do something that makes you feel stronger. That can be different for everybody but for me, this was returning to university and studying a master’s degree. Returning to education and feeling like I’m good at something again has done wonders for my mental health and I can only see it improving with time.
Perhaps we are living in a modern world where sexual harassment and misogyny is increasingly frowned upon, but it is incredibly naïve to believe that the fight for equality is over. I am in a position now where I am grateful for the hardships, anxiety, and pain that my harassment caused me because it’s inspired me to now fight harder for equality. It has inspired me to work towards a management role so I can ensure no female or male employee can ever feel like they’re being treated unfairly because of what sex they were born as. My final piece of advice to anyone suffering and unsure of what to do: Your voice is your greatest weapon, use it.