Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Joanna Lumley, a pat on the bum is not OK ... men need to get message

In denial: Joanna Lumley

If you're a woman and you've ever ventured outdoors, chances are somebody has muttered "Hey, sexy", or whistled at you, or pressed against you, or followed you home.

Mostly, you try to ignore it. Sometimes you flip. Sometimes you tell someone about it and they say you're making a big deal out of nothing and should be flattered.

Joanna Lumley said in a recent interview that "a pat on the bum is not assault". The actress was talking about sexual shenanigans during her time at the BBC and said that very often the male advances were the fault of women who led them on.

Sexism was very blatant back then, just think about what Don Draper's secretaries have to put up with. But, Joanna, how can you say that unwanted male attention is ever OK?

Internationally, studies show that between 70% and 99% of women experience street harassment at some point during their lives.

Comments from "You'd look good on me" to groping, flashing and assault are a daily reality for women everywhere.

These forms of harassment are culturally accepted as part of being a woman and are rarely reported.

Women's experiences run the gamut from feeling flattered to feeling threatened. The after-effects can range from anxiety and depression to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Street harassment makes me angry like few other things in life do.

It's the ultimate expression of the deeply and insidiously ingrained misogyny and sexism in our world.

It distresses women and creates an environment where women are objects that exist purely for men to fantasise about. It makes it seem like women are not full human beings. It's disrespectful.

There is now some recognition, both on the part of women and a larger societal awareness, that there is something abnormal about that; that this is not right.

We no longer accept wholesale the idea that our bodies and our lives are free for comment and judgment in the home, or in the workplace, or on the street.

Hollaback is a movement to end street harassment, powered by a network of local activists around the world.

You can download an app that documents, maps and shares such incidents.

Users are encouraged to speak up when they see harassment by quickly documenting it in a short post and sharing it to a publicly viewable map.

The organisation carried out a research project between June 3 and June 20 last year across University of London institutions on sexual harassment.

Results showed that more than one in two students had been sexually harassed or had witnessed sexual harassment on campus in the previous year.

There's also the Everyday Sexism project that records stories of sexism faced by women in their daily lives.

The myriad of tales shows that sexism is still rampant and is very much a problem that we need to discuss.

The stalkers, catcallers and bum-patters must know, on some level, that what they're doing is wrong. But, even now, men seem to think that they are perfectly entitled to behave like this and many women are resigned to putting up with it.

The problem is not just the harassment that is happening to a lot of women in public spaces. It's also the apathy and the denial of women like Joanna Lumley that it is going on at all.

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