My life has been marked by sex­ual ha­rass­ment – just like all women

The Guardian Australia - - Opinion - Suzanne Moore

Ididn’t grow up in Hol­ly­wood. Far from it. But I did grow up a girl, and I re­mem­ber. Be­cause who can for­get? We are in the park. Some­one has “told” us about a funny man at the bus stop. We don’t know what this means re­ally. We are 10. He comes over and starts chat­ting. He un­zips his trousers and gets his pe­nis out. We stare for what feels like a long time. Scream­ing, we run away. Next day he is out­side our school and we are not sure who to tell be­cause we think we shouldn’t have spo­ken to him.

I get a Satur­day job in a su­per­mar­ket. It’s great. I start off on fruit and veg­eta­bles, with the am­bi­tion of mov­ing to cold meats. This means I have to go to the back­room to get sacks of pota­toes. The owner of the su­per­mar­ket is al­ways in there in the gloom. He puts his hand up my skirt.

“Don’t go in there on your own,” say the other girls. I don’t want to lose my job so I just try to avoid him, but he catches me telling cus­tomers that there are no more pota­toes.

A teacher at school praises me be­cause I like poetry. He is wild and al­ter­na­tive. Some­times we just roll dice to get marks, he says. He talks to me about paint­ing. He asks if I will go camp­ing with him for the week­end. Just me and him. He doesn’t be­lieve in of­fi­cial school trips. I am 14 and a half and I ex­cit­edly tell my mother. She gets her­self dolled up and goes into school, finds this teacher and shoves him up against the wall. “If you want to in­ter­fere with her,” she says, “you have to in­ter­fere with me first.” I am mor­ti­fied. In­ter­fer­ence is my mother’s word for sex.

At 17, I leave home and hitch­hike ev­ery­where. This is iffy and I know it. Con­ver­sa­tions swerve un­com­fort­ably. Some­times they lock you in the car. In France, I make one lorry driver drop me and a friend off af­ter he starts talk­ing about porn. We jump out in the mid­dle of nowhere. He starts wank­ing. “What shall we do?” says my friend, pan­ick­ing. I have a brain­wave. “Let’s just eat our sand­wiches.” The man’s erec­tion wilts de­spite his fran­tic ef­forts.

Such “luck” runs out soon af­ter. I get raped. That hap­pens. Any­way, I was tak­ing a risk, wasn’t I? All that “on the road” stuff I was into? Well, it’s dif­fer­ent for girls.

In another crappy shop where I am sell­ing cheap di­a­mond and sap­phire rings to ex­citable girls and their dis­in­ter­ested boyfriends, the man­ager is a “groper”. We all hate him and some­times he brings his wife in. We de­cide to tell her. Some­how, though, none of us dare.

The York­shire Rip­per is in the news. It’s scary. A bloke ex­poses him­self on the way back from the pub. “Come here and I will bite it off,” screams my mate. I envy her bold­ness.

In the base­ment flat I am liv­ing in, some­one is push­ing porn through the let­ter­box and watch­ing us. The po­lice say there is noth­ing they can do un­less he is caught do­ing it. He breaks in and takes all our let­ters and pho­to­graphs. Ev­ery­one says that we are lucky we weren’t there. We move to a towerblock. We come home one day to find “Pros­ti­tutes” spray­painted on the door.

As I be­come more po­lit­i­cally active, I be­come aware that anar­chists and com­mu­nists are as likely to ha­rass you as any other man. This is only re­ally a small dis­ap­point­ment.

In the US, though, I meet another woman who fights back. She is a wait­ress in the club in New Or­leans where I work. When some creep says some­thing to her, she picks up the can­dle in a jar on the ta­ble and pours the hot wax over his head. She is im­me­di­ately fired.

By now I am be­com­ing an old hand at deal­ing with sex­ual ha­rass­ment and I ap­ply to col­lege, a polytech­nic, at the age of 24. All is go­ing well when a mem­ber of staff de­cides to ex­ploit his power over me. “The thing is,” he says, “I have a wife and a mis­tress but what I am re­ally look­ing for is a girlfriend.” I never have another meet­ing with him.

At eight months preg­nant, I find men are still whis­per­ing sex­ual threats in the street. By the time I have my el­dest daugh­ter in a pushchair I live in an area where there is a lot of pros­ti­tu­tion. A man stops me with a ten­ner. “I don’t mind the child, love,” he says, ges­tur­ing at my tod­dler.

Ac­tu­ally, though, life is good. I work on a mag­a­zine where men think fem­i­nism is talk­ing to you for hours about prob­lems with their sperm count. I have a flat and a baby, and then I get a job on a news­pa­per. Now surely I am in the safety of a mid­dle-class world where women are taken se­ri­ously. How­ever, there is in­evitably one guy who touches up women as they bend over the pho­to­copier.

I start writ­ing about some of the big sex­ual ha­rass­ment cases, such as Anita Hill. It’s a con­cern. The ed­i­tor calls us all to­gether. “Dread­ful busi­ness, this sex­ual ha­rass­ment,” he says. “I am glad it doesn’t hap­pen here.”

Anita Hill tes­ti­fies af­ter ac­cus­ing Judge Clarence Thomas of sex­ual ha­rass­ment, 1991. Pho­to­graph: REX/Shut­ter­stock

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