Ogled, pawed, be­lit­tled

Women in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s on a half-cen­tury of ha­rass­ment at work.

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE - Jen­nifer O’Con­nell

A72-year-old in­ter­view with the late Mau­reen O’Hara cir­cu­lated on the in­ter­net in re­cent days, de­pict­ing the ha­rass­ment she was forced to c ont e nd wit h a s a y oung a c t or in Hol­ly­wood.

“Be­cause I don’t let the pro­ducer and di­rec­tor kiss me ev­ery morn­ing or let them paw me they have spread word around town that I am not a woman – that I am a cold piece of mar­ble stat­u­ary,” she told the Mir­ror in 1945. “If that’s Hol­ly­wood’s idea of be­ing a woman I’m ready to quit now.”

Work­place ha­rass­ment is not a new phe­nom­e­non. Nor is it con­fined to Hol­ly­wood. In re­cent weeks, the del­uge of ha­rass­ment al­le­ga­tions that be­gan with Har­vey We­in­stein wound its way across the globe, sweep­ing through West­min­ster and the Bri­tish Tory party.

Last week­end, in this news­pa­per, a num­ber of for­mer em­ploy­ees of the Gate The­atre made a se­ries of al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and bul­ly­ing against its for­mer di­rec­tor Michael Col­gan.

Here, seven women – in dif­fer­ent sec­tors, aged from their early 30s to their late 70s – talk about their ex­pe­ri­ences of gen­der re­la­tions, sex­ism and ha­rass­ment grow­ing up, in the work­place, and be­yond.

What was your ex­pe­ri­ence of ha­rass­ment grow­ing up?

“In school [in the 1960s] we had a teacher who was given to the lay­ing on of hands. He had a habit of cor­rect­ing copy­books in front of the fire, and he’d have his hands un­der your skirt, un­der your knick­ers. Ev­ery­body knew it was hap­pen­ing to us. No­body talked about it. Even­tu­ally, some­one made a com­plaint to the guards. He was con­victed and spent three years in jail.”

– Marie Clo­hessy ( 69) re­tired equal­ity of­fi­cer at the De­part­ment of Labour

“Grow­ing up in Lon­don in the 1970s, my ex­pe­ri­ences were sim­i­lar to most women – men ex­pos­ing them­selves, touch­ing you in­ap­pro­pri­ately, sug­ges­tive or lewd re­marks. But the na­ture of it changed af­ter I came out at 24, and the ha­rass­ment be­came much more threat­en­ing.”

– Prof Danielle Clarke ( 51) head of School of English, Drama and Film at UCD

Have you ex­pe­ri­enced sex­ism or ha­rass­ment in the work­place?

“When I was 19 [ in the mid 2000s], I was the only fe­male in an or­gan­i­sa­tion in the in­sur­ance in­dus­try. The men I was work­ing with would call me their sec­re­tary in front of clients and ask me to bring them tea. I al­ways had a good sense of hu­mour and a thick skin.

“But at our Christ­mas party my then boss asked me to share a taxi home. He be­gan be­hav­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ately and asked me what my favourite po­si­tion was. I laughed it off with a ref­er­ence to sport. He said I had no chil­dren and must be ‘ very tight’. I was re­pulsed and got out of the taxi.

“He apol­o­gised the next day, but I found a new job as soon as I could. I do re­gret that I didn’t re­port it, but when the per­son is the head of your de­part­ment, who do you turn to?”

– Va­lerie (30) pri­vate sec­tor

“In my job in the 1970s, I was deal­ing with pay and con­di­tions in the work­place. It was ‘Are women do­ing the same work; are they be­ing pro­moted?’ At the same time, I re­mem­ber be­ing asked by mem­bers of the Labour Court whether I had a boyfriend and was I not afraid that, by con­cen­trat­ing on a ca­reer and a job, I was re­duc­ing my chances of meet­ing a man?

“At that time, women be­ing in­ter­viewed at the health board would be asked what form of fam­ily plan­ning they were us­ing. There were al­ways a few men who would get phys­i­cal. There was a guy who would go out at lunchtime and have a cou­ple of drinks. If you came back from lunch, you ei­ther went up a flight or down a flight to avoid pass­ing his door, be­cause if you did, you’d get a maul­ing.”

– Marie Clo­hessy ( 69) re­tired equal­ity of­fi­cer at the De­part­ment of Labour

“My older, mar­ried boss has told me, in front of sev­eral peo­ple, that he re­ally liked a dress on me be­cause it showed off my fig­ure, as he demon­strated my curves with his hands. The dress was knee length with sleeves to the el­bow. There was no skin on show.

“An­other day my boss asked me to stand up and ‘ give him a twirl’. At a work event, alone in a lift with him, he asked me if I wanted to go up to his room. I laughed it off and ran.

“When I went to HR about this re­cently, I was shut down im­me­di­ately, and told to ‘ be care­ful’ that it was ‘ slan­der’ un­less I made a for­mal com­plaint. Many of these in­ci­dents were wit­nessed by col­leagues. It’s not a se­cret. I know the woman never wins, there’s no win­ning in this.”

– Laura (42) pri­vate sec­tor

“I was in an all-woman of­fice in the 1960s, where our im­me­di­ate man­ager was a man. He used to time peo­ple go­ing to the loo. I stood up and said this is ridicu­lous. I walked out and never went back. I don’t see it as brave: it’s very easy to stand on your prin­ci­ples when you’re not de­pen­dent on the in­come.”

– Freda McGrane ( 78) re­tired from pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tor

What’s your ex­pe­ri­ence of gen­der re­la­tions in your work­place?

“Le­in­ster House is still a very male en­vi­ron­ment. I don’t know any other work­place where you see two peo­ple shout­ing at each other across the room. It’s dif­fi­cult to rec­on­cile the so-called ‘rough and tumble’ of the Dáil cham­ber and the in­for­mal ban­ter that goes on out of hours, with the idea that these are peo­ple who gen­uinely want to have gen­der equal­ity.

“When you’ve seen a man stand up in the cham­ber and shout a woman down, ig­nore what she says, or make re­marks about her clothes, it can be dif­fi­cult to play nicey- nice with them af­ter­wards. The ‘Miss Piggy’ re­marks [when Mick Wal­lace was caught on mi­cro­phone mak­ing deroga­tory com­ments about Mary Mitchell O’Con­nor, in a con­ver­sa­tion with Shane Ross and Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan in 2011] rat­tled me badly.

“It’s prob­a­bly dif­fi­cult to be a woman in any work­place where there’s such a mas­sive gen­der im­bal­ance. I’m still called a girl at work and I’m 36.”

– Mary ( 36) civil ser­vant in Le­in­ster House

“When I started work at UCD in 1994, the English de­part­ment was heavil y male- dom­i­nated. If I stood by the pho­to­copier, some­body would ask me to do pho­to­copy­ing. There was an ex­pec­ta­tion that me­nial jobs – ad­min­is­tra­tive labour, emo­tional labour – was what women did. I fought against that.

“These were peo­ple who were not used to hav­ing their au­thor­ity ques­tioned, but once they re­alised they couldn’t push me around, they re­spected me. UCD in the mid-1990s was a pretty ho­mo­pho­bic place, and my sex­u­al­ity was some­thing I didn’t talk about for a long time. By the time my part­ner and I had our daugh­ters in the early 2000s, it had changed.

“I would have been very open about my sex­u­al­ity and my do­mes­tic sit­u­a­tion by then, and when I an­nounced I was leav­ing to have a baby, I had in­vari­ably pos­i­tive re­sponses from staff and stu­dents. But I had no break in ser­vice when our chil­dren were born, and there’s a per­cep­tion they’re not my chil­dren in the same way other peo­ple’s are.

“To be un­be­liev­ably crude and bi­nary about it, peo­ple as­sume I’m more like a man with re­gard to my chil­dren. Iron­i­cally, I’m a more hands-on mum than my part­ner. In a way, that per­cep­tion has worked in my favour. There are 37 heads of school. I think I’m the only woman with chil­dren un­der 10, which is in­ter­est­ing.”

– Prof Danielle Clarke ( 51) head of School of English, Drama and Film at UCD

“[Early in my ca­reer] pa­tients and rel­a­tives would re­peat­edly ad­dress fe­male doc­tors as ‘ nurse’ de­spite white coats and name badges. Some­times, it was an ab­sence of the re­spect that would be given to a male equiv­a­lent – be­ing pa­tro­n­ised, called ‘sweet­heart’ or ‘dear’.”

– Dr An­nette Neary (51) con­sul­tant physi­cian

Have you ever ex­pe­ri­enced ha­rass­ment out­side the work­place?

“I am a big sports fan and am of­ten in a mi­nor­ity of fe­males when I go to games. On one re­cent oc­ca­sion, in the bar, a man grabbed me right be­tween my up­per thighs. I pushed his hand away. He told me to re­lax.

“On an­other oc­ca­sion I was grabbed by a stranger and kissed on the lips. When I tried to pull away the man asked me what was my ‘f**king prob­lem?’ I did re­port that in­ci­dent to the sta­dium se­cu­rity, but noth­ing was done.”

– Va­lerie (30) pri­vate sec­tor

“I trav­elled a lot for work [in the 1970s and 1980s] and you’d have to screw up all your courage to walk into a din­ingroom on your own. These ho­tels were full of sales reps. You’d be mak­ing bets with your­self as to which one would be com­ing with his cup of cof­fee and plonk him­self down. All of these men had wives and kids at home. If there was a sin­gle man there, he wasn’t the one com­ing within an ass’s roar of you.”

– Marie Clo­hessy ( 69) re­tired equal­ity of­fi­cer at the De­part­ment of Labour

“Wan­der­ing hands at par­ties was fairly com­mon [ when I was a young, mar­ried woman]. You’d make sure you weren’t alone with those men, but you wouldn’t be too ob­vi­ous about it. If you’re brought up to be fairly po­lite, it’s dif­fi­cult to bal­ance your rights as a per­son with your need to dis­play some kind of as­sertive­ness.”

– Freda McGrane (78) re­tired from pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tor

“It’s only re­cently I re­alised how I have or­dered my life around not get­ting ha­rassed – where I park my car, get­ting taxis rather than walk­ing, or tak­ing pub­lic trans­port.”

– Dr An­nette Neary (51) con­sul­tant physi­cian

“I loathe the ex­pres­sion ‘not all guys’. They must stop keep­ing their heads down when their creepy friend does some­thing.”

– Mary ( 36) civil ser­vant in Le­in­ster House What changes have you ob­served in how men and women re­late to one an­other at work since you started work­ing? “None – and that’s in more than 20 years. Men are still treated with more re­spect and their opin­ions mean more than ours. Men hate to be chal­lenged by women. We are judged on our ap­pear­ance. Al­ways.”

– Laura (42) pri­vate sec­tor

“I thought we’d have come fur­ther by now. In the 1970s, it seemed the world was be­com­ing a more egal­i­tar­ian place.”

– Marie Clo­hessy ( 69) re­tired equal­ity of­fi­cer at the De­part­ment of Labour

“It has changed since I started work­ing at Le­in­ster House. More in­de­pen­dent women came in and shook things up a bit, and they raised is­sues that the older, male co­hort would never want to raise. The cul­ture around what is ac­cept­able to be dis­cussed has changed.”

– Mary ( 36) civil ser­vant in Le­in­ster House

“Ha­rass­ment has al­ways been around but I think a cer­tain type of man is more ag­gres­sive now. Women are achiev­ing a lot more and that makes some men gen­er­ally quite afraid. The idea of hav­ing to com­pete with an equally qual­i­fied woman in the work­place ter­ri­fies some men, and they’re lash­ing out.”

– Freda McGrane (78) re­tired from pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tor

How do sex­ism and ha­rass­ment af­fect women of dif­fer­ent ages?

“Younger women are more tol­er­ant. I see young women in my of­fice think­ing it’s no big deal to be com­mented on. These girls get pe­nis pho­tos sent to them on Tin­der so per­sonal re­marks in work pale in com­par­i­son.”

– Laura (42) pri­vate sec­tor

“I am con­cerned about the un­re­al­is­tic de­pic­tions of women through the ready avail­abil­ity of porn. It’s def­i­nitely harder as a younger woman to call sex­ism out un­less it’s overt.”

– Dr An­nette Neary (51) con­sul­tant physi­cian

What are your thoughts on the pub­lic out­pour­ing of ha­rass­ment and sex­ism al­le­ga­tions?

“This is the tip of the ice­berg. I think about the women who are less em­pow­ered or less ed­u­cated, and don’t have ac­cess to me­dia out­lets or so­cial me­dia out­lets to make these points. It’s im­por­tant we don’t leave all women be­hind.”

– Prof Danielle Clarke ( 51) head of School of English, Drama and Film at UCD

“I’m wor­ried some peo­ple are triv­i­al­is­ing it. The hand on the knee or the hand un­der your skirt can be as dev­as­tat­ing in some ways as rape – it is an in­va­sion of your pri­vate space. But it’s also im­por­tant to try to recog­nise the di­vid­ing line be­tween the per­son who is the sex­ual preda­tor, and the stupid fool who wants to be one of the lads telling crude jokes.”

– Marie Clo­hessy ( 69) re­tired equal­ity of­fi­cer at the De­part­ment of Labour

“I ad­mire and am grate­ful to the women for hav­ing the enor­mous courage to go pub­lic, de­spite the in­evitable at­tempts at char­ac­ter as­sas­si­na­tion. Se­nior, pow­er­ful men are fi­nally pay­ing the price for decades of abuse, which is very cathar­tic. It is de­press­ing, too, how some sec­tions of the me­dia still live in the 19th cen­tury; a sin­gle re­port of a man be­ing abused seems to be taken more se­ri­ously than mul­ti­ple re­ports from women.”

– Dr An­nette Neary (51) con­sul­tant physi­cian

“I get so cross hear­ing peo­ple ask ‘ why didn’t they re­port it?’ I don’t think peo­ple re­alise this is your liveli­hood, and the arts is in­cred­i­bly in­se­cure. If you get known as some­one who’s dif­fi­cult or a bit of a bitch, you’re not go­ing to get an­other job.”

– Mary ( 36) civil ser­vant in Le­in­ster House

“In small sec­tors where ex­clu­sion means pro­fes­sional obliv­ion, I can see why women stay quiet. I’m stay­ing quiet. I don’t want to be la­belled a fem­i­nist trou­ble maker.” – Laura (42) pri­vate sec­tor

What ad­vice would you give to a younger woman?

“If you are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing un­wanted at­ten­tion or flir­ta­tion, po­litely tell the per­son that you are not in­ter­ested or that it makes you feel un­com­fort­able. If it per­sists or crosses a line into ha­rass­ment or as­sault, re­port it. Don’t ever ac­cept sex­ism or any ef­fort to put you down be­cause of your gen­der.”

– Va­lerie (30) pri­vate sec­tor

“Chal­lenge the be­hav­iour of your male friends. Talk about it with your friends: it’s not your fault if some­one is a creep. Em­power your­self. Take notes. I never did. I laughed it off, as it was eas­ier than see­ing my­self as a vic­tim.”

– Laura (42) pri­vate sec­tor

“Un­der­stand that you have the right to your space, to your feel­ings. Tell some­body. Share in­for­ma­tion. Watch out for one an­other.”

– Marie Clo­hessy ( 69) re­tired equal­ity of­fi­cer at the De­part­ment of Labour

“You are there on merit, don’t let any­one de­mean you. Read The Con­fi­dence Code. De­fine suc­cess on what it means to you. Net­work with other women – sup­port each other; ap­proach se­nior good peo­ple in your field re­gard­less of gen­der; make use of good men­tor­ship. When you do get to a po­si­tion with some power or in­flu­ence, use it wisely and set an ex­am­ple. Don’t feel you have to ape male ap­proaches to man­age­ment when a more col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proach is more nat­u­ral.”

– Dr An­nette Neary (51) con­sul­tant physi­cian

“To a younger woman com­ing in here, I’d say you can’t take what hap­pens around you too per­son­ally be­cause they’re be­ing po­lit­i­cal. You’re not work­ing for them, you’re work­ing for the State.”

– Mary ( 36) civil ser­vant in Le­in­ster House

“It’s im­por­tant to own your own au­thor­ity. You have au­thor­ity; you can use your au­thor­ity.”

– Prof Danielle Clarke ( 51) head of School of English, Drama and Film at UCD

‘‘ He said I had no chil­dren and must be ‘very tight’. I was re­pulsed and got out of the taxi It’s prob­a­bly dif­fi­cult to be a woman in any work­place. I’m still called a girl at work and I’m 36.

Some iden­ti­ties have been con­cealed at the re­quest of the in­ter­vie­wees

Be­low: An ex­cerpt from a 72-year-old in­ter­view with the late Mau­reen O’Hara that cir­cu­lated on the in­ter­net in re­cent days

Above right: Prof Danielle Clarke. ‘My ex­pe­ri­ences were sim­i­lar to most women: men ex­pos­ing them­selves, touch­ing you, lewd re­marks’

Above left: Freda McGrane. ‘Our man­ager used to time peo­ple go­ing to the loo’

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