Polly Ver­non

AS I WATCH THE Sex Pest West­min­ster cri­sis un­furl, as more and more MPS are ac­cused of

Grazia (UK) - - Contents -

dif­fer­ent de­grees of in­ap­pro­pri­ate/il­le­gal be­hav­iour… a thought oc­curs to me. When I was at peak sex­u­ally ha­rass­able age – 22, 23 – I was work­ing full-time not in Par­lia­ment, but in a cock­tail bar in Covent Gar­den, just the other side of West­min­ster Bridge. It was big, ritzy, glam­orously trashy; fre­quented by banker boys, foot­ballers, soap stars and… yes. MPS.

I was fresh out of a non- Oxbridge univer­sity with a de­gree no one gave a damn about; I had no con­tacts any­where, but par­tic­u­larly not in the in­dus­tries it made sense to in­tern with, plus I had no fam­ily in London, so nowhere to stay even if I could have in­terned some­where use­ful. I had rent to pay and uni debt to ig­nore. In­stead of West­min­ster, or The Guardian, or a hot pro­duc­tion com­pany in Not­ting Hill, I worked six nights a week for 18 months on 30 quid a shift, with no sick pay and no hol­i­day pay, mix­ing mar­ti­nis for a clien­tele I would de­scribe as ‘ bois­ter­ous’, if I were feel­ing gen­er­ous. Did they sex­u­ally ha­rass me? Weeeeell. They cer­tainly touched me. Stroked me. Grabbed me, pinched me; on more than one oc­ca­sion, some­one reached over the bar and slapped me. They wrote me po­ems, they sent me flow­ers; one of them (a Pre­mier League foot­baller) of­fered me £2K for a look at my tits. An­other (non-foot­baller) fol­lowed me to the loo and crouched on the floor spy­ing as I peed; when I re­alised and chased him from the build­ing, the tux-clad door staff could do noth­ing to help – be­cause they were laugh­ing too hard.

I didn’t call it ‘sex­ual ha­rass­ment’ then, nor do I now. I call it men be­ing an­noy­ing, pissed, pa­thetic, pervy; dra­mat­i­cally over­es­ti­mat­ing their chances, their own at­trac­tive­ness. With all re­spect to those women who feel dif­fer­ently (and they are ab­so­lutely en­ti­tled to do so): I do not will­ingly iden­tify as a vic­tim. But also? I was com­plicit in my own ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion. I was stony fuck­ing broke, I re­lied heav­ily on any tips I earned; those tips came more eas­ily to flirty, naughty-look­ing girls in Won­der­bras.

So here’s what’s oc­cur­ring to me, right now. Do we care more about the stroking and the grop­ing when it hap­pens in the fancy/im­por­tant places, to the young women with good con­tacts, who are likely to be­come big deals, than we do if it hap­pens in the nearby bars, to tarty-look­ing gals with lesser prospects, serv­ing booze to the ex­act same men; suck­ing up the leer­ing – invit­ing it, even! – be­cause they have bills to pay?

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