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