Louise O’Neill

Irish Examiner - Weekend - - Feature - Louise O’ Neill is the author of Only Ever Yours, Ask­ing For It, Al­most Love, andThe Sur­face Breaks @oneil­llo

Collins Dic­tio­nary re­vealed ‘sin­gle-use’ as their word of the year for 2018, re­fer­ring to prod­ucts that are de­signed to be dis­posal, used once and then thrown away. The other words that were in the run­ning were ‘gaslight’ and ‘MeToo’, show­ing that, as He­len New­stead of Collins Dic­tio­nary said, “this has been a year where aware­ness and of­ten anger over a va­ri­ety of is­sues has led to the rise of new words.” The term ‘gaslight’ con­cerns a form of psy­cho­log­i­cal abuse where “false in­for­ma­tion is pre­sented to the vic­tim with the in­tent of mak­ing them doubt their own mem­ory”, and can steadily eat away the vic­tim’s sense of self as they ques­tion their own in­stincts and san­ity. It orig­i­nated with Pa­trick Hamil­ton’s 1938 play Gas Light - later adapted as a movie star­ring In­grid Bergman - where an abu­sive hus­band at­tempts to con­vince his wife that she is go­ing in­sane, telling her she is imag­in­ing that the gas light in the house is dim­ming ev­ery night when it is he who is caus­ing it to do so.

It’s note­wor­thy that this term, and ‘MeToo’ have been in­cluded in Collins Dic­tio­nary dig­i­tal edi­tion, as it high­lights the shift that has been hap­pen­ing over the last num­ber of years re­gard­ing women in par­tic­u­lar; the roles that we have been ex­pected to play in so­ci­ety, and the cul­ture of vi­o­lence that we have en­dured for cen­turies. It feels as if we have hit a tip­ping point, with peo­ple tak­ing to the street in the #IBelieveHer ral­lies after the ver­dict was handed down in the Ul­ster Rugby case, and the protests fol­low­ing the shock­ing com­ments about a teenage girl’s un­der­wear in a rape trial in Cork. While it beg­gars be­lief that a mem­ber of the ju­di­cial sys­tem thought it was ap­pro­pri­ate to ask a jury to con­sider ‘a thong with a lace front’ as some form of con­sent, the out­rage that fol­lowed has given me hope that at­ti­tudes are chang­ing. I don’t know if we would have seen this level of anger, both at home and on a global scale, even five years ago. Given this sense of hope, I was sur­prised to see a re­cent glut of ar­ti­cles wor­ry­ing about the fate of Christ­mas par­ties in the #MeToo era. A study in the US found that only 65% of com­pa­nies sur­veyed were host­ing a hol­i­day bash - the low­est per­cent­age since 2009, when the world was in the depths of an eco­nomic re­ces­sion and cited con­cerns about the po­ten­tial for in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour, and any re­sult­ing law­suits that may en­sue. Many of the ar­ti­cles I read were of the ‘po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness gone mad!’ va­ri­ety, be­moan­ing the death of the of­fice flir­ta­tion in the face of the ‘fem­i­nazis’, and seemed ex­traor­di­nar­ily tone deaf, given the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal cli­mate. Granted, I work from home so I don’t have any of­fice par­ties to at­tend. (Un­less I in­stall a disco ball in my writ­ing room and dance around in my dress­ing gown while at­tempt­ing to awk­wardly flirt with my re­flec­tion in the mir­ror, I don’t have to worry about in­ad­ver­tently of­fend­ing a col­league or get­ting fired be­cause I drank too much and vom­ited on the CEO’s shoes.) But I do feel an­noyed at this in­sin­u­a­tion that #MeToo is a bad thing, that it’s gone too far, that it’s ru­in­ing ev­ery­one’s fun. Be­cause who was hav­ing fun when sex­ual ha­rass­ment was ram­pant, and deal­ing with a lech­er­ous boss was just con­sid­ered part of the job? It cer­tainly wasn’t the vic­tims, any­way, see­ing their ca­reers thwarted and their am­bi­tions foiled while their abusers’ bad be­hav­iour was ig­nored. Blam­ing #MeToo is in­ex­cus­ably lazy, and, sim­i­larly to assert­ing that all fem­i­nists hate men, se­cretly hate sex, and see makeup/shav­ing their legs/wear­ing bras as a be­trayal of The Cause, it feels like an in­sid­i­ous at­tempt to un­der­mine the move­ment. It’s a rel­a­tively clever, if over-used tech­nique; cast­ing the fight for equal­ity as ‘bor­ing’, as if want­ing the world to be fair is akin to be­ing a gi­ant spoil­sport. It’s also amus­ing to me that fem­i­nists, so of­ten touted as ‘man-haters’, are the ones in­sist­ing that of course men know the dif­fer­ence be­tween in­no­cent flirt­ing and, you know, sex­ual as­sault, and they don’t need to can­cel all the Christ­mas par­ties in or­der to avoid get­ting the two con­fused. But just in case you are still wor­ried, here are guide­lines:

I’m afraid of say­ing any­thing in case I get it wrong!” Telling some­one their new hair­cut suits them? Fine. Com- ment­ing on a col­league’s body/sex ap­peal/short skirt etc is weird and un­ac­cept­able and can you stop it please and maybe think about un­der­go­ing some in­ten­sive ther­apy?

If you are in a po­si­tion of power and have the abil­ity to af­fect some­one’s ca­reer tra­jec­tory, it’s prob­a­bly best if you don’t get ro­man­ti­cally or sex­u­ally in­volved with them. Two words : Bill Clin­ton.

“I can’t even shake hands with peo­ple any­more in case they ac­cuse me of as­sault!” SIGH. Okay. So, touch­ing some­one’s arm while mak­ing a point? Grand. “Ac­ci­den­tally” brush­ing against some­one’s breasts or ass in the kitchen? Not so much. In gen­eral, just be aware of so­cial cues and body lan­guage, don’t pre­tend to be ig­no­rant of tone (the way you say some­thing can be just as im­por­tant as what you say), and have re­spect for one an­other. I don’t think that’s so dif­fi­cult now, is it?

‘I don’t know if we would have seen this level of anger even five years ago

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