I wrote this post around 18 months ago, way before the Harvey Weinstein news that opened up the floodgates for people to speak in a franker way than ever before. At the time, I thought it was too much. I mean, I write about creativity, and personal development, and wellness – where does harassment come into that?
But in hindsight, I realise that many women fear creatively expressing themselves, because it may cause them to be sexualised. And now that TIME Magazine has revealed the ‘silence breakers’ as their 2018 Person Of The Year, it’s time I broke my silence too.
The last time I was mistaken for a prostitute was nearly six years ago. It was a February morning, on a weekday, and my husband and I were shopping in Oslo for some glasses. With so many frames on offer, he was taking a long time to choose. The shop was stuffy, so I stepped outside for a few moments. And that’s when two men cornered me to find out ‘how much’. The time before that I was crossing the road to get to our hotel in Addis Ababa. Then there were a cluster of times before that in my home town of Harrow, several years before. Always in broad daylight.
I suspect some of the men thought they were chatting me up. But many curb crawled me when I was minding own business, simply walking home. During one particularly unpleasant occasion, two men shouted abuse at me when I refused to engage with them, and instead took a phone call from my agent. This was yards away from my childhood home in a London suburb.
At the time I was modelling (along with being a journalist, songwriter and some-time actress). I had recently represented Great Britain in the 2003 Model of the Universe competition. And although I specialised in hair and beauty, my nine years of going to castings gave me an insight into the underbelly of the entertainment industry.
I once went to a modelling casting and secured a well-paid gig. A couple of days later, the casting director invited me to a pool party, saying it would be a ‘chance to get to know each other’ before the gig. Of course, alarm bells started ringing and I politely declined the invitation. Later that day, his colleague called back. The conversation was curt: ‘I was no longer needed for the job’.
I have other stories like this, all variations on the same theme – a young, creative girl tries to navigate an industry where the power balance is skewed. I believe that to be truly healthy and happy, we need to be creative. I have found my happy place in being an author and creative writing coach. But how many women feel safe to truly express themselves when doing so could mean they end up in a vulnerable position?
In my case, I’m sure that some men may have thought they were just being forward. But often, it was frightening. The ‘chat-up’ lines, the tone, the intention – all of it was incredibly aggressive.
The only explanation I can find is that these men have dehumanised women. And this is just one expression of it.
I believe that the type of man who does this is the type who looks and in the mirror and literally cannot stand what he sees. Not because he thinks he’s ugly, but because he hates himself on a deep and fundamental level.
I think this type of behaviour is evidence of a spiritual sickness. A denying of yourself. A violent rejection of yourself as a human being with thoughts, feelings, skills, talents, strengths and weaknesses. If someone truly loved and respected themselves would they holler at some young girl walking by the road and then aggressively pursue her, crawling inch by inch with every step she takes?
I think not. And the stories in the #MeToo campaign have highlighted this. But I also believe treating all women as ‘hoes’ is just one expression of this sickness.
Bullying, control, manipulation and lack of empathy are other unpleasant symptoms that are rampant in our society across both genders. And they are symptoms of people who view others as objects.
This is a sad state of affairs and less of a gender issue than a human one. After all, we’re raising children to be like this. We’re not dealing with our issues and instead we’re pushing them down our bloodlines. The cure is for people to learn to truly love and respect themselves and to pass that down the generations instead.
In 20 years’ time I want my daughter to be able to go shopping, take calls on her mobile and enjoy life – without being harassed. I hope she never has to explain that she’s not for sale.