I went to a school reunion a few years ago (actually, quite a few years ago) and this guy comes up to me and says, ‘Are you with anyone?’ (Because, obviously, if you’re not I’m going to dazzle you knickerless with my charm) While I’m mulling over a range of replies, from it’s none of your business, to that’s incredibly offensive, he says, and I quote, ‘Come on, I haven’t got all night, I want to know if I’m wasting my time.’
In her blog, Why women should be more like men yourejustadumbass says how fed up she is with the way (some) men talk to women as if they are God’s gift. Oh girl, I am right with you.
When I started work on a national newspaper, the bloke sitting next to me looked at my wedding ring and said, ‘Oh, that’s unfortunate.’ Because of course, yes, without it I wouldn’t be able to resist your skanky, laboured chat-up lines, you git. Over the next few weeks every man I worked with (that’s 35) asked what my husband thought of me working there. Naturally, he’s going to be really worried that all you sweaty, beer-bellied blokes with alcohol problems and anger management issues are going to sweep me off my feet to wonderland. Get real.
Newspaper offices in the 1970s and 80s were hardly hotbeds of political correctness. They were staffed mainly by young and middle aged men, pumped on adrenalince, alcohol and fags, and women were generally relegated to the role of secretary, as something nice to look at. There were women journalists, of course there were, but we were heavily outnumbered and generally appallingly treated. I’m not going to moan here about unfair it was, but when I look back I am amazed at how accepted it was.
At my first job interview for the job of junior reporter, the editor of a weekly newspaper told me, ‘Well, I’d love to employ you, but I’ve already interviewed a young lad and he’s as good as you, so of course I’m going to give him the job. There’ll be another vacancy in about six months, and I’ll let you know.’ To be fair, six months later, he offered me a job. On that newspaper there were several occasions when I got great stories only to have them taken away from me, and given to a male reporter, because they weren’t ‘suitable for a girl’.
It wasn’t so much the professional irritation of seeing some spotty herbert being priveliged merely because he had a penis, it was more the rampant idea that male journalists seem to have; that all they had to do was run a hand down my spine or try and get me in a clinch in the corridor and I’d immediately want to have sex with them.
And as dumbass says in her blog, how do you deal with this, how do you get through to men, that you don’t like their attitude and that what they’re doing is desperately unfair? First answer to that, in those days, of course, was that you couldn’t do anything, because you wanted to Get On. The best you could do was try to avoid awkward situations, or use your humour. If you complained, you were a feminist, probably with hairy armpits, and definitely a lesbian. Again, to be fair, I never really had any trouble with guys of my generation, it was the older, fatherly, types that you really had to watch. And they, of course, were the ones with power to hire and fire.
Of course, the saving grace about journalists, and the thing I always loved about even the worst lechers, was their generally outrageous behaviour, and more importantly, their sense of humour. All the hacks on an evening paper I once worked on,were invited to a very grand house party. I have no idea why. But buoyed up by the idea of lots of free drink, we went. Most of us were very well behaved. But the hostess wanted to talk about nothing but sex, and in a really, tedious, aren’t I being such a liberal free-thinker, kind of way. In the end, one of the lads got so fed up with her archly knowing comments , that he unzipped his flies and showed her his dick. ‘If you’d like some, just say so,’ he said.
Newspaper offices were not the grey, silent places they are now. Then, they were resplendent with talent, and noise, and heaving with utterly bonkers people, and, on the nationals, we were all working on really great stories. You could forgive a lot for that.
But still. I was told by the executive on one tabloid that I wouldn’t get a permanent job there, because they already had two women (and the 35 men) in the department. He bought me a pint and said commiseratingly. ‘Really, what we need is an older woman. Someone who’s had a couple of abortions.’ A friend of mine, who went on to be a very famous journalist, was turned down on her first attempt to get a permanent job, because the executive who interviewed her didn’t like her legs. Fact.
My lowest moment came late one night when I was working in the printers’ lair, the composing room, checking off the last edition. The head printer for that night, who closely resembled King Kong, in height and looks, picked me up, held me above his head and shook me, just for a laugh, while I was in the middle of correcting pages. Loose change from my pockets rattled on his face. He thought it was hysterically funny. When he eventually put me down, I was so absolutely fed up I punched him on the nose. Blood soaked down his shirt and I grabbed the proofs furiously and left, crying with rage and frustration all the way down the stairs.
So you can perhaps imagine how I felt, when a few nights later, I was in a bar on Fleet Street, when The Girls walked in. They were two reporters on a Sunday tabloid; tall, big, good-humoured women who always got their stories, and who could intimidate a man at 50 paces. I admired them greatly. This night, there were a bunch of sports reporters giving it large, and one of them, a very repellant little guy, so full of drink you could hear it sloshing about inside him, turned to one of the girls, and said, during a lull in the conversation, ‘I could really fuck you, you know.’
The lull deepened into a long, long silence. The girl looked down at him very calmly, and then said very slowly and clearly, ‘ If you do, and I ever find out, I’ll be really, really cross.’
There is one, important footnote to this story. Many years later, the paper was taken over by a woman editor. One of the lechers said to me, ‘God, she’s awful. She never listens to me, she patronises me and she treats me like shit because I’m a man. It’s so unfair. How can anyone be expected to work for a person like that?’