It’s Just Banter, Isn’t It?
Content / Trigger Warning
- Sexual Harassment
- Male victims
This piece goes outside my usual themes. Over the years I’ve heard a lot in public and in confidence about the struggles and consequences of women with male behaviour ranging from the unthinking harassment of ‘banter’ to full on sexual, physical and mental aggression.
My sympathy, empathy and support is not diminished in any way. However, for my own personal equilibrium I found myself needing to recall that it isn’t (or perhaps wasn’t) a one way street. It doesn’t make any of the behaviours acceptable, but whether anyone agrees with me or not, I needed to acknowledge the other side of the coin for my own peace of mind.
Something triggered some memories and I was taken back to a time that seems to be almost pre-history.
Older readers will remember Cissie and Ada as the beloved characters of Les Dawson and Roy Barraclough. Their stylised manner of speaking wasn’t contrived, it was a stereotype of a particular working woman. It came from the women who worked in the factories, especially the woollen and cotton mills of the North. The noise of the machines in those factories was awful, you couldn’t hear the person at the next machine even if they were shouting. The exaggerated lip movements meant they could converse and gossip all day long without shouting.
How do I know this ? It’s not just theoretical knowledge. From the age of 14 until 18 I worked weekends and school holidays in a wool mill. It’s a totally different world now, at 14 I was doing heavy manual labour in a 50 hour week. I grew up fast in an adult world. I knew these stereotypes first hand.
The women, and they were universally women, operating the machines were tough, they were also crude. Young males think they’re worldly when talking amongst themselves about sex they’ve never had. It’s an horrendous realisation that a) women talk about such things and; b) they’re far more crude and graphic than men/boys can handle.
To lighten this up momentarily. Think of Carry On At Your Convenience with Joan Sims as the alpha factory floor matriarch. That was a sanitised pastiche on the reality, but the power dynamics are essentially correct.
What seemed to bring this to mind was that I see so much suffering and trauma from the female perspective of sexual harassment and rape that it’s easy to ignore male rape and brush it under the carpet. When it is acknowledged it is often considered to be humorous and worthy of ridicule. It’s also assumed that it is male on male rape and sexual aggression. The concept of female on male rape doesn’t register with most people and if it does the reaction tends to be “lucky feller”.
And this is where I’ll try to bring the strands together.
Those old dynamics of the factory floor have largely disappeared now, just pockets of it left. Back then, if there was one mill on a street, there were five. Large mills in towns and cities abounded. The factory floor workers were tribal and there were thousands of them. They could catcall and sexually harass far worse than any man.
In these modern times we recoil when we hear the male blanket excuse of “it’s just banter”. Yet, that’s exactly what those mill workers said about their own behaviour. Yes, it was a harsher crueller world and yet in its way far more equal. There was an equality in the scale and viciousness of the banter that you don’t really encounter today. You will see a woman as an individual or in a small group, giving as good as she gets. You don’t see dozens or more as a group taking the initiative – and winning in the cruelty stakes.
The time to be really wary as a male in that environment was on the wind down to Christmas. To be blunt, men stood a high chance of being sexually molested, if not raped if they went anywhere near the factory floor. It could be callous and brutal. And always accompanied with howls of female laughter.
The targets would generally be the juniors from the offices, a junior clerk from the accounts/pay office was considered juicy game – especially if considered ‘wimpy’ or slightly effeminate.
“We’ll make a man out of him !!”
More senior male staff and managers knew better than to take on a task that would mean encountering the slightly drunken mobs out on the factory floor.
I was actually safe within my own mill. In working on the factory floor I was one of the tribe, one of their own and had a tinge of collective maternal protection. If I had to go visit another mill at that time, I’d make damn sure I knew the back way in to avoid the factory floor where I’d have been hunted prey.
Forty years later it’s hard to even remember that this was universal and normal behaviour for a large working class demographic.
The “lucky feller” was told to shrug it off as a laugh and carry on as normal and told not to be such a wuss if he was dishevelled and tearful. Show weakness in the aftermath of being raped by women and life would be a misery for many months from both the women and the men in the mill.
Having recalled these memories I’m struck with how they must have sensitised me to the experiences of the women I talked to over the years. It’s easy to say, “there but for the grace of God” or I’d have had very direct personal experience.
I suspect that my need to write this post was partly driven from some ancient guilt that I was helpless to do anything back in the day. Concern or sympathy were a weakness in a dog eat dog world many who read this could never understand. The past is a foreign country, as they say.
As with the women I read and talk to, the first stage is to realise you’re not alone. If you’re a male survivor reach out to resources such as https://www.survivorsuk.org/.
This would have been a good post for the #sb4mh meme of “Sexual Assault Awareness”, except it came to mind after the prompt link was closed. Added to ‘Child Abuse’ link on request. Why not go check out other posts by clicking on the button.
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April 26, 2019 @ 6:10 pm
My dad grew up in Manchester in this type of matriarchal society where, probably because of the loss of men in the war and the practical ability of men to walk away from a family, the women held the purse strings and ruled the roost at home, and if they were blue collar workers, at work too. The stereotype of the mother matriarch ruling the family remains, especially in comedy, but the working women are a little lost in time. In any hard society, pack mentality rules and the weakest, most isolated get picked on.. and on the shop floor this would be the junior male role. We are fools to believe that women always behave well simply because they are women… once upon a time I worked security in a club…I’d much rather have a stag do come in than a lecherous hen do.
April 26, 2019 @ 6:26 pm
As you say, the working women are a little lost in time. You have to know where the remaining pockets are and the gender balance on the factory floor is liable to be much more mixed these days.
There’s a certain air of genteel middle class disbelief to the picture I painted, so I’m glad that a few recognise it. Down in the cesspit the pack is the authority. I later knew Richard Dunn, who fought Mohammed Ali for the world heavyweight title – several of those women cold have taken him to the cleaners … lol.
Thanks for the comment.
April 22, 2019 @ 7:47 pm
An excellent and very thoughtful post Melody.
April 22, 2019 @ 7:55 pm
Thank you CP.
It’s a reminder that in the gutter, there’s unwelcome equality.
April 22, 2019 @ 5:51 pm
I had heard about male versions of #metoo but hadn’t thought of this aspect – yeah I can imagine the catcalling etc was an intense and unpleasant barrage for a young man to fight through. I hadn’t even considered it went to a worse level (i.e. rape) – I can see how that would be a very tough incident to deal with and balance out when the widespread attitude was ‘lucky fella’ and men talking about feelings and vulnerability was not embraced.
Thanks so much for sharing.
April 22, 2019 @ 11:52 am
I have only just got to this. I am so glad you have written it though. My man went through a similar experience when he was a teenager – his Saturday job was in a factory – the workers were all older women apart from him and one other lad. He’s spoken of “show us your cock” and other similar catcalls.
Another partner – who was older – worked in a “knicker factory” and was “handled” by the machinists. In my story “Always leave them Smiling” – (u may remember it) – I touched on his experience. As he was fucked in the end – lost his virginity, like the guy in my tale, though of course not so light hearted.
But as you say the past is like a foreign country – focus is so often on female harassment – which of course is dreadful. But with all the “me too” stuff I suspect many men could contribute their own experiences but feel they can’t mention them. After all they wouldn’t want to be seen as a wuss. Some memories take root and become part of you…
April 22, 2019 @ 12:04 pm
A bit of a knife edge as I didn’t want friends to suddenly think I was denigrating the female experience, yet the lack of balance in the modern dogmatic mindset was getting to me. I saw something where the male experience was denied as valid simply because the victim was cis male – not enough victim privileges, you see.
The reality is that these things happen to both sexes, though predominantly to females. What tends to get forgotten is that although a numerical minority, the incidence of suicide amongst male victims is much higher – for all the reasons that their experience is denied or found to be humorous.
I’ll get off my soap box 😉
Thank you for commenting, especially as you understand this where many will not.
April 22, 2019 @ 12:13 pm
Sometimes we understand simply by listening to the experiences of others – I listened to what my partners had to say. All too often people just want to shout about what “they see” is the problem – and by doing this simply do not hear what others are saying x