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.