27 Feb 2013

Sexual harassment finally condemned

With sexual harassment so high on the agenda because of the allegations against Lord Rennard, it was particularly timely that Women in the Arts Forum held its inaugural meeting in London yesterday. More than 100 women crowded into a small room to discuss among other things the portrayal of women in the media, the over-sexualisation of young girls, and the paucity of (decent) roles for middle-aged female actors.

I have to declare an interest here because it was organised by my sister, Sarah Macdonald, who is a documentary maker, and the actor and founder of the So and So Arts Club, Sarah Berger.

The attendees were journalists, actors, writers, artists or women working in the arts, theatre directors, film-makers. Some were well-known, others were highly successful. Some were starting out on their careers while others were struggling to find work. The ages ranged from early 20s to late 70s.

Sexual harassment rife

And many had a story to tell about being sexually harassed at some point in their lives. There was the actor who ended up in A&E because a director had slammed a car door on her hand when she refused to sleep with him. He did have the grace to apologise but she did not get the part and she was blackballed by other directors.

Another woman described the picture editor who blatantly put his hands up young journalists’ skirts and when they complained were told to just ignore him. One young actress also said that she had been told she must be prepared to do full frontal nudity and rape scenes and when she complained her agent threatened to sack her.

Out in the open

The common theme throughout was that nobody had felt they would be listened to if they did try and stop it happening. And there was the fear (often justified) that if they did complain it would affect their careers.

What the Lib Dem women have been saying – that their concerns weren’t dealt with seriously – is what has been happening to other women for ever.

But now there is a growing feeling of optimism because sexual harassment is finally being discussed and, more importantly, roundly condemned.

Women are being told that they should not have to put up with men groping them, making sexually-explicit remarks, pressuring them for sex to further their careers.

And that if they do complain, they should be heard.

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