It's been some nine months now, since I got that email that marked the end of my time with the ThursdayNighters. Enough time to reflect on things! So how do I look on it now? Well, I still get all sorts of dirty tastes in my mouth. That might last a while! But well, that's just something I will have to live with. But what is the bigger picture here?
I've thought about this. What is it I want? I want all people to be treated like people with rights and agency. Including young women. Including by late middle-aged men who have spent their entire life mainly in environments where that is not a given. Is that ambitious? Yes. But does anything change when you are not ambitious? Probably not. So is it a worthy cause? Yes! Did I succeed? No! But at least I tried.
So what would I do differently next time? I've thought about that a lot. The ThursdayNighters are no use here; the only type of communication they seem to be capable of is emails riddled with falsehoods and ending with 'I am not willing to talk about this'. So no idea what their side of the story is, other than that they are stroppy, don't like me doing things I'm not doing anyway, and things I am actually doing but of which I really don't see what's wrong with it and of which they are refusing to explain this, and that they don't like talking. They may be angry about more things but I can’t and won’t work with that if they won’t articulate it. Anyway; it was up to me and me alone to think about that.
I also figured it would be a bit of an academic question. When will I ever be in a situation like that? I mean, the ThursdayNighters is an unusual environment, given that it is just a bunch of blokes who like to go underground. Not a club or society or anything. So no rules. Whatever they fancy goes! And when will I be in an unregulated environment full of blokes again? I've had my fill of that. No only do I have no plans join new club-like environments at the moment, let alone ones where I would be the only female; but in this time of Covid, joining any group is a very unlikely thing to do. So if I find myself in a blokey environment, then it'll be something much more regulated like work. I work in science, so blokey environments can't be avoided (like being the only woman on a research vessel, which I can tell you isn't ideal), but at work rules apply. If someone makes inappropriate 'jokes', you call it out, and the men rally around to bully you (much less likely in a work environment!) you can hurl a grievance procedure in their faces. In these days of digital communications, pretty much everything leaves a trail of evidence! And it's not as if grievance procedures are a panacea; history is full of women who walked that path against misogyny and only came up against even more misogyny; most companies, universities, and other bodies, are, after all, still run by men. But universities would not be keen on bad publicity. Being known to let misogyny roam free would not be good for their reputation! So at least that path is there to be walked. So I am not likely to be in a ThursdayNighter situation again any time soon, but still; one never knows, and it's worth at least having thought about it.
So just assume I am in an environment like that again; what then? I have decided that I just acted too late. I called out many more instances of women being portrayed as creatures without rights and/or agency, but not as sexually explicit as the last one. And I always was ignored. And I shouldn't have left it there! I believed in that they were in essence decent people, be it a bit blinkered. And they would see my point at some stage. Maybe if I said it often enough. That was naïve! They just ignored me. And then the sexual assault remark came. And then it was too late. That hurt so much the damage was done. I didn't trust them anymore, but I was hoping they'd win my trust back. Naïve again; they sure didn't! And I think next time, if I would not already have left by then, I would leave now. Not much point hoping that a clique like that is going to see your point when it comes to that. And whenever someone says something upsetting like that, you lose your cool, and this time that was ruthlessly used against me; that could happen again. It's easy to condemn a somewhat raised voice in someone who you see as 'them' as unacceptable, and a response to valid criticism of 'I don't give a fuck' (festooned with gestures) from someone you see as 'us' as a completely understandable and forgivable reaction to a stressy situation. So in short, I should never again be in a position like that! But if I am, I know it's time to go. If the group would be sorry to see me go they can make the effort of trying to make me stay.
So what would I think would have been a better approach? I suppose just gathering everybody around the first time someone makes some sexist remark, and say that I find that hurtful. And if they then still ignore what I say, I can just leave before things have gone out of hand. And they will have noticed that there are people who don't like that sort of talk. And the disadvantage is that then there will be nobody left who would call that sort of stuff out. And then it may soon become normal again. And the world would not have become a better place. But it hasn't now either! What can I say. If I can't stop the world from getting hurt I can at least stop myself from getting hurt.
So is all bad? Well, no. I could imagine they at least have stopped not noticing misogyny! Maybe now if someone makes a remark like that they think back to this debacle. And at least be a bit more aware of it. I can't check of course! I do hope so. It's so easy to not notice nasty remarks at the expense of a demographic that's not yours, especially of you're the dominant demographic and you're not trained at it.
And more? Well, yes! I hadn't realised I had it in me to just start an equivalent gathering myself. But I have! I have more power than I thought.
The other thing is that I have been reminded of that when you fight, you fight alone. The only people who responded with something along the lines of 'oh dear, I didn't realise what was going on, I'm sorry' when I had sent my message out, explaining my feelings about the whole sexual assault 'joke' situation, sent that message only to me. A reply to all would have taken a stand! But nobody seems to want to be seen to support the respectful treatment of all, regardless of gender. Not in that environment. And probably not in others! But well, I'd rather continue the fight alone than give up. So bring it on.
And as well; there is something flattering in some ten blokes not daring to face you and tell you to your face they think what you do is wrong. Yes I know they're Brits, but still! I spoke out on my own against some eight of them. And then addressed the whole rest in an email that invited response, and not one of these cowardly ones that ends with 'I'm not willing to talk about this'. I'm a veritable superhero! Outnumber me all you want, but if I am of a mind to speak out, I will speak out.
And lastly; as a bit of a communication junkie I struggle to cope with a situation where I'm being treated abominably but get no opportunity to defend my case. But that is just life! The people who hurl false accusations at you from the safety of a computer screen are not the sort of people who will listen patiently when you explain their accusation is false. So it’s just one of those things one has to learn to live with. And it’s hard! But the hard things are extra important to learn. So I’m still working on it, but when I get there, it will stand me in good stead forever!
So in summary? I suppose the gist is: I have not learned to fight better, but I have only increased in resolve! Where will that lead? No idea! Stay tuned...