Last month, while away, I read ‘The Power’ by Naomi Alderman, winner of the 2017 Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction.
This is an imagined world in which the tables are turned when teenage girls develop an ability that puts them in the position of becoming the more powerful gender. It is a fast-paced thriller with many twists and turns and is both gripping and thought-provoking. The real shame is that it will only get read by those who understand and believe the message it conveys.
The press is awash with current revelations of sexual harassment and worse, brought about by abuse of power. It set me to recalling incidents in my life that made me feel, at best uncomfortable; at worst degraded and humiliated.
Having grown up in an era that was supposed to have been sexually enlightened and having embraced the hippy values of ‘free love’ at an early age did nothing to alleviate the feelings of shame and misery after I’d unwisely and naively believed a man who’d claimed he was a photographer and wanted some ‘head and shoulder’ shots of me during one long, summer vacation from college.
Then there was the young man who kindly offered to give me a lift home from a party and expected much more than thanks when we arrived at my door. His outrage at my refusal was astonishing, even then.
At school my clarinet teacher felt it was his right to touch and grope. So frightened was I that I got my friend to walk down the corridor and wait outside the door every week. I was also scared to tell my father I didn’t want to learn clarinet, because as he constantly told me, he’d invested so much money in the lessons and the instrument. I was never tempted by musical instruments again.
It’s good that incidents of abuse are getting an airing. Nobody should underestimate the terrible feelings of victims. In recent times I’ve heard casual remarks from intelligent, educated males about the Savile era abuse, remarks such as ‘the young girls must have liked to have been paid the attention by the DJs’. This type of comment shocks me. How would anyone who has not experienced such abuse know how they felt?
In the comments section of the Guardian website, in response to an article about the recent Harvey Weinstein abuse there is a sewer full of outraged, invective laden protest from men who feel their entitlement is threatened.
I’m older now and more confident to tell someone when they are out of order, like a neighbour who persisted in saying to me ‘Give me a nice smile’; although I still seek to avoid contact with him since his manner is no less creepy.
Yes-I know that men can also suffer hideous treatment-this is not in contention. But I’m weary of waiting for gender equality to arrive. However compelling ‘The Power’ may be it will only be preaching to the converted.