We’ve been hearing a lot about what used to be acceptable behaviour towards women in recent decades. Unless you’ve been living off planet, you will have heard people talking about their experiences of being sexually harassed, touched, coerced or raped in workplaces or workplace-associated environments. This spans offices to labs, conferences to hotels, from the entertainment industry to parliament. I want to tell you a story and it’s not a #MeToo
I haven’t always been an archaeologist, I used to work in insurance administration. As an arm of the financial services industry that was very male dominated in the late 80s and 90s, you would think if you listened to some people today that it was hotbed of sexual innuendo and groping. In fact, I’d have to say that my experiences there, even as a young woman, were better than they’ve been as an older woman in the last decade and a half. The introduction of maternity policies that encouraged staff retention made you feel valued, and the men I worked with thought it was great. They could finally admit that they also wanted women to be included in the workplace, and not just in the typing pool. Women were seen to add diversity and value to it all, and make it a much more fun place to be. In the early 90s I worked in Leeds. A few of us complained about men bringing their copies of The Sun into the staff kitchen, because we didn’t want to see Page 3. It was tackled, it stopped. It was not a problem to raise these issues. But I digress.
On January 22nd 1992, estate agent Stephanie Slater was abducted during a house viewing in a suburb of Birmingham. This was horrifically reminiscent of the disappearance of estate agent Suzy Lamplugh in London, 6 years earlier in July 1986. While she was never found and legally declared dead in 1993, Stephanie Slater was released by her captor Michael Sams, after 8 days. At this time I was office based, but many senior female staff were meeting business contacts alone; they were issued with rape alarms by the company. If I worked late my male colleagues proactively walked me back to my car, to ensure my safety. Only 6 months later, Rachel Nickell was murdered on Wimbledon Common.
So when people say ‘it used to be worse’, I reject that vehemently. I vividly remember this time. For that year 1992, and the year or so following, my male colleagues were afraid for us, their female colleagues. They stepped up and spoke out, made sure we got home safely after work drinks. Did not let creeps get too near to us in pubs. These men will now be in their late 50s and 60s or older, the same age as many of the men currently being accused of inappropriate behaviour. It’s not generational – and it wasn’t acceptable to disrespect women and their consent then and it isn’t now. However at that particular time, it was brought into very sharp relief how predatory some men can be. My male colleagues responded to that predation with determined and focused protection, and I think we all gained as a result. Creating and maintaining safe environments benefits us all.
If after reading this you fancy putting your hands in your pocket, the Suzy Lamplugh Trust does fabulous work https://www.suzylamplugh.org/ or alternatively you could aid the newly formed Alice Ruggles Trust here http://www.alicerugglestrust.org/
Alice was the daughter of an archaeologist who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in October 2016