Period dramas on Netflix and Amazon Prime to watch while we wait for ‘The Crown’
Period dramas on Netflix and Amazon Prime to watch while we wait for ‘The Crown’

Erin Lindsay

The world’s most sustainable travel spots revealed
The world’s most sustainable travel spots revealed

Amanda Cassidy

Indoor Halloween activities for kids to get you through the mid-term
Indoor Halloween activities for kids to get you through the mid-term

Lauren Heskin

Planning a festive trip to London this year? These hotels really know how to do Christmas
Planning a festive trip to London this year? These hotels really know how to do...

Sarah Finnan

16 great prints and posters to add some life to your walls
16 great prints and posters to add some life to your walls

Megan Burns

‘Mummy has cancer’: How to talk to children about a parent’s diagnosis
‘Mummy has cancer’: How to talk to children about a parent’s diagnosis

Amanda Cassidy

15 dogs who are costume-ready for Halloween
15 dogs who are costume-ready for Halloween

Grace McGettigan

Bringing unsexy back: putting the freaky back into Halloween
Bringing unsexy back: putting the freaky back into Halloween

Jessie Collins

15 Halloween make-up looks from Instagram’s top MUAs
15 Halloween make-up looks from Instagram’s top MUAs

Grace McGettigan

The importance and benefits of alone time
The importance and benefits of alone time

Niamh Ennis

Image / Editorial

Emilie Pine: In a post-#MeToo world speaking up still isn’t always easy


by IMAGE
18th Jul 2018
Emilie Pine: In a post-#MeToo world speaking up still isn’t always easy

Hindsight, as they say, is a great thing. In a post-#MeToo world, EMILIE PINE reflects on the times she wishes she spoke up against the men who took advantage of their power over her, but it wasn’t so easy to do at the time.

I’m a pretty loud person. I get asked to make announcements at events because I can be heard above the din. A friend of mine once told me I barely needed a mobile phone because I could just shout and be heard from miles away. And I’m loud in other ways too. I speak up at meetings, I contribute to discussions, and hey, get this, my job as a lecturer means that I talk for a living. But you can be silent and loud at the same time, it turns out.

While I was a PhD student, I found myself in the “grey area” of sexually inappropriate advances. And the first time it happened, though it makes me sick to admit it, it did not occur to me to object. A professor, whose work I revered, attended a paper I gave at a conference and afterwards, in the bar, he beckoned to me, then led me by the hand behind a pillar, where we were shielded from view. Still holding my hand, his other arm rubbing against my side, he told me he wanted to be alone with me to talk about my career. Improbable as it seems now, I felt lucky to be singled out, and I felt that his attention was benevolent rather than sexual.

Okay, maybe that’s not the whole story. I knew it was sexual, I knew he shouldn’t be doing it, I knew I shouldn’t smile in response. But I did smile and here’s why: it was my first conference, I was young, he was powerful. I was trying to play the game. Serendipitously, the conference organiser appeared before anything further could happen.

Another encounter, a few years later, with another man made me begin to question just how benign a man’s attention at work could be. He was a lecturer in another department and I was in my final year as a student. I lived in student residences on the university campus. Before that day, I had always thought that living in my workplace was convenient – it had never occurred to me that someone saying a couple of sentences could suddenly make it feel perilous.

One afternoon, as I came out of the gym, this lecturer was walking past. Seeing me, he stopped to say hello. He was only a few years older than I was, yet his job put him in a power category above me. He seemed to want to talk, but I was flushed from the exercise class, and embarrassed at being post-workout and pre-shower, so I apologised and said I had to go “clean up”. I can still feel the cold air and how my sweatshirt stuck to my skin and chafed on my neck. And then he said: “I like to see you sweaty.” I didn’t really respond, I just turned to go, at which point he commented that he liked “the view from the rear”. And then he walked behind me all the way to my building.

It was daylight and there were plenty of other people around. Perhaps I shouldn’t have felt threatened, but I did. I got to my building, and stopped, key in hand, turning my head to see if he was still there. Ahead of me, a narrow corridor led from the building’s entrance to the door of my room. I did not want him to follow me into that corridor. He waved as he walked past. I ran in and double locked my door behind me.

The next day, I described the exchange with the lecturer to my boyfriend and best friend. They didn’t really know what to do or say. I sat at my computer and opened a “compose email” box, thinking I would write to someone about what had happened. But then I paused. How would I phrase it? Who would I send it to? Who would take it seriously? And if someone took it seriously, what would happen then? I could imagine only too well the lecturer’s response to my complaint – that it was a joke, that it was a compliment, that he was only being friendly. And I knew that if I claimed that it had not been a joke, that it had been an unwanted come-on from a lecturer to a student, I would suddenly be labelled the trouble-making girl who couldn’t play with the big boys. I knew the price of sending that message. And so I deleted the email.

I am not claiming that either of these events were damaging long-term – I was not traumatised, nor was my career impeded by either of these men’s come-ons. Nevertheless, I was shaken – shaken because I was suddenly made to confront, and to be ruled by, the unspoken code of the workplace, where inappropriate comments and the invasion of women’s personal space are recognised as wrong and yet also acceptable.

In the end, it’s not the arm-stroking or the predatory comments that are the real offence. It’s that instead of blaming those two men, I blamed myself. I blamed myself for somehow provoking their interest. I blamed myself for making a big deal out of what I knew was so commonplace it barely registered as out of order. And I blamed myself for not speaking out. I took on all this blame because I imagined that it was my responsibility as a woman to regulate and gate-keep sexual exchanges with men. 

I learned through these encounters that the most important skill for working women is resilience. This resilience has allowed me to “rise above” the sexist work culture that I have repeatedly encountered over the past two decades. But resilience, while it allows personal survival (and even success), does not challenge the larger toxic culture. And it does not stop the problem of unwanted sexual advances. And it does not produce what we really need – a culture of respect and consent.

In a post #MeToo world, I know that my resilience was a kind of silence. In the context of what so many other women have shared as part of this movement, I also realise that my experience is minor. But as #MeToo has also shown me, minor problems are still problems, and harassment at the bottom of the scale is still harassment (no matter what the backlash wants us to believe).

I know that there may be negative reactions to my decision to share these experiences, not least because they happened so long ago. But the time-lag is part of my point. Since I’m no longer a student, I can speak up with very little personal or professional risk. I tell my story not because my experience is exceptional – far from it – but because for so many women and men who are precariously employed, or dependent on goodwill, calling out harassment is still not possible. It’s important that we tell our stories – minor and major – because that is the first step towards changing the culture. And out of that cultural change, we can create policies that will mean we can all go to work free of the burden of blame and without needing the armour of resilience.

Notes to Self: Essays by Emilie Pine (Tramp Press, €15) is out July 19. @emiliepine

PORTRAIT BY RUTH CONNOLLY

This article featured in this month’s edition of IMAGE magazine, pick up a copy for more!

Also Read

houseplants
EDITORIAL
5 houseplants we guarantee you can keep alive

For those who buy houseplants with the best of intentions and end up killing them, here’s a selection you’ll be...

By Hannah Hillyer

Mandy Moore pumping
EDITORIAL
Mandy Moore climbed an active volcano at dawn… while pumping

Hiking a mountain and breast pumping – now, that’s what we call multitasking at its finest. Mandy Moore enjoyed an...

By Sarah Finnan

Keith-_-Tara_130_Web Shantanu Starick painting kitchen cabinets
EDITORIAL
How to limit drips and brush strokes while painting kitchen cabinets

Painting kitchen cabinets can be transformative and can be achieved relatively low-cost, but you need the right equipment, and a lot of...

By Amanda Kavanagh

blank
EDITORIAL
Attending multiple weddings this year? How to save money as a guest

These days, going to a wedding is the equivalent of going on a short holiday in terms of cost. From...

By Jennifer McShane

blank
AGENDA, EDITORIAL
No, the Olympics haven’t given athletes ‘anti-sex’ cardboard beds

Despite some media coverage, the beds are actually focused on sustainability as opposed to intimacy restrictions. Recently, distance runner Paul...

By Jennifer McShane

toxic
EDITORIAL
How to let go of toxic people, and the signs to recognise

By Niamh Ennis

blank
premium EDITORIAL
Business Club members get your complimentary tickets to The IMAGE Business Summit 2021

Don’t miss this year’s IMAGE Business Summit, with an expert line-up, skills masterclasses, keynote addresses and more.Back by popular demand,...

By Shayna Sappington