Wandering Hands and Worse

I’m sure even the most reclusive hermit is aware of the allegations of sexual abuse and harassment sweeping through the world of UK politics and the film industry at the moment. Big names such as Harvey Weinstein, Dustin Hoffman and Kevin Spacey in Hollywood, and Michael Fallon in Westminster have had some serious allegations flying in their direction. The #MeToo campaign has given a voice to victims of abuse who previous felt unable to speak about their experiences, and like ma

ny a viral meme the number of accused and victims has spiralled. It hasn’t just been women who have been coming out, men too have revealed unpleasant experiences at the hands of men (and so far it has only been men) in positions of power.

Workplace Cultures

The film and entertainment industries and government are two areas of work full of people who wield tremendous power, desire fame and wealth, and have massive egos. Consequently, it attracts people who would do anything to get into these careers, no matter how compromising it might be. It is hardly a coincidence that that these fields take advantage of unpaid internships to feed a steady stream of impressionable young wannabes who lack any power in their destiny. So it must of little surprise that those higher up are emboldened to treat younger aspirants like playthings and take advantage of them. Of course, looks also play a big part in Hollywood (but very much less so in government), so add a sprinkling of glamour and you’ll be sprinkling hormones all over the working environment to spice up the mix even more.

One problem with these particular work areas is that they aren’t exactly a meritocracy. You don’t reach the top purely based on talent and hard work. In politics, it’s who you know, and of course being able to bullshit to a level that would make a second-hand car dealer blush. It’s little wonder politics is dominated by the privately educated, where the old boys (and girls) network operates and self-confidence – or maybe even self-delusion – is in-grained. The entertainment industry is also dominated by the well connected these days, but good looks and the right accent get you a long way too. Any industry where success is dependent on factors beyond the basic talent and skills at the job will encourage dubious techniques to become successful, and abuse will be natural side-effect of this. They are also very stratified work environments, where those at the very top earn great wealth, and have power and fame; but there are many levels below, way down to the bottom with people working for next to nothing with little hope of ever getting up the very long greasy pole. Those at the top know they can get away with liberties when dealing with those below them, as those below don’t want to ruin their chances of scaling the pole.

In my world of engineering, certainly from my experience, things could not be more different. To get ahead in engineering, you do need skill and talent, and it is far more of a meritocracy. That’s not to say luck, good connections and some brown-nosing doesn’t help get you ahead. But you certainly won’t get ahead on good looks and a nice accent alone! Even in older, larger companies with traditional structures, there is less of a distance between the top level engineers and the new starters. Even the most experienced engineers will know that a young new starter will have skills they don’t. So there’s a far smaller disparity of power and potential for abuse compared with politics and entertainment. We all know engineering is a male-dominated industry, but I’ve always felt most male engineers aren’t usually the macho, alpha-male types who need constantly prove their masculinity. They tend to be rather reserved and hide their sexuality under a bushel. I’ve known a fair number of gay engineers, and you would have needed a well-tuned gaydar to have been able to spot them. I suspect a fair few of my colleagues having even fallen into the much ignored asexual category. While I can’t speak for my female colleagues, I’ve never had one mention any sort of sexual abuse or harassment in the workplace. The worst they’ve ever mentioned are some simplistic stereotypes, but nothing ever lewd or nasty. Of course, I’m not going to be told of every single incident from all my female colleagues, but I’ve always got the impression they consider it a safe industry. Many other organisations have different cultures from the ones I’ve worked for, which may paint a different picture. But if you’re a woman looking for a career where sexual harassment is unlikely to be a problem, then engineering (and science in general) is a good one to choose. I also like to think that the typical engineer or scientist is highly intelligent and thus well behaved!

Educational Background

I decided to do a little background research on some of the politicians accused of inappropriate behaviour, and there was a list of ten names doing the rounds (it would have been useful to have more). I decided to look up their educational background to see whether it aligned with my suspicion that they were privately educated. Of the ten, four were privately educated, three went to grammar school, two state and one unknown. Also six of those (I think, but can’t be sure) were also boys-only schools. Now, that last figure does start to make you think, does a single-sex education distort boys views of girls?

I know those who support single-sex education like to highlight that the educational achievement is better (though I am sceptical of that claim, due the selective nature of single-sex schools), but at what cost to social skills of the pupils? If you’re in an all-boys school, you never get to see girls as equals, doing the same things as you. They become even more mysterious and treated as different beings. The result can go in two directions, one is that you become scared and in awe of girls, and the other is that you see girls as inferior or to be taken advantage of. I’m not saying all boys at single-sex schools end up at either of these extremes, but it surely must magnify any differences. When I was at university I knew a few students who went to single-sex schools (both boys and girls), and they all seemed to view the opposite sex with a certain amount novelty, and not just treat them as just another student to be an equal friend with. Many soon adjusted, but the male students who were getting all excited over being in close proximity to women were usually from all-boys schools.

Going back to our politicians’ schools, where more than half either went to a private (called public schools in the UK, rather confusingly) or grammar (free, but selective) schools. While private schools can offer an excellent level of education, they also seem to instil a level of self-confidence into most of the pupils. Of course, many of them come from privileged backgrounds, which also helps this level of self-confidence. But this self-confidence, if not restrained, can turn into arrogance and entitlement.

A Power Trip?

I’ve read many articles which postulate that the sexual abuse cases are men exerting their power over the women, and they are using sex to put them in their place. I’m not so sure about this, as there are many ways to exert power without using sex, so why do it that way with the inherent risks it carries? As I just mentioned in the educational upbringing, I see it more of a sense of entitlement, rather than exerting power. These men feel entitled to treat women (and men) as they want, and feel immune to any possible repercussions, as they’ve grown up without anyone challenging them, or questioning their actions.

I also think the fundamental aspect of sexual desire is overlooked in many articles too. We’re sexual beings, and if we see someone we find attractive, we’ll have sexual feelings towards them. Of course, the vast majority of us keep such thoughts to ourselves and not make those feeling felt. These over-entitled men appear not to have the restraint, or empathy towards the other person and therefore externalise their inner thoughts, and act on their basest instincts. Because of their lofty positions, they get away with their behaviour and this results in a power trip. So I think power is more a result of their behaviour, not really the cause.

The Police

One really glaring omission from all these reports of abuse is any mention of the police getting involved, or any of the alleged victims reporting any incidents to the law. Some of the incidents appear to be very serious, including rape, so why aren’t the police involved? I know the police have a lamentable track-record when handling rape and abuse cases, and it is notoriously difficult to convict; but you would have thought amongst all these allegations a few would have been reported? Is it really easier to reveal the abuse you’ve received to millions on social media on the back of a campaign, rather than report it in confidence to the police? While I generally believe the allegations that have been made, it does make your wonder whether some are jumping on the bandwagon and taking advantage for a moment of fame. The result is those who have genuinely been abused may not get taken seriously. I wonder whether some of these high profile figures accused of rape and other abuse will get convicted, or slip through the net due to their status and access to the top lawyers?

Too Much Variety?

The #MeToo campaign has revealed hundreds, if not thousands, of allegations of abuse and harassment, revealing how widespread the problems are. Many of these particular allegations have made the headlines due to the profile of the person making them. However, the nature of the the allegations vary from violent rape down to a tap on the knee or a risqué comment. While these latter incidents may have caused distress at that time, they can end up drowning out more serious cases because of the profile of the people involved. The trouble with internet memes is that everyone wants a piece of the action, and you end up with people coming up the most trivial incidents imaginable being giving the same exposure as criminal and life-changing events. I’m not saying harassment should be swept under the carpet, but maybe dealing with the perpetrator or the organisation it happened in more directly, rather than just Tweeting about it would be more useful.

Who is Doing This?

If you look at all the articles and social media on this subject you may get this impression it is all men, and only men, doing this. Of course, many articles will state otherwise. The Kevin Spacey reports have also revealed it isn’t just women who are victims too. From my personal experience I have received low-ish level sexual abuse and harassment from women, but not men (I don’t count getting wolf-whistled by some gay guys as harassment, and was rather flattered by it as it was done in good humour). I also personally don’t know any men who have sexually abused or harrassed anyone, but that’s maybe due to the sort of people I mix with. I think there’s a very small minority of people who do abuse and harrass, but they do it a lot and to lots of people. So maybe instead of being hung up about a widespread culture of abuse, maybe really trying to deal with the abusers will remove the majority of the problems. It’s rather like when the police catch a burglar (yes, I know that’s a bit of a far-fetched idea), and the number of burglaries plummets in the area. The hundreds of break-in weren’t done by hundreds of burglars, but one burglar doing hundreds of burglaries.

Move the Line?

The last decade or so has one of most puritanical periods since the 1950s. Compared to the late 1960s to 1980s, our attitudes to sex have become more prudish. This may be due to a reaction against that more sexually libarated era, which many people enjoyed the benefits of, but also many people (and particularly women) felt threatened by. These days even the sightest hint of flirtation between people who aren’t already in a relationship seems to be frowned upon, and could lead to serious trouble in the workplace. The only way we seem to be able to meet anyone these days is via online dating, and any real-life approaches are now virtually impossible it seems. Has the line been placed to what is and isn’t acceptable too far over to the converstive (very much with a small C!) side now? Are the rules so constraining now, so when someone breaks them, they go to the other extreme and end up abusing as many people as they can?

Maybe if we loosened up a bit, and tolerated a little bit of flirting now and again, and allowed people to be adults on a equal footing, it might prevent some people going off on these extreme pathways to abusive behaviour. It may also allow people to feel more comfortable about answering back confidently without offending when they aren’t interested. Do you think the current zero tolerance attitude is counter-productive, or would a more relaxed attitude be too risky?

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My Room 101 – Shop Greeters

I’m going rather off my usual topics here and having a little rant about something in modern life I think should be consigned to Room 101*. Today’s subject will be: shop greeters.

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I’ve just come in for a banana, not a full tour of everything you sell.

In the UK this is a phenomenon that’s appeared in the last 5 years or so, and has spread quite widely across many shop chains around the country. If you go into a shop these days, you’ll be often confronted with a young (they are nearly always the younger members of staff, rarely the older ones) shop assistant standing right in front you and greeting you with a cheery ‘good morning’. If you don’t move quickly enough, they may follow up with a ‘can I help you find what you’re looking for?’. I soon got wise to that and now side-step like a top rugby winger before they can latch on to me.

So why do I dislike these greeters? I’ve got nothing against the individuals doing the job they have to do. However when I go into a shop I like to be left alone, unless I decide I need some assistance, and then I’ll ask someone. But I rarely need any assistance, as I either know what I’m going to buy, or am just having a look around has have no intention of buying anything. Also, my experience of asking for help is usually fruitless as the assistant often hasn’t a clue what I’m asking for or where it is in the shop.

One of my early experiences involved the greeter asking me what I was looking for as soon as I got through the door, not giving me any time to think or browse around. She whisked me off to the area selling what I was after and pretty much jammed it in my hand and escorted me – so very helpfully – to the checkout. I wouldn’t have minded so much, but I was going to buy several other items, but I didn’t want to turn around at the checkout and go back into the shop to find the other things. So thanks to the overly helpful greeter the shop actually sold less than they would have done if I was left in peace to select what I wanted.

Another thing I dislike about it is the false sincerity of it all. In Britain, while we respect politeness and good manners, we also like people to be natural and honest. I know these greeters couldn’t care less about the customers walking through the door, and certainly really don’t want to waste their time helping them. They are probably on the minimum wage just waiting from 5:30pm to come along so they can go home. To me it just feels very American, and something we should not adopt in this country. Surely it would be more satisfying for a member of staff to genuinely help a customer who asks for help, rather than just gormlessly grinning a cheerful hello to everyone that came through the door?

Thankfully, independent shops seem to steer clear of using greeters, mainly because they often don’t have the spare staff to do such thing and are probably aware of how irritating it is. It’s shame there are so few independent shops left these days with high streets all looking identical and anonymous now.

So this is a call to the major chain stores in the UK: please can you put a stop to these greeters, and let them go back to roaming around the shop floor, discretely keeping an eye out for customers who really do look like they want to ask for help?

*For those who aren’t familiar, Room 101 is a BBC TV programme where guests choose things they really dislike and would like to be consigned to Room 101. Room 101 originally came from the George Orwell’s novel 1984, where it was a torture chamber.

Building my Profile

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When I decided to write this blog I was hoping to have some handy how-to style pages giving words of wisdom on many diverse topics. However, when it comes to building my on-line dating profile, this is really a I-haven’t-got-a-clue-how-to guide.

As you’ve probably realised I’m not blessed with natural beauty and an Adonis-esque physique. I never get admiring glances from women in public places, and seem invisible to the rest of the world most of the time. So I can’t just put up a picture of myself and expect the responses to come streaming in. So when it comes to a photo I really need to make the best of what I’ve got.

The other problem I’ve got, is that I don’t have photos of myself. I refuse to take selfies when I visit somewhere interesting. If I take photos of anyone, it’ll be my children or maybe friends if they are doing something worth taking a photo of (such as getting a starring role on Crimewatch or You’ve Been Framed). Any photos that others take of me, I’ll never ask for as I know what I look like, so why have them? The other main problem is that I seem to sprout a double chin whenever I appear in a photo. I really don’t photograph well. Bucks Fizz said the camera never lies. Bollocks to that Cheryl, the camera pulls more fibs than Donald Trump.

So I fiddle around with a camera on a timer trying to make myself look recognisable as me and hope for the best. At least I’m in focus, not pixelated and the right way up. Shame about the double chin.
The really hard part is writing a profile. This is where I like Tinder, you can get away with writing nothing, and even if you do want to write something you’re limited to a few sentences. So I just write some vague stuff about me being a nice person and that I don’t like nasty people. So the same as what pretty much everyone else writes.

Other sites like POF and Match.com require lengthy profiles with all sorts of sections to fill in and pull-down menus to choose options from. It’s liking filling out a job application, but without the need for references. Some parts are easy fill in, I know my height, eye colour and pet status. There’s one question that asks “How ambitious are you?”. Ambitious at what? I’m very ambitious when it comes to playing Monopoly with my kids. I’m also very ambitious when it comes to crossing the road; I’ve got a 100% success rate at that in my life, and really want to keep it that way. On the other hand, I’m not that ambitious when it comes to ironing. As long as the kids’ school uniform doesn’t look like scrunched up paper I’m fine. I’ve no ambition to iron the perfect shirt, or press every item of clothing in my house in record time.

The worst section is the ‘about me’ part, which of course is freely written. This is where I really struggle to think of anything to write. Look, I’m a dad with young children and a full-time job, I don’t have time to do amazingly interesting things any more. Watching my kids playing on slide in the local park isn’t a pastime that’s going to get anyone weak at the knees. So I basically add some vague stuff like I’ve done on Tinder, but also mention I can cook.

So I’m out there with a photo of me looking uncomfortable, and a profile than is duller than Gary Barlow reading out the telephone directory. I could make stuff up to make myself sound more interesting, and photoshop myself into someone unrecognisable; but I struggle to lie convincingly, so there’s no point trying it, and it’ll only end up in embarrassing failure when you get found out.

But you never know, I might get a few hits, as there’s got to be a lot worse profiles out there; or I might pick up the occasional one from an accidental slip of the finger.

In the Beginning…

This is the post excerpt.

This is my first attempt at blogging, so please be gentle with me. You’ll see from my ‘about’ profile, I’m a single dad who is also an engineer. So I’ll be writing about bringing up kids, the world of dating, and being an engineer. Yes, I can just hear you saying “he’s a dad and an engineer, so what chance as he got in the world of dating?”. Well, probably not a lot, but I’m going to try and have fun finding out!