Predators were a grim fact of 1970s office life

It's hard to explain how normal it was - we learned ways of protecting ourselves and others without jeopardising our careers

Share
Related Topics

You’re in your twenties, driving home from a meeting on a winter night with a much older colleague. Suddenly, he suggests pulling into a layby to have sex with you. You’re aghast but you stay calm and tell him to keep driving. Do you complain to your boss? The man is senior to you and has been at the company for years. Complain to your union? He’s a union official.

A couple of senior executives take a group of you out to lunch. Afterwards, you go back to someone’s flat and the next thing you know, one of the executives has his tongue in your mouth and his hand between your legs. You fight him off. A few days later, you hear that people are joking about it behind your back.

These are not theoretical examples of sexual harassment. They happened to me during my first few years in journalism, but it wasn’t something that happened only in the media. The multiplying accusations against Jimmy Savile have put the BBC under a spotlight but they’re an extreme version – because Savile was famous and DJs were regarded as untouchable – of a problem that existed in offices and factories up and down the country. A friend of mine recalls sexual harassment as an “industrial hazard” of the period.

It’s not difficult to work out why it was so widespread. In the 1970s and 80s, young women were a minority in offices and there was an attitude that you had to “prove” yourself: can’t you take a joke? Some of it was opportunist – bored middle-aged men suddenly found themselves working alongside smart young women – and some of it, I’m sure, was about a dominant group teaching outsiders their place.

Decades later, it’s hard to explain how normal all this was. We learned ways of dealing with it, how to protect ourselves and each other without jeopardising our careers. In one office, I found that the secretaries and researchers, who were all women, had an informal network which they used to warn each other about particularly predatory men.

It was a culture of impunity, which is what Savile’s behaviour appears to have exposed at the BBC. It began to change for two reasons: growing numbers of women in the workforce, which meant we could no longer be regarded as interlopers, and a feminist critique which gave victims a language. Pinning a woman across a desk in an empty office and kissing her takes on a new complexion when she springs up and names it as harassment.

Victims need bosses who understand that, far from being a joke, such matters are disciplinary offences. Women are more likely to be targeted but it shouldn’t happen to anyone. As someone who’s experienced it, I can assure you there’s nothing funny about sexual harassment. 

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
British Prime Minister Tony Blair (L) pictured shaking hands with Libyan leader Colonel Moamer Kadhafi on 25 March 2004.  

There's nothing wrong with Labour’s modernisers except how outdated they look

Mark Steel
 

Any chance the other parties will run their election campaigns without any deceit or nastiness?

Nigel Farage
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee