Why don't more women blow the whistle on sexual harassment in the office? Because typically this results in blowing one's career too

Plus: Do we really need to know where Jennifer Lawrence buys her pants?

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The Independent Online

As alleged nicknames for Lord Rennard go, “the human octopus”, if that’s indeed true, has a certain zing. It’s quite an image. Over the decades, I’ve been acquainted with a few truly spectacular human octopuses. Not Rennard, never had the joy. No, other ones.

Those men who speak all directives to the ears on one’s tits. The presenters famed for going through gullible work experience teenagers like knives through warm butter. The men never safe to be the last one with in a taxi. Or simply those with a long history of female colleagues who’ve felt vaguely creeped out by their conversation topics.

Only the other day I swore to my friends I would never work on a project again because a senior colleague makes me want to wire-wool then steam-clean my epidermis after four short minutes across a business-lunch table. Just talking about this annoys many males. A lot of men do not understand – either genuinely or pig-headedly – the actual sense of being sexually harassed. Of course with some irony, if a vehemently straight man has at one point in his life found himself being hit on by an assertive gay man, then – behold – this will be a startling anecdote pivoting around power and fear, they will recount – for ever expecting shocked, sympathetic gasps. In the meantime, women encounter this feeling several times a year and just let it wash over them like waves. Oh those human octopuses. Oh it’s never their fault really, is it? Their wives don’t understand them. No hang on, it’s sex addiction. That’s a proper syndrome you know! Or the booze. Alas, he’s not a great boozer.

And have I ever blown the whistle on a wobbly tentacle on my bum along the way? Did I march to a higher power and issue a formal complaint, like some of Rennard’s colleagues? Did I hell. I did what women have done for centuries, I slagged them off to my friends, seethed about a male-heavy workplace which allows this to happen, and got on with my job. By no coincidence, I’m still working. Among my friends we have a very gallows-humour shorthand term for work letches, which is: “He’s a bit rapey”. “Oh God, don’t work with so and so,” we say, rolling our eyes: “He’s a bit rapey.” Now “rape” and “jokes” are a tough one to marry or excuse, but in this case it’s not quite a joke. It’s the sum of our darkest fears, flipped into a daft phrase to lighten the truth, in a man’s world where our defence is black humour and camaraderie.

And I applaud all women with the iron will to blow the whistle on a genuine human octopus as typically this results in blowing one’s career. Because from then on, you're THAT woman. Who wants to be the jelly-elbowed junior crying in HR? And crucially, if an office letch has any degree of seniority, he’ll no doubt have ten or 15 people – including many women – in his retinue whose livelihoods all rely on him. They want him to stay put. Who wants the story of hand up your skirt typed up as a statement, queried by seniors, called out as bullshit or written off as “well, it takes two to tango”?

I remember once telling colleagues years ago that another colleague had asked me to have a shower with him. The guy could have done with a good wash – carbolic, boiling water – but I’d rather he’d done it alone. “Well he’d be joking,” I was told, non-negotiably. “He wasn’t joking,” I said. I just gave up.  

Obviously many men will comment on this piece of writing by triumphantly pointing out that they have spotted the outline of my breasts in my byline picture, which negates anything I have to say about, well, anything, EVER.

Others will suggest a monster like me should be flattered by sexual harassment, and for good measure, they’d never molest me anyhow. Curiously, that’s just part of my modern-day job spec. But more relevantly this is the sort of scrutiny whistleblowers face whenever they purse their lips – remove that tentacle from their thigh – and blow. Good luck girls. You’ll need it.

The shifting morals of the middle classes

As a huge fan of moral shifts – horse meat, Seventies perverts, homophobes – I’ve wondered for a while when the middle-classes conning their way into top state schools may be viewed as “morally wrong”.

Yet, over the past five years, the number of council investigations into suspicious applications has risen almost 11-fold. Some time soon, it seems.

No matter if there are kids nearby with poorer, less brass-necked parents who should rightfully have that brilliant state school place. Send them off on a long daily bus detour to Hellsville Comp! Bye bye!

You got your child in, maybe you gave a shonky address of a second home, or pretended to be Catholic with a charming fake baptism, or used your connections to pull strings, or lied about non-existent siblings, or pretended your child’s nanny was its mother.

I watch these sharp-elbowed types – those who feel they can fudge any issue of conscience by opening a sentence with “As a parent I need to do the best for my child” – with great interest. As a parent you should know it’s fraud.

Do we really need to know where Jen-Lau buys her pants?

A palpable sense of glee spread over many of Earth’s erudite, cerebral women on Sunday as 22-year-old Jennifer Lawrence won the Oscar for best actress. Not for the award, but for Lawrence’s candid, unfettered, numpty-adverse approach to the inane drivel which actresses are asked.

Rarely actors. No one asked Jack Nicholson to his face where he bought his underpants. “What was the process for getting ready for today?” Lawrence was asked, a mere moment after being officially proclaimed the most talented woman in her field today.

“Um… I took a shower,” Lawrence said, boggling at the daftness. “I don’t know… what am I supposed to… um, then I got my make up done… and then I came to the Oscars.”

They’ll keep on asking silly questions Jen-Lau, please keep on doing the silly answers.