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GUEST POST: WHT the ****

During this 16 Days of Activism On Violence Against Women - and with high profile #metoo stories appearing in the courts and the media - we continue to hear stories of harassment and abuse of women and girls. This guest post, from an author who wishes to remain anonymous, explores the issues of power, privilege, and 'wandering hand trouble'.

CONTENT NOTE: this blog describes instances of sexual assault and harassment.

It wasn’t possible to call out something that we were told didn’t exist and which, even if it did, didn’t mean anything anyway. But abuse does exist, and its accumulation over decades leaves its mark.Back when I was a young woman, when it was described as ‘wandering hand trouble’ (WHT) for short, we were taught that sexual assault and harassment were just what happened.

It would happen more if you were to pluck your eyebrows, wear a choker, or hoik your skirt up above your knees. If you wore American Tan 60 denier tights, you was ‘asking for it’. We didn’t really know what we were supposed to be asking for, especially when we wore knee-length cotton socks on top of the tights.

It was just another of the great mysteries when my mother would say, ‘don’t let your father see you wearing that,’ and which made me feel funny inside because I didn’t know why not.

Of course, being on the receiving end of the abuse that ‘just happened’, made us feel deeply uncomfortable, but - because it happened to all of us all the time - it was not even mentioned.

So I didn’t really know what to do about:

  • The man who sat beside me on the bus when I was ten - lots of us travelled independently back then, but always on the front seat if we could - rubbed up to me and asked me why my parents let a lovely young girl like me go on the bus to Glasgow on her own. Luckily the (woman) clippie noticed and told him to move;
  • My friend’s dad who stuck his tongue in my mouth when he kissed us good night (age 16;
  • The lad I met in the pub (age 17) who took me round the corner into Renfrew Lane and forced me down onto him. (I managed to run away and get onto the train home losing my precious identity bracelet, and my self-respect, in the process);
  • The adviser for Enterprise Allowance who got me alone in his office, put his arm round me, leaned in and said he would authorise the £40 a week EA (to which I was entitled anyway;
  • And all the flashers, and harassers, and lookers, and slimy commenters, and not-so-silent ‘dirty’ phone calls in, around and in-between who left me feeling ashamed and confused in their wake.

It wasn’t possible to call out something that we were told didn’t exist and which, even if it did, didn’t mean anything anyway. But abuse does exist, and its accumulation over decades leaves its mark.

We found that out by talking about our experiences and how we felt, amongst ourselves. Some of us found our way into the emerging Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis movements, and turned our personal experiences into political action. Others found a way into the establishment through criminal justice, politics and academia. And over the past 40 years or so, we can see that it’s made some difference. But that there’s still a heck of a long way to go.

Thank goodness there’s been some way to report the princes, politicians and other ‘pillars’ of privilege. Those in power make the rules about how things should be. But it doesn’t have to be like they tell it. Maybe, that power is a little bit more dilute than it used to be. And maybe the wandering hands are losing their grip.

Guest posts do not necessarily reflect the views of Engender, and all language used is the author's own. Bloggers have received some editorial support from Engender, and may have received a fee from our commissioning pot. We aim for our blog to reflect a range of feminist viewpoints, and offer a commissioning pot to ensure that women do not have to offer their time or words for free.

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