Grope-blindness

I’ve coined this phrase to describe the complete lack of awareness that so many people in power seem to have in relation to inappropriately sexual behaviour. It is sadly much-needed, as many recent cases in public and educational life have revealed.

The timeline usually goes like this:

  • An incident of inappropriately sexual behaviour occurs between a person in power or authority and a person of much junior status. The incident may be reported, or may even be widely known about, but it is covered up or brushed aside.
  • Some time later (possibly many years afterwards), the incident and the fact of its having been reported comes to light. The recipient of the unwanted contact testifies as to its truth. Often, several other recipients break cover, reinforcing the testimony by adding their own.
  • The alleged perpetrator issues a statement saying he or she is saddened and astonished by the allegations, and swears that nothing remotely inappropriate ever took place. Sometimes he or she resigns.

I’ve been the recipient of unwanted contact of this kind – mostly bum-patting and innuendo, and none of it, I’m happy to say, from anyone whose authority I was afraid of. I am ashamed to say I also once pinched a colleague’s bum. The look I got from him – sheer horrified surprise – made me instantly apologise and resolve never, ever to do it again. As a result, I don’t suffer from grope-blindness myself. (Or at least, I don’t think I do.)

Grope-blindness can take two main forms:

  1. The groper’s grope-blindness. The groper may have no idea that what he or she has done is anything other than normal interaction between people – no idea that his or her actions might inspire fear, horror or worry, or that they might constitute a threat to the gropee’s career. He or she also has no idea that it might create a long-term problem for the gropee, such as causing them to give up their chosen profession or professional goals. This may be down to a lacuna in their upbringing: it has never been explained to them. It may be because the groper is a person with no sensitivity or empathy.
  2. The grope-blindness of the groper’s friends and colleagues. People surrounding the groper are either unable to believe that he or she is capable of such a thing, or share the groper’s view that it’s completely trivial, or decide that the gropee is merely being malicious. The fact that the groper is good at his or her job, or commands respect for other reasons, is somehow taken to prove that he or she is incapable of anything so low.

Another aspect of grope-blindness is the Jeremy Irons Defence, which is that if you are woman enough (or man enough) you can simply draw yourself up to your full height, tell the groper in no uncertain terms that their attentions are unwelcome, and flounce out. Now of course this can be done, though it is difficult to do both politely and with finality. It is not always believed by the groper – they may deploy the Mr Collins Self-Preservation Method (cf  Pride and Prejudice) by assuming that you’re being sweetly reticent, and will simply try again later. You have to be very brave and often very persistent (as was Lizzie Bennett) to stand up to such situations.

Perhaps society at large needs to ask itself the question: do we suffer from grope-blindness? As individuals, are we grope-blind about our own behaviour, or about the behaviour of others? Are we guilty of saying “of course, he’s frightful dirty old man, but everyone puts up with it because he’s so good at his job”? It won’t be a comfortable question to answer.

Advertisements
Published in: on February 26, 2013 at 16:40  Comments (3)  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://ladyeffingham.wordpress.com/2013/02/26/grope-blindness/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. This is a very concise phrase for something I’ve found myself blithering on about for weeks. Thanks! I have a nascent theory that this is the next step in the evolution of sexual politics (not just gender politics as it can include same-sex gropage as well) – as we start to evaluate how we as a society have let these things become normalised. Without intending to sound like someone from Living Marxism I’d call your article a critique of power; but it’s also a critique of the mores communicated to our offspring. Powerful people are allowed to get away with stuff in case they harm you. Talented people must be indulged. Clever people can’t possibly mean to be harmful so can’t be responsible even if there is damage. Victims must have an axe to grind. Underlings should welcome a bit of personal attention. Anyone pretty ought to expect overtures. Anyone who protests is humourless.

    In my experience of unwanted attention from men, I am certain in almost all cases that the men had no idea how they were coming across. Once we told a 35-year-old male friend that our 19-year-old female colleague had complained to us that he was a dirty old man and he was utterly appalled – partly because at 35 he hadn’t realised how his behaviour appeared to a teenager. Luckily he had no authority over this young woman but my point is that he was completely blind to the effect he was creating – and he’s not a stupid man!

    • Well – EXACTLY. Maybe you should be writing a blog of your own, Rosalind.

  2. Prefer to comment on yours! As I imply above, you so often encapsulate what I think far more concisely that I can. A rare talent, in my view.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: