There are some bad experiences you bury deep down inside and, I’ll be honest, annoyingly, painfully, world events force them right up to the top and you hear the 15-year-old version of yourself screaming at the top of her lungs. That has been happening to me all week with all the news about Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations against Brett Kavanaugh.
Supporters of Kavanaugh, including Donald Trump, are arguing that the fact that she has stayed mostly quiet about her assault allegations for 36 years makes her less credible. Most victims of sexual assault will tell you that this is perfectly understandable. Like I say, you bury it deep. You don’t want it to blight your life, you don’t want to be defined by it, you don’t want people to see how much you blame yourself: “I shouldn’t have been there”, “I should have fought harder”, “I led him on”. You blame yourself because it seems so utterly unreal that another human being would want to harm you – hurt you when you have done nothing to harm them.
If the man who pulled me to the ground in Osterley Park at 10pm when I was 15 and did things I cannot write down, (I knew the man. I trusted him. He was walking me to the station) appeared as a public figure being considered for a senior position where other people’s lives would be at the mercy of his morals and ethical framework, I would – as Ford said she did during yesterday’s hearing – feel a “civil duty” to call him out. Otherwise, I’d want it to remain buried. When I see other women being so brave, I can’t pretend I’m just guessing I know what it would have taken to speak up.
When I was a fledgling comedian on the comedy circuit, I was out drinking far away from home. I had no money for cabs back then so I accepted the offer to crash at the home of a guy who was out with our rabble. I made it clear we were not going to have sex. My exact words were “we are not bonking” (this was the Nineties, after all). I was drunk but repeatedly said “promise?” He promised and made himself a bed on the sofa. And yet, I woke in the night to horror and left the second it was light.
That was 20 years ago. We didn’t speak about consent the way we do now. We had no hashtags. I did not have access to the internet to read the stories of so many other people that this has happened to. Back in the 1990s, you “put it down to experience”.
I felt shame and guilt about feeling guilt and shame. Logically, I knew it was not my fault but try telling that to a lifetime of being conditioned into thinking that men can’t control their urges and women really shouldn’t make a drama out of things which really were a one-off and “it’s not like he behaves like that all the time”.
Let’s glance for a moment at the cultural environment I was raised in. I was a child in the 1980s – an era when 47-year-old Bill Wyman started a relationship with 13-year-old Mandy Smith and no one called him a sick bastard. No one arrested him. She, however, was a “wild child” and TV viewers would tut “I wouldn’t let my daughter dress like that”. This was the mainstream moral framework we lived within back then. No wonder so much sick behaviour went unchecked. No wonder I never said a word.
My shame was intensified by what had happened a decade earlier in Osterley park. Clearly I was stupid, clearly I had not learned my lesson. What kind of idiot puts themselves in that position twice? Now of course, I don’t think you are an idiot if you assume that a person you have been out with, having a laugh with, isn’t going to hurt you. You are never the idiot if you are attacked.
The man in Osterley park contacted me about 10 years ago on MySpace. It may seem hard to understand today, but I was friendly in my message back, urgently telling him that I was married and had a child, desperate for him to know that despite him, I had love in my life and I was worthwhile. In the decade since that message, our culture has lurched forward fast. Too fast for me at first. For a long while, I steered clear of the #MeToo movement. I resented it. I felt pressure to unwrap parcels of pain I had put away.
But the #MeToo movement has been powerful, uncompromising, shaking us all into seeing where crimes have been committed. This is not “bad sex” (Germaine Greer – you let us down, mate). Crimes have been permitted because we have an instinct to protect ourselves from having a reputation of being a “trouble maker” or a “drama queen”. Perhaps too we have an instinct to protect the men who hurt us because we don’t want their whole lives to be ruined, their wives and children to suffer. And you know that your parents, your siblings or your children knowing what you went through would cause them to hurt too.
As a comedian, I never wanted this stuff to be out there. I didn’t want people I’m entertaining to know this, I didn’t want the people who book me, other comics I work with, to know. I lied to a journalist about how close my novel was to my own experiences. It’s so terribly private. But in solidarity with Ford and every woman who has been brave enough to speak out and bear the wrath of those who call them liars and opportunists, I thought I too must say a word.Column, The Independent, Writing