Sleazy Street

Despite being published over 130 years ago, Jekyll and Hyde’s popularity remains intact. Directors, academics, authors and the riff-raff ourselves have spent centuries analysing what this work of fiction represents. Its themes and nuances transcend generations: magnetic and repellent all at once, the novel holds a place of privilege in the literary world as one of few novels to attract audiences from past, present and I have no doubt far into the future.

The reason for this? Because duality resonates, and every Jekyll has a Hyde.

Last weekend my flatmates and I packed the Mini Cooper up and headed north to the Stirling suburbs for a hot tub and prosecco-filled weekend. While you may think this sounds like the opening scenes of a shamelessly low-budget porno (with a very serious lack of creative direction) it was instead the beginning of the inspiration behind this blog post, and the confirmation of a universally acknowledged truth.

Like most stories that end with twice as many bottles as there are people, how we got onto the topic of office sleazebags is hazy. Yet I believe it started with one of my flatmates, whom we shall call ‘M’, lest the popularity of this blog sky-rockets and I have multiple divorce proceedings on my hands in addition to a stinking hangover.

“People are so fucking gross”, M observed. A fair enough point, the human capacity for filth can be quite mind-blowing. My bedroom for example has long been a comfortable home for old toenails, dunes of dirty washing and on one occasion a mouse (the latter of which I am blaming on the building’s dubious infrastructure, rather than neglected food crumbs.)

So personally, M’s revelation had limtied shock factor for me. We are indeed fucking gross. Why not embrace it. Everyone has a bit of – literal – dirt on themselves. Ask anyone who’s travelled – or better yet, resided in student halls.

Yet it turned out M’s announcement carried additional weight.

She proceeded to inform us that, while scrolling her Facebook newsfeed, a male colleague had posted Honeymoon photos of himself and his new wife, complete with heart-eyed emojis and a pictorial sequence of walking off into the sunset. Yes, I thought. That is a bit vomit inducing. But sometimes we all are in the throes of love. Yet M then wrapped the anecdote up with a to-the-point, “…we all know fine well he was bonking a girl at work.”

We all gasped, immediately offering various sounds of disgust.

What a creep.

Poor girl.

Do you think she knew?

Yet it occurred to me that while we were reacting with the expected sounds of horror, the story itself shouldn’t actually warrant it. Because stories like M’s are sadly all too common – something which was reinforced by the discussion that ensued.

Flatmate A, a dentist, had to go through the trauma of a tribunal after being forced to report her senior mentor for inappropriate behaviour at work, following weeks of his insatiable curiosity for details of A’s past sexual experiences, forced physical contact and flurries of unwanted texts.

Flatmate S, who used to work in the army, experienced the same horror of male colleagues applying their senior ranking like cologne, unaware of the stench of desperation it left.

When in Italy on an internship with the EU, it was suggested by a male attendee at a conference that I had only been granted my position on merit of my blonde hair and physical appearance (I can only assume he was a fan of rampant freckles). Of course this was delivered as a compliment. I was supposed to be grateful to this ape for insulting my intelligence, ability and, most jarringly, 5 years’ worth of study.

Of course these men were also all married, with families.

What is it, then, that makes this behaviour ‘acceptable’ in the workplace? In Robert Louis Stevenson’s original tale of human duality, it was only during out of work hours that Jekyll succumbed to his darker side, Hyde. Yet it seems that in 2016, this has almost been turned on its head. Men in fact use the workplace as a form of “escape” from the lives of domesticity that they perhaps feel society has pushed them into.

While I am by no means a cynical man hater, and am in a happy relationship with the love of my life (splatter), stories like these only serve to strengthen a certain inner distrust of a particular – and disconcertingly common – type of man. While I understand that women are just as capable as men of infidelity, the issue that grinds with me is the apparent (and indeed prehistoric) belief that women exist as commodities for men. That there’s one woman (‘wife’) to satisfy social expectations, and every other woman out there to serve as a receptacle for the seemingly boundless male ego.

The common ‘rationalisation’ for this is the “caveman” argument – how the idea that men must ‘spread their seed’ continues to stand when evolution has seen the extinction of tails, fur and quadrupedalism is in some ways beyond my comprehension, yet frustratingly it remains something that is all too often flapped away, dismissed as just another “male need”.

This behaviour endures because women accept. We laugh off this sleazy behaviour, or even humour it. We ignore the belittling, endure the inferior treatment, and fail to address flagrant inequality because, as Caitlin Moran points out in What Men Need to Know About Women: we’re scared of you. We’re scared of what you can do. We’re scared of how much faster you can run than us. Your larger physical frame. How helpless we feel. It is this fear which cultivates a culture of acceptance: a daily stroll down Sleazy Street.

It is only when we challenge this accepted ‘normality’ that we can ever hope to change the attitudes and the practices of those who deem us fair game. The louder we laugh, the further we go to cross the street and the more often we avert our eyes, the further ingrained the inequality in our culture becomes, and the more Jekyll exists alongside Hyde, rather than in spite of him.

One thought on “Sleazy Street

  1. Good to see you back in print, and as trenchant as ever! Perhaps ‘Men are from Mars: Women are from Venus’ perhaps offers a gentler look at the ‘differences’. Yes I have known some rat bags in my time but we are not all members of that genre. And the women who are prepared to encourage many of the rat bags …………….!

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