Monday 19 August 2019

Dr Ciara Kelly: 'I was working in a pub when men in their sixties openly discussed what they thought of my breasts'

Dr Ciara Kelly. Photo: David Conachy
Dr Ciara Kelly. Photo: David Conachy
Sometimes girls and women smile to hide how scared they feel

Ciara Kelly

A bit of video went viral last week. It showed a huge crowd of Irish soccer fans on a street in Copenhagen outside an Irish bar.

There were clearly too many to fit into the bar so there were literally hundreds of lads drinking pints outside, on what looked like a pedestrian shopping street. The reason it went viral was the bar was next to a Victoria's Secret lingerie shop and as one middle-aged women came out of there with her shopping bag, the lads all started cheering and whooping at her. She was waylaid by a couple as she tried to leave, and they were clearly asking her about what she'd bought. In a good-sport kind of a way she laughingly pulled a pair of knickers out of her bag and waved them above her head before hurrying off - to huge accompanying cheers.

No harm, no foul. I hear you say. And you may well be right. I heard anecdotally that the woman said afterwards she thought it was just a bit of fun. And maybe she did. But the truth is this, as women we've learnt to laugh off intimidating behaviour since we were kids in order to de-escalate things. So that woman may have thought hundreds of drunk men baying at her to show them her knickers was all good clean fun. But just as likely she just wanted to get a pass through that crowd and get away unscathed in the event they turned nasty.

Her laughing it off reminds me of when Hilarie Burton had her breasts groped by Ben Affleck live on MTV in 2003. She laughed it off on air at the time but recently tweeted: "I didn't forget. I was a kid. I had to laugh back then so I wouldn't cry."

I remember lots of my own 'laughing it off' incidents. They started early - where I was laughing but was actually scared and uncomfortable. At the age of 11 at a party one evening at friends of my parents and I was the only girl - all the boys 'flashing their willies' at me to see my reaction. At the age of 17 working in a pub in London while men in their sixties at the bar openly discussed what they thought of my breasts. How I laughed good naturedly on these occasions. I could go on (and on) but I'm not sure I need to.

The point is, I laughed knowing all the while it wasn't actually funny, but to not laugh could have possibly brought much worse down on me. It could have brought about worse aggression where these wags were now actually angry as opposed to just intimidating and then we wouldn't be pretending it was funny, then I'd actually be in trouble. So like all women since time began, I've de-escalated situations and colluded in the pretence that we were all just having fun when so clearly some of us weren't

I've never met Michael Colgan but from what I've read this was the kind of thing that went on in the Gate Theatre. Someone behaving in a manner that made those around him feel uncomfortable and demeaned - but because they were intimidated, because of the power differential, they chose to laugh it off so as to not make it worse. Laughing it off is something all women know how to do. And it's a tactic we use to get through situations we know instinctively could turn nasty for us.

Having seen the size of the crowd in the Copenhagen video I have no doubt the woman in question steeled herself before opening those doors and exiting that shop.

And I'd be very surprised if there weren't other women inside the shop who were dreading walking out of there. Equally I'd imagine other women who may have wanted to go in decided against entering that Victoria's Secret shop on that day for fear of drawing that crowd's attention on them.

The lads outside may not have meant any harm but a crowd that size - almost exclusively made up of men who were drinking - isn't something many women would feel comfortable about falling foul of.

You may not want to hear it but sometimes when we're laughing we don't actually think it's funny. Sometimes when we're laughing we're just hoping we are going to get out of a bad situation without making it worse. We know instinctively when we're in trouble.

How can you not know instinctively when you're intimidating us?


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