You have a new connection on LinkedIn. Joe Bloggs has requested to follow you. "Can you follow back so I can message you?” These are not unusual notifications for a journalist, we get them every day.
It is our bread and butter, making new connections and meeting people for a “chat.” Often, a casual coffee with a contact can turn into that week’s splash and any editor will tell you that “you don’t bring in stories by sitting at your desk.”
Working as the social affairs correspondent for the JC, you can imagine I encounter all kinds of contacts.
I meet rabbis, female and male, some who’ll shake my hand and some so religious that they won’t. I meet MPs, and charity bosses — people who in another world, in another job, I’d probably never talk to.
One of the great privileges of journalism is having the unique opportunity to get to know people from the breadth and depth of society.
But for some of us journalists, those who are women, alongside this bread and butter activity lies a dark reality.
It is one our male peers don’t know exists — unless we tell them about it.
It is a world in which your inbox always has a man manipulating the fact that he is a “potential contact,” when in reality he is abusing his position to ask you out.
He doesn’t know or care if you are in a relationship, or single, or that your social media is a place you have to be in, day in, day out — a virtual office — not a Wetherspoons with Bacardi soaked carpets.
He will try to trick you into meeting for coffee, not near the office at 2pm, but “after work” because “that works better for him” or “on the weekend maybe?”
And instantly you’re trapped. Cornered into worrying about how to get out of it, you feel sick, you worry you did something to encourage him?
You panic about how to reply, you worry about being rude, you anticipate that if you call it out for what it is that he’ll make you out to be crazy.
We don’t complain about it often, especially not in public because we know what you’ll all say.
“Who does she think she is? Ugly b****. She is not even that pretty.”
We know, because we’ve grown up hearing it and have come to understand that unwanted attention is somehow our fault.
It is something we have had to learn to negotiate in order to keep us safe from as early as when we start walking to school alone.
Why don’t all men learn that it is their resposibility not to abuse their position, or use the cloak of faux professionalism as armour?
“I’d think we should meet for coffee,” was just one of the messages I received recently, “I think I can be useful to you,” he said.
“Sorry, but in what way?,” I replied.
With no connection to what I write about, it was already incredibly telling that out of all my colleagues — a news desk full of men — he should pick the only woman as the one he has to meet.
It was no surprise that after my polite suggestion that someone else might be more suitable, he ignored this and called my office line out of the blue.
Insisting that I should meet him for lunch anyway and he’d “pay of course,” as if it were his divine right to spend time with me, all because he’s willing to foot a £20 bill at Café Rouge.
There is something about a woman’s innate or evolutionary (I’m not sure) instinct that allows us to distinguish the real from the fake.
There is a twinge in our stomach that says “not again.”
I’m fed up with trying to be professional. I’m bored with worrying about letting someone down gently, so as not to land a full time stalker.
And I don’t even care about “looking like one of those crazy women who overreact online,” because if it was his daughter, wife, girlfriend or sister, he’d be the first to go crazy too.