I am not available for sex. Unbelievably these are words I had to write on my LinkedIn profile this week.
Like many freelancers I am used to being out of work for periods, so when lockdown came I thought “I’ve got this”. Working in PR and events my industry was totally shut down due to Covid - and is only just starting to show shoots of recovery now. I expected this. What I did not expect was to be sat in floods of tears after a potential work message left me feeling shaken and violated, with two tear-dampened basset hounds refusing to leave my side.
The cause was a WhatsApp message I received, asking if I was still looking for work. As most of my jobs start this way I felt hopeful. Maybe at last things were returning to normal?
I excitedly told my boyfriend and happily trotted out of the door for my morning waddle feeling like we might be OK after all. As someone whose mental health has, like so many, been battered by lockdown this message suddenly made me feel better; lighter on my feet, the water looked clearer, the skies more blue and even the dogs less pudgy.
When I returned to the desk, I continued our correspondence.
“Morning Emma, are you still looking for work?” it began.
“Morning, I sure am,” I replied. “Would love to know more, apologies for the late reply, early morning hound walk!”
“That’s ok, what are you looking for tho?”
Should alarm bells have rung then? I replied that I was open to anything and had lots of transferable skills…
“Where do you live?”
Fair enough, I suppose.
“Ok, how would you feel if I paid you for some company and some time of yours?”
Sorry, what? It soon became clear that these messages were from an unknown man looking for sex. He had used the phone number from my CV, which I have emailed out to various potential employers, to solicit me via WhatsApp.
I can’t believe I no longer feel safe to have my phone number on my CV - started off today thinking an old client had got in touch and now I am so dull of rage and job hunting dispair, not even gone 9 😭 pic.twitter.com/e1pqB8KQxJ— CAKEDEAD (@Miss_Cakehead) August 5, 2020
Anyone reading my CV will see I am a creative producer/project manager who has won numerous awards. There is no suggestion anywhere that I am interested in anything other than work in those fields. There’s no doubt in my mind that the only reason he thought he could do this is because I am vulnerable - like so many women right now, whether freelance and struggling or having lost their jobs.
Trying to coerce me into doing something I clearly don’t advertise is like booking a builder to bake you a cake. As one of the #forgotten5percent who is a sole director of a limited company he’s right, too. I am vulnerable. I have had no Government help during lockdown, as the career I have spent years building up plummeted off a cliff face. Applying for jobs in supermarkets and numerous admin roles have led nowhere, as I am considered “too experienced”.
The anti-bac stockpilers who tried to profiteer from this crisis at the start have drifted away, but now we are faced with another type of opportunist - one who sees the chance to harass women when many of us are at our lowest ebb.
As the shock has worn off, and the dogs dried off, I have become beyond furious that anyone should try to take advantage of the dire employment situation right now in such a way. The thought of men like this preying on women much younger than me, and perhaps only just starting out in the workplace, makes me feel sick and scared for them. It breaks my heart that some women may have taken up these offers having literally no choice, and scares me that naive ones could be putting themselves in danger.
The many messages I received since I have shared my story on social media have left me in absolutely no doubt that my experience is the tip of the iceberg. As a confident - some may say bossy - producer, I thought I would be able to shake this off. Instead I have been freaked out and feel utterly degraded. I have no issue with women who choose to make their living as sex workers, but it’s not something I would choose to do.
It took me right back to the case of barrister Charlotte Proudman who, in 2015, accused a lawyer of using LinkedIn “like Tinder” after he commented on her profile picture, calling her “stunning”. Has so little changed for working women since then? Even post MeToo?
All this at a time when we are being to leave our name and number at pubs and restaurants for test and trace - being asked to trust total strangers with our personal details. That has already proved upsetting for some women, with bartenders and waiters using their data - against the law - to initiate contact and make unwanted advances.
I have never experienced such predatory behaviour before. I can only assume social changes caused by lockdown have given some men such a feeling of power. It’s not hard to see why - women have been disproportionately impacted by lockdown, with studies showing that we have taken on the majority of the domestic chores, home-schooling and caring duties. We are more likely to have been furloughed or lost our jobs. The industries worst hit - social care, hospitality, retail - are those overwhelmingly staffed by women. It’s a gender gap that threatens to send us back to the Fifties, and one the Telegraph’s Equality Check campaign is shining a light on.
Because so many women, like me, are seeking work we have no choice but to continue to open ourselves up to potential predatory behaviour. Taking my number off my CV is not an option - however much I might want to - as companies simply would wonder what was wrong.
I now have to continue my daily job-hunting routine with a feeling of utter dread every time I send out my CV in case it lands in the inbox of a predator. The whole point of ensuring my achievements and skills are seen by as many people as possible seems like a dangerous and silly thing to do now.
I am incensed and outraged that anyone should try to take advantage of the dire job situation in such a way, and even more angry with myself that even with years of experience I allowed myself to feel freaked out and humiliated by this man. I have no way of finding out who he is - short of asking a friend to call the number and somehow find out - otherwise I would report him.
I have no doubts that, pre-lockdown, I would have shrugged this off and thought of a name for a fetish that involved watching someone shout at Excel all day. I would have never have allowed him to have that power over me.
So today I carry on, sharing my phone number with numerous recruiters and potential employers, who of course never reply. Job hunting is exhausting and I realise I am not alone in finding this. However in 2020 it turns out to also be dangerous and degrading for me. Being a woman is hard sometimes.