The most surprising thing about the Harvey Weinstein story this week is that anyone was surprised. Powerful man turns out to be a predatory sleazebag is nothing new: Trump’s locker room and the criminal records of most of my childhood celebrities is testament to that. Well it was the 70s, the 80s, the 90s, a Tuesday.
Like Claude Rains in Casablanca “I’m shocked, shocked to find that sexual harassment is going on in here”
He’s certainly not the only one.
Having spent my twenties working in the television industry, I have thankfully never encountered anything so horrific, but almost every woman finds it all too easy to believe.
Then there was the senior-executive who suggested on every occasion that I should sleep with him, but seemed to take my “I’m not that kind of girl and you’re old enough to be my father” in good humour. However I did make a mental note to always be in a crowd and check my exits. I’m not sure that even counts as a #metoo but it certainly didn’t feel like I was in a position to object.
There was the friend in her early twenties who was propositioned by a now deceased celebrity at a corporate drinks party and was so upset we had to take her back to her hotel. He stayed at the party.
I once made a complaint about a someone who had felt up the work experience girl at the Christmas Party. Here was someone who really really wanted a job, and had no power whatsoever in that situation. What was she going to do? Was she going to put up with it to not cause a fuss? Make a formal complaint before she’d even got her first job? Or decide that maybe the TV industry wasn’t for her after all. These are not choices that a girl starting out in her career should have to make. I hope she didn’t decide on the latter but who knows. I complained, got a sympathetic rolling of the eyes and I think the man in question got a severe ticking off. This was the same man who used to try and massage female colleagues shoulders at their desks. However, I can’t put my hand on my heart and say I would have complained so loudly if that person had been in a more senior position to me, or had been capable of threatening my career at the same time. I’d like to think so.
In Hollywood everybody knew. Just like Savile and all the other predators kicking around the entertainment industry, enough people knew, and enough people had heard things to make them uncomfortable. Other men wrote it off as him being ‘a player’ ‘a rogue’ ‘ a dog’. Even those who did know had nowhere to go, no one to tell.
The #metoo hashtag has seen thousands of women sharing their own experiences of sexual harassment and intimidation, some horrific and extreme, some ridiculously mundane but all too familiar.
The overwhelming feeling is that women are just so tired of it all. Of constantly being on their guard, or aware of consequences and I don’t think it’s something that men even notice.
I don’t know any men who carry their keys in their hands when they walk home.
I don’t know any men who are told that they got that big deal or job because the other person probably fancied them.
I don’t know any men who think about their outfit in terms of how it might affect the actions of others.
I don’t know any men who have been told to smile and then sworn at if they didn’t because ‘they were just being friendly’
I read something recently which seems melodramatic but struck a chord. They said “A man’s greatest fear is that a woman will laugh at him. A woman’s greatest fear is that a man will kill them”. Which might do something to explain why James Cordon misjudged those jokes so badly.
Women don’t complain because it is considered such normal behaviour by everyone concerned. Are we seriously STILL talking about why large number did rapes go unreported. Are we still talking about what women can do to stop themselves being victims, rather than talking about how men can behave like human beings. Women are used to being on their guard at best and in some cases terrified. And as the vast majority of men, especially those close to us, are decent and kind, it doesn’t even occur to them that it would be an issue for the women in their lives.
The point of men like men like Weinstein, and why they get away with it is not just fear of physical violence or abuse, but fear of much wider repercussions. That’s what abusing power means. What will happen to me if I say no? What will happen to me if I’m not polite? What can he do to me?
People’s counter argument is always someone who ‘slept their way to the top’ and used their own relationships to their personal advantage. But for goodness sake that only proves the issue not destroys it. The fact is men were at the top in the first place and decided that a woman agreeing to sex was a useful professional currency.
Despite what Sarah Vine might say (and no I’m not linking to her), this is not about misjudged passes after a night out and awkward silences. And as for the accusations that #MeToo is attention seeking – OF COURSE IT’S ATTENTION SEEKING, THAT’S THE WHOLE BLOODY POINT.
My youngest son has had Keeping Safe week this week, and for the last 4 years they have been taught the simple phrase – Stop It I Don’t Like It, to remind them to trust their instincts and that they have the final say in how people treat them.
Women have been saying Stop It, I Don’t Like It for centuries and nobody listened. For the main part, men have felt it has been up to them to make that decision, that women were somehow being unreasonable or irrational or spoilsports if they disagreed. Lots of people don’t care and many just stick their fingers in their ears. Some people point at a different woman and said ‘well she’s fine, so you must be too’ Hell, some women say the same.
Not all women are helpless victims. Not all men are sleazy would be predators, not all men abuse their position or get their kicks through intimidation. That doesn’t mean that the problem isn’t there or any less traumatic for those who live it.
Like all things, it seems it’s the women’s problem to solve. Apparently boys will be boys and it’s up to women to develop some strategies to toughen up. Enough now.
Those who line up to blame A list women for not coming forward, never notice that the women who did come forward never made it to the A list. Either they told and never worked again, or were so traumatised by the experience they didn’t want to. And who were they going to tell? Even men’s careers were ruined as a result. There are heartwarming tales of Emma Thomson and Carrie Fisher standing up for more vulnerable friends because they were powerful enough to do it.
And that’s the answer. It is startling how quickly things crumbled. Like the Emperor’s New Clothes (if you can avoid the bath towel images), once people started speaking out the noise became deafening. Like Samuel L Jackson in Pulp Fiction (oh the irony) at last women seem to be prepared to strike down with furious anger on their own behalf, and on behalf of others.
Social Media has a massive part to play, as stories can be told without the need for journalists and press barons who are also keen to be on the guest list. Movements such as @everydaysexism and the like call it out for what it is.
The more powerful people there are to shout about it the better. The more women there are in positions of power, the more leadership is separated from intimidation, and the more men who are willing to confront the locker room talk, the quicker we can all get on with our lives and our jobs.
Weinstein isnt the only one, but hopefully marks a turning point for how willing people are to shout a bit louder – not because we’re all helpless, but because we’re all so bloody bored.