Harvey and the Horror of Harassment
It’s been a bit of a grimy, slimy week of news although better late than never – Harvey Weinstein’s predatory antics are finally out in the open. Going back decades it seems, he has used his position and power in Hollywood to degrade, humiliate and abuse women. Some women felt able to confront him and were paid off on the condition that they kept quiet about his inappropriate behaviour, others saw their careers drop off for their refusal to give in to his demands. The greatest number will simply have been quietly traumatised by what he did to their bodies and minds.
Of course this is nothing new and it is well known that patriarchy rules in Hollywood, run as it is by straight, white men – all of whom colluded in the silence that protected a sexual predator in their midst. Likely many more entertainment executives are sleeping less easily in their beds tonight along with many other men in many other industries. Gender always feels like the last taboo which is bizarre considering women make up half the population. Yet drawing attention to this form of inequality always draws an eye roll, a denial in a way that would never be acceptable were it race or disability being referred to.
I have often thought that this is because the patriarchy is so ingrained in our collective consciousness, that unless you are on the receiving end of this behaviour i.e. female, it can be hard to see. I certainly never thought about feminism until I was about thirty years of age. I was encouraged to succeed by my father, and given a thoroughly decent education in my all girls boarding school. It never occurred to me that I would do any less than a man. It took a long time to see that the way I had interpreted success was almost entirely male – I valued work, discipline, achievement, strength of character and the public sphere. I literally balked at domestic life and ‘mumsy’ women which I now realise is called ‘internalised misogyny'.
It took until I was about thirty before I could really reflect on the subtleties of the patriarchy. The sexualised male gaze was recognisable from when I was about nine years old – on buses and in the street, friends’ fathers and brothers, male teachers. There was the man I babysat for who would stroke my palm whilst giving me the £5 note at the end of the evening, the chef in my first waitressing job who put his hand up my skirt and between my legs, and on it went. A certain knowing glance would make me squirm with shame, an inappropriate comment leave me blushing and looking for female protection. I learned that sunglasses and headphones gave me a certain distance when I was out and about. And yet, it was always us girls getting the lectures – how to dress to avoid danger, sticking together, getting home at a reasonable time…I always wondered what it would be like to travel around the world like a man, feeling like you could have a reasonable expectation that you were safe, that you could take up space and had a right to be there.
Weirdly, the worst harassment is never when I am dressed up and looking good. It is when I am tired, and in gym gear, no make up – which leaves me thinking it is never really about sex but more to do with power. When I made that connection I learned how to take my power back. I will never forget the look on the man’s face when I first turned around and replied, ‘fuck off, you cunt.’ He looked terrified. Power seems to be at the heart of Harvey Weinstein’s behaviour; it excited him to wield that power over women, to see their fear and shame.
Of course, the other side to this is that as women we understand that power and in the face of rampant, structural inequality we can learn to use it to our own advantage. I hold up my hand here. For sure. I often talk to girlfriends about this. Are we bad feminists if we use our charm to fight our corner? Is it any less acceptable than acting like a man to get by? Personally, I am all for using everything you have. The dice is loaded the other way so go for it. As for Harvey W, I hope to see justice served and not for a Hollywood-style-sex-addict,-redemption-drama-cop-out. As Emma Thompson has said so eloquently, ‘Harvey Weinstein’s no sex addict. He is a predator.’
Article by Kirsten Baker
Blog: Rose in Motion