In the last few days, how many times have we heard a famous man say “It’s important that I speak out against the sexual harassment by Harvey Weinstein because I have a daughter, a sister, a mother, or a wife”? A movie executive has been repeatedly accused of sexual harassment by women over 30-odd years and men are shocked because they are related to women and girls.
Women and girls matter, apparently, because we have connections to men, not because we are our own people.
But Weinstein, and the majority of other sexual harassers who exploit their position, are men. Perhaps, instead, we need to hear “It’s important that I speak out against the sexual harassment by Harvey Weinstein because I have a son, a brother, a father, or a husband.” The subtext? And I don’t want them to be abusive or exploitative.
What if their father is accused of sexual harassment by dozens of women? Or their brother is disciplined for groping a female colleague or their son has been excluded from school for inappropriate behaviour?
Because, much as these men have stated that they want to equip women and girls to stand up for ourselves, what they are doing is papering over a crack. The conversations men need to be having to make rape culture disappear – and this includes sexual harassment, sexual violence and more – have to be had with your brothers, your dads, your husbands and your sons.
It is men who are committing these crimes, and telling girls to stay strong will do nothing to stop the tide of assaults and trauma that women and girls are being forced to endure. Of course we will support the victims. Women do this daily. Men? They need to challenge the perpetrators.
Does your uncle leer over your teenage niece? Does your brother make rape jokes when female friends are out of earshot? Does your dad treat his female employees like they are there for his entertainment?
This is where you come in: have a word. Speak to them. Challenge them. Change their minds. Defend what is right.
Is this an addiction?
Harvey Weinstein has apparently been admitted to a clinic for his ‘sex addiction’, as if that bears any relation to what he has been accused of doing throughout recent decades. The thing is, his behaviour can not be reduced to an addiction because it is predatory and abusive. It is not related to his sex drive or any related compulsions. It is all about power.
Weinstein chose his victims carefully; we know predators do this. Perhaps they were vulnerable, perhaps they were desperate for his approval, perhaps they needed his support to launch their career. Whatever the reasoning, he was able to commit acts of abuse, harassment and predation because those around him – the men around him – allowed him to do so. Sure, there were women around him too, but they held far less power in the relationship.
If he was going to listen to sense from anybody, it would have been a man.
Weinstein is reported to have groped, demanded massages and masturbated in front of women in his industry, promising them the world if they complied or threatening their careers if they resisted. Whether he had a female PA who suspected he was abusive or an array of female colleagues who knew to avoid being on their own with him, he was at the top of the pile, power-wise. Women could do little without risking their own personal safety – in fact, the more they knew or suspected about his behaviour, the more in danger they probably felt.
When 30-plus women have come forward, we can only begin to imagine what the total victim count actually is. This is not a man addicted to ‘sex’, which should be a consensual and enjoyable act. He got off on hurting women, scaring them, harming them and damaging them.
This is a man who has not been kept in check by anybody around him, who has been free to exploit and abuse at will. He has paid off former accusers and the media is now overwhelmed by the number of victims he has left behind him in a trail of harassment and abuse.
Will his claims of addiction make him more sympathetic in the eyes of the general public? Possibly, but I think most will see through the lies.
If the man can present himself as a victim of compulsions beyond his control, and if he can seek and complete a course of treatment, will that exempt him from criminal charges, or devastating hits to his profile and future business prospects? I suspect he thinks so, though I hope we hold him to account more effectively than that.
The media may have a short memory but women remember. We have to.