I’m a man writing about sexual assaults and harassment, that sort of thing. The usual way this happens is male on female. So, with that in mind, I will understand if you tell me to fuck off.
The Harvey Weinstein allegations did not surprise me. Here is a powerful man in Hollywood. I am sorry to say, given what tiny bit I know about showbusiness, that I’d assumed that the vast majority of women in Hollywood and a sizeable proportion of the men, have had to ‘be nice’ to someone in power to get what their talent deserves. Hell, it’s hiding in plain sight if you read any halfway honest autobiography. Sixty-five years ago Marilyn Monroe was clear that she needed to offer sexual favours just to get a photographer to take nice pictures of her.
That there’s an entitled culture that goes beyond this is also not in doubt. I was duped by the first interview I read with Roman Polanski. It was in Empire and it made him out to be a perpetual victim, linking the murder of Sharon Tate with his trial for, if memory serves me right, ‘sex with a girl he didn’t know was underage’. The wording may be wrong but the implication was not. Repulsion is an amazing film. I haven’t watched it or any Polanski since reading the truth of what happened and his response to it.
And that’s a bugger because I’ve had to do the same with Woody Allen. I held out for longer there. I was still mentally dividing the Woody of the films that I saw and inspired me when I was a teenager and whose collected works is eye-wateringly funny from the Woody against whom the allegations could no longer be denied. Then I read Mariel Hemingway’s words. I should have believed other people before then. Another one to avoid. Another name to note who is still working with him. The ones who are maybe so used to this pervasive culture that they literally can’t see who has actually crossed a line.
A few days ago I was at work and a colleague exchanged anecdotes about a famous person in the entertainment world we’d both come across. This person wasn’t interested in young women but, rather, slightly younger boys who they obtain through the influence they can wield over these boys’ careers. Everyone who works with them must know this. And yet they still work. People may wince but all they do is comment and look away. As, for my sanity, I am doing now.
If all this was confined to casting couches in the entertainment world then maybe a few boycotts would change things. If enough of us didn’t watch Harvey Weinstein produced films until it was safe to do so – like how you can now, under controlled conditions watch D W Griffiths – then we might shake a few things up. But let’s not pretend this is remotely a Hollywood thing and a Hollywood thing alone.
As I write this, there are a lot of women sharing their experiences of sexual assault. I wasn’t shocked to be told the casting couch is real. I can’t say the same about the level of sexual abuse that is happening all the time. I mean, I knew it was there. I just didn’t realise it was everywhere. As of now there does not seem to be a single woman I know (who has offered a view) who hasn’t had some experience of molestation or worse.
And this is not happening behind closed doors or where young girls have to please old men so they can get a job. This is on a train. This is in a shop. This is with men they know and men they don’t. At work. In a park. Men who seem like nice guys and men who seem like creeps. At the gym. At a concert. Men who are by themselves and men who are in groups. In daylight. After dark.
I have had to cross the road to avoid people who look worrying to me. I’ve had to dart into a shop because the guy who was walking behind me caused me too much anxiety. I’ve gone a different way home because when I walked in someone creeped me out. I’ve never had any of the above. There are some men joining in #metoo, and quite right too, but it’s not even close to being pervasive. And we haven’t even got close to the catcalls, the shouts from passing cars and all that. It’s making me tired just writing a list and I don’t even have to live this.
I’m not about shutting things down in some illiberal purge. For all that it’s a horrible, horrible song, I’m not suggesting that anyone should ban Blurred Lines but maybe let’s think about a world where the women aren’t divided into nuns and whores. Or in the fuck-off-bantz view: women who say yes, and women who say no but really mean yes. Let’s start to think about why men need to sing about their confusion as to whether they can force themselves on this girl … and why women just roll their eyes and dance along to it.
There is a tendency, one which I sometimes fall into, of politely pointing out (I think it’s called ‘mansplaining’) that women are not always victims. It’s a response to the ‘white male tears’ drunk by upper-middle class writers who get angry when asked to check their own privilege. There are debates to be had there certainly. Men die younger, commit suicide more, deny themselves mental and physical good health, are falling behind in education, and clog up our prisons at an alarming rate. Men who are genuinely the victims of physical and mental abuse from women get the square root of fuck all support. A little more understanding from all people to other people’s problems would go a long way in these divisive times. But, I firmly believe, that having a world where women are safer because the threat of sexual assault has gone is actually one which would benefit, rather than neuter (as some seem to believe), men.
A lot of words but no answers. Except maybe this. Think of it as a voluntary code. No one is forcing you to behave like a decent human being, you can carry on thinking your masculinity depends on how hard you can imagine pounding a woman you don’t know if you like. Just those of us who’ve thought it about have decided that you’re a fucking arsehole. And we’re a bit bored now. Absolutely fucking fed up of hearing about how women we know and love, as well as women we don’t know from Eve, have had to put up with your shit every single day since they first dared to walk down a street. So, if we’ve signed up to this code, we’re going to call you out on it. Not because we’re white knights or virtue signallers but because you’re making this one life we all get to live that bit grubbier and it doesn’t need to be this way. And how we’ll do it will be different depending on who you are, where you are or what you’re doing. It starts with calling you a prick if that’s what you’re being and ends with a signed statement to the police. Maybe a swift punt in the nuts when no one’s looking, we’ll see.
Or at least that’s my personal manifesto. I’m just one voice on the internet writing on a blog that no one reads. But it’s my pledge: I don’t have the answers, I can’t make a difference alone, but I promise to myself and to the world at large that I will do my level best to no longer be passive and to do the right thing.
And I think if we all signed up to do this then our world would be a whole lot better. Rather like how if you educate girls suddenly you find society improves in other ways. Take the threat of sexual violence out of the air and maybe you slowly remove the other kinds of violence too. Remove the violence and people can be freer, more able to go where they like and do what they like. It’s an actual liberal utopia.
And if you believe our world needs a bit of testosterone fuelled snarling then maybe go and have a quick wank and calm down before going outside or logging onto the internet. It’ll make things better for everyone.