The We­in­stein storm: A woman is some­one — pe­riod

We­in­stein rev­e­la­tions spur wrong kind of sup­port from men, Al­heli Picazo writes.

Ottawa Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - Al­heli Picazo is a Calgary writer.

In the wake of al­le­ga­tions swirling around Har­vey We­in­stein, a pow­er­ful, dom­i­nant fig­ure in Hol­ly­wood, where the emerg­ing pic­ture sug­gests decades of sex­ual pre­da­tion, many women are find­ing their voice in this rare win­dow for can­did di­a­logue and raw con­fes­sion.

The re­sponse from some of Hol­ly­wood’s lead­ing men, how­ever, has been a stan­dard re­frain, one that helps main­tain the power dy­namic which al­lows abuse to hap­pen. When Matt Da­mon claims “as the fa­ther of four daugh­ters,” We­in­stein’s al­leged be­hav­iour is the sort of thing “that keeps me up at night,” he of­fers no hint of un­der­stand­ing the root of the prob­lem.

On Wed­nes­day, writ­ing in The New Yorker, Jia To­lentino ex­plained how “one of the cru­ellest things about these acts is the way that they en­tan­gle, and at­tempt to con­tam­i­nate, all of the best things about you … a pow­er­ful man sees you, a woman who is young and who thinks she might be tal­ented, a per­son who con­ve­niently ex­ists in a fe­male body, and he un­der­stands that he can tie your po­ten­tial to your fe­male body, and threaten the lat­ter, and you will never be quite as sure of the for­mer again.”

This is a fa­mil­iar, abu­sive dy­namic which ex­ists far be­yond Hol­ly­wood and touches every industry — though the men­ac­ing be­hav­iour may not al­ways be sex­ual in na­ture.

No mat­ter the method, abus­ing one’s power at the most per­sonal level is about erod­ing the agency of women, ul­ti­mately as­sum­ing con­trol and en­forc­ing com­pli­ance by way of threats, co­er­cion and hu­mil­i­a­tion.

When a woman’s tal­ent re­sides in her phys­i­cal abil­i­ties — the abuse some fe­male ath­letes ex­pe­ri­ence oc­curs on mul­ti­ple, con­cur­rent lev­els — that fall­out, as noted above by To­lentino, is com­pounded. When a woman’s value and po­ten­tial de­pends on a body that per­forms above all else, the re­lent­less pur­suit of a more per­fect — stronger, faster, leaner — physique inside a sport re­sults in a body that doesn’t fit neatly out­side of it, and the degra­da­tion met from ei­ther side of that di­vide ul­ti­mately ends in doubt­ing and hat­ing every as­pect of one­self.

Any­one who un­der­stands the type and ex­tent of dam­age done by deeply per­sonal mis­treat­ment will find the now-stan­dard re­frain when abuses comes to light — she’s some­one’s sis­ter/ mother/daugh­ter/wife — com­pletely hol­low.

It’s a line that re­in­forces the no­tion of a woman’s in­her­ent worth be­ing de­pen­dent on an­other’s eval­u­a­tion: In this case, her im­por­tance cen­tres around her di­rect re­la­tion to an­other. She can be more read­ily hu­man­ized and re­lated to here be­cause she fits squarely into some fe­male box and af­forded a ba­sic value.

When Ben Af­fleck, in re­sponse to the al­le­ga­tions against We­in­stein, (hyp­o­crit­i­cally) says he is “sad­dened and an­gry that a man who I worked with used his po­si­tion of power to in­tim­i­date, sex­u­ally ha­rass and ma­nip­u­late many women over decades … we need to do bet­ter at pro­tect­ing our sis­ters, friends, co-work­ers and daugh­ters,” he is sug­gest­ing women are sim­ply in ur­gent need of de­fend­ing.

His re­sponse main­tains the hi­er­ar­chy and im­bal­ance of power that fu­els abuse, one where men reign supreme and women are al­ways re­garded as the lesser, weaker be­ings: easy prey.

The “she is some­one’s” fram­ing fails to rec­og­nize women as wor­thy of dig­nity and re­spect in their own right. Each woman is some­thing apart from her body. She is some­one — pe­riod.

Women are doc­tors, lawyers, teach­ers and men­tors. We are ath­letes and builders, aca­demics and schol­ars. Yes, women are daugh­ters and moth­ers and sis­ters; we are friends and part­ners, too. But we are fierce, ca­pa­ble in­di­vid­u­als in­de­pen­dent of any given fa­mil­ial, pro­fes­sional or in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ship.

Daugh­ters don’t need a fu­ture of white-knight de­fend­ing, they need an en­vi­ron­ment where their ideas, abil­i­ties and po­ten­tial are al­lowed to stand or fall on their own mer­its. That re­quires ef­fort from men in teach­ing their sons to do and be bet­ter than they were, while chal­leng­ing fel­low men, and toxic cul­tures, to change.

Rather than seek­ing ways to hu­man­ize women, men should ask why that ef­fort is nec­es­sary at all, then de­ter­mine their role in cor­rect­ing that. This isn’t so much about your moth­ers, wives, sis­ters as it is about sons, broth­ers and fa­thers.

This is a fa­mil­iar, abu­sive dy­namic which ex­ists far be­yond Hol­ly­wood …

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