‘There are Har­veys in ev­ery walk of life’

Irish Independent - - World News - Martina Devlin,

LET’S talk about the Har­veys, sex­ual preda­tors who can be found in ev­ery in­dus­try – bul­ly­ing, ca­jol­ing, ex­ploit­ing. It’s tol­er­ated be­cause such men are pow­er­ful and suc­cess­ful, and be­cause the peo­ple who see it hap­pen­ing think it’s a trade­off. The women in­volved ben­e­fit from the trans­ac­tion, on­look­ers con­vince them­selves.

Har­vey We­in­stein’s be­hav­iour is not un­usual. Ev­ery line of busi­ness has its Har­veys: me­dia, pol­i­tics, law, bank­ing, academia. You name it. They prey on young em­ploy­ees over whom they have con­trol: hir­ing and fir­ing pow­ers, the abil­ity to of­fer – or with­hold – pro­mo­tion.

The cast­ing couch casts a long shadow. Ac­tors hop­ing for a shot at star­dom aren’t the only ones vul­ner­a­ble to sex­ual co­er­cion. It’s an un­wel­come work­place el­e­ment which women have al­ways been obliged to deal with, but it’s help­ful that We­in­stein’s ex­posé has broad­ened the con­ver­sa­tion.

Is there a wo­man read­ing this ar­ti­cle who hasn’t had a Har­vey ex­pe­ri­ence at least once in her life? I’d be sur­prised. In­ap­pro­pri­ate sex­ual ad­vances from a boss or some­one in a po­si­tion to help your ca­reer are al­most a rite of pas­sage. Those moves are pack­aged in a not-so-sub­tle com­bi­na­tion: ‘you treat me nice and I’ll treat you nice’ jux­ta­posed against ‘say no and I’ll see you get your come­up­pance’.

Women are pres­surised into meet­ing a se­nior col­league or man­ager out­side the work­place for drinks or a meal, imag­in­ing it’s busi­ness or a net­work­ing op­por­tu­nity. Dis­mayed, they come to re­alise he re­gards it dif­fer­ently. Al­ready, sim­ply by be­ing there, they feel naïve, com­pro­mised, cul­pa­ble.

Sex­ual ha­rass­ment of ju­nior em­ploy­ees has never been re­stricted to Hol­ly­wood. A world­wide phe­nom­e­non, it seeps into ev­ery in­dus­try. Har­veys thrive ev­ery­where some­one can abuse power with­out the risk of blow­back. That’s the key. Abusers act with im­punity.

It hap­pened to me at univer­sity as a teenager, when one of my lec­tur­ers tried to date me in the first term. He sug­gested we meet on a Satur­day af­ter­noon off cam­pus and I agreed, be­liev­ing I was some­how obliged to go. He took me for a drive, pho­tographed and flat­tered me. When he tried to kiss me, I re­alised I was out of my depth and said I had to be else­where. I turned down sub­se­quent in­vi­ta­tions, hid in stair­wells if I spot­ted him ap­proach­ing. But I was fright­ened by the sit­u­a­tion and felt I had put my­self in the wrong. So I said noth­ing. No doubt, he moved on to an­other first-year stu­dent.

It hap­pened again as a 20-year-old do­ing hol­i­day work in an of­fice, when the owner of the com­pany in­vited me to a party and urged me to “take very good care” of his brother who liked me, ap­par­ently. I’d have a great fu­ture with the busi­ness, he said.

It hap­pened in Lon­don when I was a young jour­nal­ist, of­fered a job by a na­tional news­pa­per edi­tor if I’d go to a ho­tel room with him. All of the young fe­male re­porters took at­tempts to grope or propo­si­tion us for granted – we dis­liked it, but were at a loss re­gard­ing how to com­plain with­out tor­pe­do­ing our ca­reers.

It stopped when I was in my late twen­ties – not be­cause I was more adept at fend­ing off un­wanted ad­vances, as I imag­ined at the time, but be­cause I was by now too old. Also, I had started be­com­ing es­tab­lished.

Preda­tory men zoom in on young, in­ex­pe­ri­enced women; on peo­ple at the start of their ca­reers, anx­ious about their abil­ity to stay on the lad­der, let alone progress to the next rung.

Har­veys do it re­peat­edly be­cause they get away with it. Other bosses in their sphere col­lude just by say­ing it’s not their busi­ness, some­times pre­sum­ing it’s a bar­gain the wo­man is will­ing to ne­go­ti­ate. A win-win sit­u­a­tion for two ‘con­sent­ing’ adults as op­posed to be­ing a case of power dy­nam­ics, where young staff mem­bers are placed in sit­u­a­tions they strug­gle to han­dle.

This still-preva­lent idea that when a wo­man says ‘No’ she means ‘Yes’ is an­other fac­tor.

Im­plied con­sent is foisted on the wo­man by be­ing with the man out­side the work­place – whether in We­in­stein’s ho­tel room (of­ten he tricked his tar­gets into go­ing there), or by me climb­ing into that lec­turer’s car as a teenager. The lo­ca­tion is used by the ag­gres­sor to make the wo­man some­how com­plicit.

And while We­in­stein may be dis­graced, there are plenty more Har­veys where he sprang from – men for whom nor­mal stan­dards of de­cency have been sus­pended be­cause they are at the top of some heap or other. Some may be quak­ing now, but oth­ers must be trust­ing to the sense of out­rage fad­ing and the sta­tus quo re­sum­ing.

AF­TER all, al­ready some of We­in­stein’s vic­tims are be­ing held cul­pa­ble. Ques­tions are sur­fac­ing about why they didn’t blow the whis­tle on him. As though it was sim­ply a case of mak­ing a com­plaint and the prob­lem would van­ish. Young women stay silent be­cause they ex­pect reper­cus­sions against them and not against the boss abuser. Con­sider We­in­stein’s board – its mem­bers knew set­tle­ments had been made, but only sacked him when com­mer­cial pres­sures set up a clam­our.

As for the women who took a pay-off – why are they deemed par­tially blame­wor­thy in some quar­ters? They were placed in a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion. Per­haps they feared judg­ment if they told their sto­ries. Be­sides, they were re­quired to sign gag­ging agree­ments in re­turn for a set­tle­ment.

Preda­tory men zoom in on young, in­ex­pe­ri­enced women at the start of their ca­reers, anx­ious about their abil­ity to stay on the lad­der

What’s needed is to foster a cul­ture of ac­count­abil­ity – that’s the best de­ter­rent against sex­ual ha­rass­ment in the work­place. En­gag­ing in a more open pub­lic con­ver­sa­tion is part and par­cel of cre­at­ing that en­vi­ron­ment.

Women are in­creas­ingly will­ing to speak out, thanks to fac­tors in­clud­ing con­fi­dence and cul­ture. In gen­eral, how­ever, a pat­tern of dis­hon­esty sur­rounds our at­ti­tudes to sex­ual ma­nip­u­la­tion.

The temp­ta­tion to sug­gest Har­vey­ism is symp­to­matic mainly of Hol­ly­wood be­hav­iour feeds into such dou­ble-deal­ing. (Oh well, Tin­sel Town op­er­ates by a dif­fer­ent set of rules – who’s sur­prised when young ac­tors are treated as if they be­long to a harem?)

That lets all the other Har­veys off the hook. Sex­ual mis­con­duct is not a Hol­ly­wood prob­lem, not is it a wo­man’s prob­lem. It’s a prob­lem for so­ci­ety.

Tacit ac­cep­tance of such grubby con­duct cleared the way for Don­ald Trump to be­come the world’s most pow­er­ful man.

Re­mem­ber that record­ing? “And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do any­thing… Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do any­thing,” boasted Trump. He was elected pres­i­dent shortly af­ter the record­ing was made pub­lic.

Re­gret­tably, Har­vey We­in­stein’s be­hav­iour is not un­usual.

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