Power and ha­rass­ment can be traced right back to be­hav­iour in childhood

The cur­rent wave of sex scan­dals has its roots in the way men and women see each other, writes Donal Lynch

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - VIEWPOINTS -

IT was late Thurs­day night when a friend texted to say that Louis CK was the lat­est man caught in a sex scan­dal. “He was gen­uinely funny. Soon there won’t be any­thing left on Net­flix,” she grum­bled, and it was hard to dis­agree, but, to be fair, the scan­dals have been at least as riv­et­ing as any­thing in the cin­ema at the mo­ment. Any­way who needs Hol­ly­wood when we’ve had our home­grown or­gies of out­rage to keep us go­ing dur­ing any lull in in­ter­na­tional pro­ceed­ings.

There is an ex­hil­a­rat­ing feel­ing of cathar­sis about it all; that this was com­ing for a while, that many of the fig­ures in­volved had their come­up­pance long over­due.

Each new story seemed to rep­re­sent a toady class of wind­bag brought low by so­cial me­dia rene­gades. It was hard not to be squea­mish about some of it — on Twit­ter the de­bate is shaped with all the calm re­spect of a pub­lic ston­ing — but it’s been de­scribed as a rev­o­lu­tion and all rev­o­lu­tions be­gin in ex­ag­ger­a­tion.

We have seen rape, sex­ual as­sault, bul­ly­ing and mere so­cial un­pleas­ant­ness all lumped to­gether in the same pile. There is both shock at the per­va­sive­ness of the prob­lem and deep de­nial that there could be any­thing psy­cho­log­i­cally wrong with the celebri­ties in­volved be­yond be­ing randy per­verts or bul­lies. And in the news and opin­ion pages we have seen a newly vis­i­ble type of so­ci­ety de­scribed, one made up of per­pe­tra­tors (men) and vic­tims (mostly women).

It’s still pos­si­ble per­haps, that this sick­ness runs to all lev­els of so­ci­ety but it has so far ap­peared most con­spic­u­ously in pol­i­tics and the entertainment world.

The only theme com­mon to most of them has been the huge suc­cess of the man in­volved, the very high so­cial stand­ing, and the el­e­ment of un­wanted touch­ing or sex­ual talk. Power and sex­ual ha­rass­ment seem to go to­gether very of­ten — maybe it’s time to ask why this is.

The so­ci­ol­o­gist War­ren Far­rell says that this kind of sex­u­ally ag­gres­sive be­hav­iour has its roots in childhood. The way so­ci­ety is set up, he sug­gests, so­cialises boys to be ‘mini-rapists’ and girls to be ‘mini-masochists’.

This sounds like fan­ci­ful, ex­treme lan­guage but he means we ba­si­cally think that men should ini­ti­ate re­la­tion­ships and women should be won. He does in­ter­views with teenage boys, who talk of the pres­sure to im­press and the paralysing fear of re­jec­tion, and girls who deal with the efforts to gain at­ten­tion with­out ap­pear­ing ob­vi­ous.

The ef­fect, Far­rell says, is that young men pro­tect them­selves from the pain of re­jec­tion by turn­ing women into sex ob­jects. Women in turn ob­jec­tify men along com­pletely dif­fer­ent lines, usu­ally to do with suc­cess and sta­tus.

The re­sult is of­ten a sit­u­a­tion where a pow­er­ful man ac­cu­mu­lates a rep­u­ta­tion as a sleaze but still seems to have a steady sup­ply of young women in his or­bit — a com­mon theme to many of the sto­ries we have heard over the past few weeks.

The ac­tress Lea Sey­doux, one of Har­vey We­in­stein’s ear­li­est ac­cusers, wrote a piece for The Guardian on the leadup to the sex­ual ha­rass­ment and abu­sive com­ments he sub­jected her to.

“When I first met Har­vey We­in­stein, it didn’t take me long to fig­ure him out,” she wrote. “We were at a fash­ion show. He was charm­ing, funny, smart — but very dom­i­neer­ing. He wanted to meet me for drinks and in­sisted we had to make an ap­point­ment that very night. This was never go­ing to be about work. He had other in­ten­tions — I could see that very clearly.”

De­spite this insight, later she meets him in the lobby of a ho­tel where she notes he has a “lech­er­ous” look. Then: “He in­vited me to come to his ho­tel room for a drink. We went up to­gether. It was hard to say no be­cause he’s so pow­er­ful.”

Should a woman have to choose be­tween her am­bi­tion and her spidey sense? No, but per­haps a lit­tle re­al­ism is re­quired, too.

When Grace Dyas spoke to Claire Byrne last week, she touched on this theme, de­scrib­ing her early friendship with for­mer Gate Theatre head, Michael Col­gan, how charm­ing she found him, and the things she turned a blind eye to.

She wrote that she “ac­cepted his ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion. I put up with it even though I knew bet­ter… I liked him. I for­gave him for it”.

Would she have ac­cepted or min­imised this kind of talk and be­hav­iour from a man who had no power or in­flu­ence? She says that she viewed Col­gan as a po­ten­tial ca­reer op­por­tu­nity — “I wanted a gig” — and am­bi­tion and friendship were blurred as she “drank with him late into the night in mem­bers’ clubs and fancy bars”.

It was brave and trans­par­ent of Dyas to give this con­text and also hugely re­veal­ing. Per­haps, when the cull of sex­ist old men is over, part of our tran­si­tion to a new and health­ier re­la­tion­ship be­tween the sexes will be help­ing young women to have the self pos­ses­sion not to feel com­pelled to be daz­zled by power or sta­tus and to re­alise that see­ing a man mainly in those terms is it­self a type of ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion. Be­ing fa­mous or suc­cess­ful doesn’t ex­cuse any­thing.

Even more im­por­tantly, young men will also have to learn that some­one who has to be over­come is not worth hav­ing.

Ev­ery­thing from the movies (no sur­prise there) to the best­selling male-tar­geted dat­ing man­ual of our time — The Game — ham­mers home the mes­sage that women have to be pur­sued, ca­joled and won.

Whether we like it or not, it’s a short hop from that way of think­ing to grab­bing or grop­ing, es­pe­cially when you add in the op­por­tu­ni­ties that power brings.

Mil­lions are spent on cam­paigns about con­sent, but per­haps what’s needed is a re­ally pop cul­ture al­ter­na­tive to these per­va­sive mes­sages of what men and women ex­pect of each other.

In their song Sec­ond Gen­er­a­tion Woman, the band The Fam­ily sang to men about a bet­ter way to do things: Last thing you gotta do is talk her into lov­ing you No need to She knows when the time is right Comes to you with­out a fight She wants to She wants to

As each new male star is en­gulfed by scan­dal — civil rights hero Jesse Jack­son is the very lat­est — films and TV se­ries are re­moved, edited and can­celled and for the mo­ment it is sat­is­fy­ing. Per­haps a lit­tle bit fur­ther down the line we might see that the an­swers to this sea change are in the be­liefs we all carry.

See­ing each other as hu­mans, rather than mere sex ob­jects or suc­cess sto­ries — that will be the real rev­o­lu­tion that fol­lows the #MeToo out­rage.

‘We­in­stein was charm­ing, funny, smart but very dom­i­neer­ing’

SPIDEY SENSE: Ac­tress Lea Sey­doux wrote about sex­ual ha­rass­ment and abu­sive com­ments from Har­vey We­in­stein. She agreed to meet him, even though she’d worked out what he was like

MEN WHO STAND AC­CUSED: Har­vey We­in­stein and Jesse Jack­son

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