A cri­sis in mas­culin­ity

Peter Calder says the locker room should be no shel­ter for the Har­vey We­in­stein lurk­ing in most men.

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Peter Calder says the locker room should be no shel­ter for the Har­vey We­in­stein lurk­ing in most men.

Of all the voices raised in rage against the se­rial ha­rasser, sex­ual preda­tor and prob­a­ble rapist Har­vey We­in­stein, shame­fully few have been male. His brother and fel­low Mi­ra­max mogul Bob called him “sick and de­praved”, al­though plau­si­ble tes­ti­mony is emerg­ing that the lat­ter not only knew what was go­ing on and did noth­ing, but also that he has form of his own. From the rest of the men in Hol­ly­wood, how­ever, there has been a deaf­en­ing si­lence.

The number of women telling their We­in­stein sto­ries – by the end of last week it was 50 and count­ing – has cre­ated a crit­i­cal mass that has steam­rolled scep­ti­cism. Yet when the Guardian ap­proached for com­ment 20 high-pro­file male ac­tors and direc­tors who have worked or are work­ing with We­in­stein, all de­clined or failed to re­spond.

But this is not an en­ter­tain­ment­busi­ness story. Just as the tales of ti­tans, in mythol­ogy and drama, have al­ways dealt with the na­ture of what it is to be hu­man, so the sto­ries of We­in­stein’s behaviour, by turns sor­did, bul­ly­ing and pa­thetic, con­tain an ur­gent mes­sage about how men are with women ev­ery­where. Few if any women do not have a story to tell of un­wanted sex­ual at­ten­tion.

The most co­gent state­ment of the prob­lem we face – and by “we” I mean men – was de­liv­ered by ac­tor and writer Emma Thomp­son in an in­ter­view with the BBC’s News­night pro­gramme. She sought to re­frame the dis­cus­sion so it wasn’t about sex­ual ha­rass­ment and sex­ual as­sault, which have “been part of women’s world since time im­memo­rial”.

“What we need to start talk­ing about is the cri­sis in mas­culin­ity,” Thomp­son said, which un­der­lines the core truth so lit­tle con­fronted here: sex­ual ha­rass­ment is a prob­lem for women, but it is a men’s prob­lem.

The dis­grace of fa­mous names such as Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes at Fox News, In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund chief Do­minique Strauss-Kahn and now We­in­stein could, per­versely, make it easy for men to pre­tend that they are grotesque ex­cep­tions who got their comeuppance and that We­in­stein is egre­gious only be­cause of his re­ported ex­treme profli­gacy. But, as Thomp­son asked, “does it only count if you do it to loads of women, or does it count if you do it to one woman, once?”

Per­haps men who pro­fess out­rage would be more hon­est to wear a T-shirt that fessed up to the truth: “Je suis Har­vey We­in­stein.” He and the oth­ers are the nat­u­ral prod­ucts of our shared male cul­ture that fun­da­men­tally per­mits power to con­fer a mod­ern equiv­a­lent of droit de seigneur. It is no ac­ci­dent that a man who said women love it when you “grab ’em by the pussy” was ad­judged by al­most half of vot­ing Amer­i­cans as suit­able to be their Pres­i­dent.

When caught, that man dis­missed the re­mark as “locker-room talk”, but what kind of peo­ple are we if we re­gard re­marks like that as ­ac­cept­able, even in a locker room?

The fact is that, to a greater or lesser ex­tent, all het­ero­sex­ual men think and speak in ways that ap­praise women sex­u­ally and spec­u­late on their will­ing­ness, or even ea­ger­ness, to be­come the ob­ject of our at­ten­tions. Not all of us do it often or in such bru­tally un­couth terms, but any man who says he never does is ly­ing. And the dif­fer­ence be­tween We­in­stein and the rest of us is a dif­fer­ence of de­gree, not of qual­ity.

The ques­tion we all need to ask our­selves is how it would be if we, as men, started call­ing out this behaviour when we saw it; started see­ing it as our duty, not the job of the tar­get women, to bring other men to heel.

That would mean be­gin­ning to call each other out for locker-room talk as we would do with racist slurs. We would need to start do­ing so in the work­place and bar, on the bus or at a party. As Jane Fonda re­marked on CNN a few days ago, “good men have to em­body other ways of be­ing”. To do other­wise is to say that what We­in­stein did is okay. We have to be bet­ter than that.

Rogues’ gallery: clock­wise from top left, Bill O’Reilly, Do­minique Strauss-Kahn, Har­vey We­in­stein and Roger Ailes. Be­low, Emma Thomp­son: re­fram­ing the dis­cus­sion.

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