Where am I on the scale of bad be­hav­iour?

As more and more women voice their ex­pe­ri­ences of be­ing sex­u­ally ha­rassed, ex­am­ines his own con­science.

The Dominion Post - Your Weekend (Dominion Post) - - Feature - David Aaronovitch

Far more women have writ­ten and talked about the We­in­stein scan­dals than have men. Given that there’s an abuser for every abusee this can’t be be­cause it in­volves women more than men. It’s be­cause, I think, there’s no place a man can quite be on this and feel com­fort­able, elo­quent and ad­mired. Or even edgy and ad­mired. It’s a land­scape full of glis­sades and sud­den crevasses, best kept away from. And for that rea­son if for no other, here we go.

Nowhere is a happy place to be with this. A man cer­tainly doesn’t get away with say­ing: “That Har­vey We­in­stein, what a unique bas­tard,” even if you feel it with a rare in­ten­sity. A cho­rus is raised against it. “We­in­stein has be­come a pub­lic mon­ster overnight. But he’s not a mon­ster, he’s a man,” wrote the play­wright Lucy Preb­ble, be­fore out­lin­ing some of her own awk­ward and un­pro­fes­sional ex­pe­ri­ences at the hands of the­atri­cal men.

One of my favourite Bri­tish jour­nal­ists is He­len Lewis at the New States­man. She’s clever, sen­si­ble and nu­anced, but Lewis sees a trap in the very aw­ful­ness of the We­in­stein rev­e­la­tions. For men who are ac­tu­ally ha­rassers of women – but not in We­in­stein’s grotesque league – “will hear the We­in­stein sto­ries and think, ‘Oh, I’m not so de­viant af­ter all. And any­way, that guy is worse.’“And other lesser abusers, or men who are, in ef­fect, com­plicit with abuse will not see them­selves, but rather see what they are def­i­nitely not and carry on as they did be­fore.

Turn the other way. There’s no respite. There will be a fe­male writer telling you that there’s too much of a fuss be­ing made about it all. A Daily Mail columnist was ban­nered re­cently above the pa­per’s mast­head: “Ladies: A clumsy pass over din­ner is NOT sex ha­rass­ment.” Well if she says so, be­ing a “she”, how can a man dis­agree? Who wants to be a snowflake’s snowflake?

Oh well, I think, if in the We­in­stein war I have to choose be­tween be­ing a pussy or a dick, I’ll be a pussy. No to older men mak­ing un­wanted passes at younger col­leagues. Daugh­ters and all that. Then a fe­male col­league on The Times sent me a link to an Amer­i­can writer who blogs as Katykatikate, and was writ­ing os­ten­si­bly to men. “I hear you. You are shocked. You have daugh­ters. You wish to ex­press your out­rage and sol­i­dar­ity with women… know you gen­uinely feel up­set and an­gry and stag­gered at the scope of the crime. But I’m go­ing to bring you into the in­ner cir­cle right now, guys: I DON’T RE­ALLY BE­LIEVE YOU. NONE OF US DO.”

Guardian jour­nal­ist Sali Hughes, who has a slew of sto­ries from well be­low the belly of the beast, chal­lenges with “Of course, ‘Me too’… But what

his feels un­com­fort­able, al­most un­fair even. There’s a vi­ral tweet go­ing round of a co­me­dian called Peter White of­fer­ing ad­vice to blokes on how to be­have. “I think the golden rule for men should be: if you’re a man, don’t say any­thing to a woman on the street that you wouldn’t want a man say­ing to you in prison.” It’s funny, it’s cute, you can hap­pily share it with your Face­book friends. And it’s im­pos­si­bly glib.

You see, what I am tak­ing from this is just how bad this has been for many women for so long, and not in ob­vi­ous ways. And the chal­lenge needs to be ad­dressed. Am I now or have I ever been a low-level bas­tard? Not a We­in­stein, but a wiener.

The We­in­stein-in­duced sto­ries, not of rape and as­sault, but of creepi­ness and un­pleas­ant­ness on the part of men to­wards women, in­di­cate the sub­tle dam­age that is of­ten caused. The guy who in­vites his younger col­league to din­ner – and then tells her that he is pri­api­cally at­tracted to her – is not just a fond old fool, or a “bit of a lech”, but a f...er up of psy­ches and a dis­rup­tor of ca­reers. That is the thing I didn’t quite see be­fore. As Lewis writes: “This be­hav­iour poi­sons ev­ery­thing it touches – like the ground slip­ping sud­denly be­neath my feet. What comes next? A grab, a tus­sle, my sur­ren­der to get it over with? Or noth­ing at all, just a lin­ger­ing feel­ing of dis­quiet, and my shame at join­ing the grisly pan­tomime that this was all good fun?”

When I read this a penny dropped. A while back I was work­ing in an of­fice with some younger peo­ple.

touch me” – which grad­u­ally gets re­duced word by word to just: “Oh!” – was a favourite at the camps I used to go to as a kid. Then it be­came “no means no”. And then “any­thing but yes means no”. Which is right, but wasn’t right for the first 30 years of my life.

Part of this is about male en­ti­tle­ment. There’s an at­trac­tive young woman out there, Bob feels at­tracted, so maybe if she’s friendly to him, it means she’s at­tracted too, so let’s give it a whirl de­spite the MAS­SIVE AGE GAP. What’s the harm? Maybe Bob was the guy who, on the birth of his son, sent out a round-robin pro­claim­ing: “Lock up your daugh­ters!”

Some of it is about the sad-dog­gish­ness of mid­dle-aged chaps who reach the zenith of their power at the same time as their wives and ev­ery­one else be­gin to find them unattrac­tive. I’ve felt that fear. And yet mid­dle-aged men are si­mul­ta­ne­ously slightly des­per­ate and eas­ily flat­tered.

What about the re­lated fail­ure to sep­a­rate fan­tasy and re­al­ity? In 1976 the born-again Bap­tist president Jimmy Carter told Play­boy mag­a­zine: “I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve com­mit­ted adul­tery in my heart many times,” and a bil­lion men thought: “What are you try­ing to do here, Jimmy, get us all killed?” It was a seep-through. We all fan­ta­sise all the time.

And men are quick to no­tice fe­male am­bi­gu­ity. We went from Obama to Trump the pussy-grab­ber, partly cour­tesy of a ma­jor­ity of white women vot­ers. If they voted for him, how bad can be­ing a to­tal sex­ist pig be?

And again that re­la­tion be­tween male power and sex. What ap­par­ently are the top two qual­i­ties Amer­i­can women look for in a man? Con­fi­dence and am­bi­tion. What was voted the fun­ni­est Bri­tish com­edy line of re­cent years? Caro­line Ah­erne (as Mrs Mer­ton) ask­ing Deb­bie Mcgee: “So, what first at­tracted you to the mil­lion­aire Paul Daniels?” Which means: “You’re screw­ing the old, unattrac­tive man be­cause he’s rich.” Ev­ery­one knew it. Ev­ery­one thinks it of Me­la­nia. Right there is a male sad­ness, if you’re in­ter­ested in it. It’s hor­ri­bly il­lus­trated by the story of the young woman ef­fec­tively chased by a naked We­in­stein into a bath­room. When even­tu­ally she came out he was sit­ting there in a dress­ing gown, cry­ing: “You don’t like me be­cause I’m fat.” There’s the feel­ing, al­ways present, that ac­tu­ally we’re unlove­able. Un­less we have con­fi­dence, power, money – un­less we mag­ne­tise babes.

I leave this with one quite ap­palling thought. How­ever bad it is in the of­fices and work­places, bars and clubs – the di­min­ish­ing and power games – if it’s like any of the other trans­gres­sions, it’s likely to be a thou­sand times worse at home. If men be­have like this to com­par­a­tive strangers, how do we be­have when we think we’re safe?

More than 50 women have made al­le­ga­tions against film pro­ducer Har­vey We­in­stein.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.