A few weeks ago, a cab driver in Tunis told me I was “tres belle”, adding just for Arab cultural context, that he saw me as a “gazelle”.
In French or not, I’m hardly “very beautiful”, but that cabbie is just one of many, many men who have made various suggestions to me over the years. These happened in India, the UK, the US and the other countries in which I’ve lived. Sometimes they were explicit, sometimes implied. A few were dreadfully lewd. One, I have later realised, was assault. And yes, a half-dozen were from men who might be called the Harvey Weinsteins of their particular field or national neck of the woods. They are entitled, so well known that if I named names here, it would be a terrible embarrassment for them and perhaps a legal problem for me, until I were proved right.
I could probably only be proved right if I spent a lot of effort and money prosecuting my case and/or other women spoke out too. I am sure there are other women because if it happened to me, it happened to others. Some of those prominent men were so practised it was obvious they had propositioned people over and over.
Would other women speak out alongside me? Would they do so, just as has happened with Mr Weinstein, once Hollywood’s most magical producer, and now internationally reviled as a sexual predator extraordinaire?
I’m not so sure and I’ll tell you why:
** Harvey Weinstein is neither a sexual predator extraordinaire – he is one of many – nor is every predator a real Harvey Weinstein. He was a magic-maker; wizard to the stars; friend of presidents, so there was lots of media interest in unmasking him. Other sexual predators not so much.
** Women are human beings after all and just as inclined as men to furthering their own interests. This is why the long list of women propositioned by Mr Weinstein have only really started to come forward after his name became mud. They didn’t do so before.
** Moral turpitude is not the preserve of men or even of powerful men. Some women actively use their physical charms to get ahead. It is no disrespect to women to recognise that some of them use their bodies as a tool of their trade (and I don’t mean prostitution). Also, there are many women who collude in the actions of the men they know, work with, or love. They provide cover, talk down allegations as nullities, or as evidence of an overheated imagination. These women are thereby complicit. A good example might be Melania Trump’s disinclination to diss her husband, Donald, when he was running for the world’s most powerful and influential office. Mrs Trump called her husband’s words, which described unwanted sexual acts targetting various women, “boy talk”.
** In the interests of fairness, it’s worth making a distinction between a compliment (even if unwelcome or inappropriate); a proposition; a physical assault, mental harassment and a consensual entanglement. Each of these is different and has different implications. Also, every compliment (even if from a powerful man) is not necessarily sexual harassment.
** Finally, a clear understanding of what constitutes sexual harassment would go a long way towards keeping that particular charge powerful and strong when it’s actually levelled against someone.
In this last context, I have to say that open season on Harvey Weinstein is an engrossing news story right now but may not ultimately amount to a great deal more.
Consider the perfectly extraordinary interview that ran on Wednesday (Oct 11), on the BBC World Service flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Newshour’. A woman named Lesley Lee told Owen Bennett-Jones, the presenter, that she interned with Mr Weinstein’s company for four months, did not suffer sexual harassment, but was always dismally aware of his general bullying. And she gave the following example of this: the huge figure of Harvey Weinstein settling himself down at her desk and demanding to know why she wasn’t attending the staff-mandatory film screening.
Come on. Was that a sign Mr Weinstein was the devil?
Is he the devil?
He’s like many others.
Open season on Harvey Weinstein won’t solve anything. Far better instead to inform ourselves of what constitutes sexual harassment, teach young women how to stay safe, and to refuse to be complicit.