At the outset, let me say I write this piece in the full knowledge that there might exist a tsunami tide of opposition to what follows. But men must have their say in this #MeToo business. Not only their say but also their critical say.
First, persistent unwelcome sexual advances against anyone are to be deplored. Second, persistent unwelcome sexual advances from those upon whom one depends for an income are even more deplorable. In both cases, the victims are entitled to expect lawful protection. Those three acknowledgments put me on the #MeToo side.
But my sympathy stops there.
Before Oprah’s speech at the Golden Globes awards, I was beginning to feel a little uneasy about where the #MeToo campaign was heading. Now I feel more uneasy than ever. I sense a kind of sex-orientated opportunism here.
Oprah’s was a call to arms, a new dawn, a new horizon message to all who have a female underling who is dependent on them for the furtherance of a career. It was, in point of fact, a great speech for its time.
But listening to the Golden Globes’ compere, and his sycophantic pandering to the women in his audience made me cringe. Then, seeing all those men in black made me feel as though we, men, must bow the knee to women, or tug the forelock, beat our breasts (oh yes, we have them too) in some sort of contrition for the sins of our media and movie heroes.
Then, on ABC (Sydney) news that night, the reader wore an ill-fitting, or at least ill-adjusted black jacket over what was probably a very nice daffodil-coloured dress. The wardrobe arrangement gave the appearance of being a hasty addition. Black, as everyone knows, is the absence of colour. This, I imagine, was to show some solidarity with the women who attended the Golden Globes awards. A sort of “and so say all of us” salute.
Anyway, the women at the awards “with dirges due, in sad array”, showed us how all-powerful the sisters can be when they stand together dressed in black. The black-clad women in that Shakespearean play not to be mentioned among actors certainly possessed great power. Will the new black power extend so far as to blackball those who chose colours more fitting for a golden occasion? Will those rebels ever get another job now that the movie moguls have been shown the error of their ways?
What of the men involved? Suppose the accusations made against them don’t hold true? I might have missed some of the news but my understanding is nobody has been convicted of anything. Careers have been ruined and reputations demolished on accusations, not proof. Taking Kevin Spacey as an example, the cheap shot made by the Golden Globes’ compare about the actor virtually condemned him as being guilty of offences going back to 1983-84 when Spacey was 24. As of November last year, no legal action of any sort had started against Spacey or anyone else.
The women have made their point. Any man, especially in Hollywood, who knows he’s persistently done the wrong thing has now gone to ground, awaiting exposure. But black clad women and others that they represent need to tread carefully lest their massed emotions take their reasonable complaints in an undesirable direction. One need not labour the point that many good causes were adapted by others with a different agenda so that the second state became worse than the first. History tells us that both the states of Christianity and Islam can be reckoned so.
That said, I detect an undercurrent (not yet a rip) of anti-male sentiment, appended to the #MeToo campaign. Does a man have any right to proposition a woman for drinks? For dinner? For sex? For my part, I once did a lot of propositioning on all three questions, going back a long, way. As far as I know, there was no offence in the asking. I even invited a young woman out to dinner to tell her to look for someone else!
So, when does asking become harassment? I would answer that it can’t be harassment if one merely asks, even if one persists in asking. It might be annoying, but faint heart never won fair lady. However, suppose an employer were to say: “If you don’t want to have dinner with me—just dinner—you won’t get a special bonus.” The employee is in a no win position; to accept is to appear to sell oneself; to refuse is to be very much on the wrong side of the boss and maybe next in line for a legitimate staff downsizing. Something of that sort once happened to me. I did not get the contract I hoped I would get, and believed I deserved. My client was a woman whose inter-personal offers I refused.
As I see it, we have all been put on notice to observe a number of rules, only one of which is specified. Do not touch anyone who objects to being touched. That seems fair enough. However, I see no great problem with the proposition that when a person says ‘no’ to sex, one shouldn’t try again—even persistently.
Meanwhile, we men have found a new champion: a woman.
This is from Le Monde. In an open letter: “French actress Catherine Deneuve has said that men should be ‘free to hit on’ women. She is one of 100 French women who wrote an open letter, warning about a new “puritanism” sparked by recent sexual harassment scandals.
“Men have been punished summarily, forced out of their jobs when all they did was touch someone's knee or try to steal a kiss,” the letter said.
“Rape is a crime, but trying to seduce someone, even persistently or clumsily, is not.”
The authors (100 women) argued that there was a new “puritanism” afoot in the world. “As women we do not recognise ourselves in this feminism, which beyond denouncing the abuse of power, takes on a hatred of men and of sexuality.”
None of my agreement with what the French women say, is to condone improper activity. And I have good reason to denounce the abuse of power. So now let me add some of my own #MeToo.
When I was a not-quite-15 lad working at my first job I was literally blackballed by a group of women. It was an initiation ceremony during which the newcomer was entrapped into visiting a particular part of the factory where he was overwhelmed by six or seven women. The victim was then shackled, wrists and ankles, before being disrobed where it mattered. Then, having shaved the lad’s pubic hair, the women anointed his genitals with the contents of a pot of black (graphite) grease. It must be said for the women that they thoughtfully wrapped the entire area in some cleaning rags before rearranging my clothing.
From what I’ve been hearing about the current crop of persistent and unwanted sexual advances, complaining to the authorities has had no beneficial effects for the victims. That’s how it was in my time, too.
My case raises the question of how far back we should go in “naming and shaming”. Perhaps the women in black might take that question on board. Should a line in time be drawn somewhere. If not, do we include the Rape of the Sabine Women? I’m not being facetious here. I’m inviting a general consensus on how far back in time accusations of sexual misconduct should be reportable. It’s a fair question.
Finally, I believe it is incumbent upon women, generally, to stipulate what is acceptable behaviour and what is not. Otherwise we men will be groping our way through the new “puritanism” in the dark.
And so say all honourable men. Me too.