By Nick Place
I don’t know about you but I have found the #metoo wave on social media, following all the Harvey Weinstein allegations, extremely confronting.
I think the hardest thing was in trying to work out how to respond to all the women who were posting their heartbreaking #metoo hashtags, and occasionally adding some details of what they’ve been through over the years. These are women that I either like, love, respect, have worked with, have played ice hockey with, have swapped fiction-writing notes with, and so on, and so on, from all the other strands of my social and working life.
I felt like The Enemy. Because, let’s face it, this entire issue was mainly concerned with usually senior managers – men often in GiantsAmongMen’s core demographic – behaving anywhere from badly to appallingly. In the wider media and on social media, among the women I know, there was a strong strain of: Hey men, don’t just say you’re sorry for us, do something about it, call out the behaviour, step up.
A new hashtag was promoted: #Iseeyou
And fair enough. It would seem we have all been too complacent, not just at Weinstein’s company but everywhere. Maybe we should have been not turning a blind eye to a co-worker leaning in a little too close on a female co-worker at after-work drinks, or when we sense tense body language in the office. Is it enough just to have attempted not to personally be a lecherous arsehole? Most men, I’m sure, would argue that they have not been aware of blatant groping or other sexually predatory behaviour in the office, and especially of a senior manager preying on younger co-workers, but women are calling bullshit on that and so I think we have a responsibility to honestly consider our place in this mess, even as bystanders and potential witnesses. If we have only been seeing what we want to see, laughing off inappropriate comments or, worse, deliberately deciding not to see harassment unfolding, we all need to recalibrate our consciences.
Just putting sad face emojis on Facebook posts doesn’t feel like an adequate response to this problem. I once asked an executive from a sporting organisation how the Christmas Party had been, and he’d shrugged: ‘The usual. A bunch of middle-aged ex-athletes drinking and making inappropriate comments about the younger, female workers.’ We’d both kind of snorted and shaken our heads. But he didn’t do anything. Neither did I.
I had found it strange earlier this year when two senior Australian Football League executives left their positions in the wake of alleged affairs with female colleagues. Every media report went out of its way to emphasise the fact that the women involved were ‘younger’ and seemed to breeze past the question of whether the women were consenting adults. But now, I think the AFL’s stand makes more sense, especially if there are questions of whether the managers held any power over the career prospects of the women involved. The entire story never seemed to come out, but in the wake of #metoo, it has taken a different sheen.
Certainly Weinstein’s attempts at talking his way out of his years of abhorrent behaviour, by explaining he was a dinosaur from a previous era, where workplace understandings and behaviours were different, didn’t come close to cutting it. I could argue that as well, many of us could, but we’ve worked hard to evolve over the years, and continue to.
So how to respond to #metoo? In the end, I liked an eloquent and simple statement from an actor friend who wrote: ‘Not sure how to respond in a helpful way to all the #metoo out there. Only to say it has to stop. I’m 100% behind you, and I wish you didn’t have to go through that shit.’
Just that first, tentative reaching out to the women who have suffered felt like a positive move. Maybe if women felt they could genuinely talk to men and be listened to, and then have something done, this entire problem would start to shift? I’ve heard harrowing stories in the last few weeks, of women who told of sexual advances and were sneered at, or even removed from their jobs. Of men not suffering any ramifications as the female was left humiliated for daring to speak up or even so traumatised that she could no longer work. That shit is clearly not on, on any level.
As the issue evolved, some strong responses began to emerge from men. The Hollywood director Quentin Tarantino admitted he had been told enough about Weinstein’s behaviour over the years that he should have acted, should have stood up. ‘I wish I had taken responsibility for what I heard,’ he said.
It was a commendable stand, even if obviously way too late and in the wake of the fact that Weinstein backed most of Tarantino’s career.
‘If I had done the work I should have done then, I would have had to not work with him,’ Tarantino admitted, which is as honest an appraisal of the dilemma he faced as you could hope. Speak up and not get your films funded by one of the biggest studios in the world and maybe not by anybody, or turn a blind eye? Tarantino chose the blind eye, even when it involved his then girlfriend Mira Sorvino. He thought Weinstein was just too into Sorvino, not that it was part of a larger pattern. Then he heard other stories and tried to rationalise it. Now he’s beating himself up for cowardice.
‘Anything I say now will sound like a crappy excuse,’ he said, and he’s right. But he’s not alone. Most of us are probably leaning hard on our crappy excuses.
So what to do, if we are to attempt to draw a line in the sand? It actually seems really straightforward:
- Firstly, don’t sexually harass women, at work or anywhere (and as one woman tweeted: ‘If you confuse this issue with flirting, you’re really fucking bad at flirting’)
- have genuine, honest, respectful communication with women at work,
- This is the big one: have the guts to speak up or act, if you hear of potential sexual abuse/power games.
This is where Tarantino has landed with 20-20 hindsight: ‘’I’m calling on the other guys who knew more not to be scared,’ he said. ‘Don’t just give out statements. Acknowledge that there was something rotten in Denmark. Vow to do better by our sisters.’
But this is so not just about Hollywood. In Sydney, a guy I’ve never met called Richard Harris, a friend of a female friend, wrote this considered Facebook post:
‘Like many friends and colleagues over the past week I have been horrified by the tsunami of #MeToo messages left on social media. It has shaken me up in my little white male privileged bubble, where I certainly knew the overall stats regarding violence towards women were bad, but just didn’t quite fathom how it is part of so many women’s experiences. I am probably like many men in not saying anything so far. I have resisted doing so, partly because it has been hard to know what to say, frankly – but primarily because I felt that the last thing the world needs is more men weighing on this issue, proclaiming their right-on-ness and man-splaining possible solutions.
But the more I read, the more I realised that we cannot afford to leave things un-said, that silence is in fact one of the deepest and most intransigent problems that we have with dealing with sexual abuse and assault, right? And I certainly didn’t want my silence to ever be interpreted as complicity or apathy. Or lack of support. And in the end, as comments from so many have pointed out, this should not be seen as a women’s problem – it is all of our problem.
So, I know that there is much to do, and men have a part to play, but right now – at least for a little bit – I think that the time is not for men to suggest solutions, but rather than we should commit to listen and more importantly, perhaps, to hear. So that is what i am going to try to do. If I say no more on the issue, please know that I stand with women (and others) who have been harassed, abused and assaulted (workplace or no), that I support the #Iseeyou campaign and that I will be doing my best to listen as the debate rages on and hopefully to play whatever small part I can in finding any sort of positive solution to this mess.’
I like that a lot. Let’s all commit to listening; to hearing what the women in our lives have to say and want from us. Then let’s do that.
Let’s aim to be men who are post-Weinstein leaders, even if we have failed in the past.
Think you can do it? Me too.