Excuse me for sounding a bit old-fashioned, but what exactly is so surprising about the Harvey Weinstein revelations? Is it a surprise one of Hollywood’s top producers ran a revolving casting couch? Is it a surprise that so many knew about it but kept it quiet?
The biggest surprise, to me, is that everyone is getting so upset about it when, in reality, it’s the way that powerful, predatory men have been behaving since time immemorial and we women have always been, and continue to be, powerless to change that.
As one of only two female reporters in a newsroom of dozens of men – not to mention the hundreds of other men in the building, typesetting, printing and producing the newspaper – it happened to me several times throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
Almost every time I walked into the newspaper composing room there would be whistles and rude comments. You just accepted it as part of the job. Occasionally, the rude comments would be offensive. You just had to smile and move on.
But every now and then, it went too far. I’ll never forget the time one of the editorial bosses came up behind me when I was standing in front of a workbench, reached around my back, cupped his hands under one of my breasts and propositioned me. I was so ashamed, and so gobsmacked, I didn’t say anything. And of course I never told anyone. Who’d believe me, a cub reporter, when he was one of the powerful? Nobody had been around at the time, of course, nobody had seen anything. So nobody knew.
Fast forward a few years and he did the same thing to another young woman reporter. Except she was the next generation of young women, and she wasn’t going to submit to such sexual predation, even though he was one of the bosses. She called him out, told him to get his hands off her and never do that again. Which, sensibly, he didn’t.
Just the same, she never said anything about it; nobody had seen it happen and so, once again, nobody knew. Not for a long time. Not until we’d both left the newspaper, were working in a less male-oriented environment, and were sharing a few untold stories with other women friends over a few wines.
Turned out this same guy had done that to dozens of women over the years. But none of us said anything at the time, and he continued to try it on and continued to get away with it.
Even when, years later, I saw him in the supermarket, an old man with a slight stoop, I scuttled away with that same shameful feeling I’d done something wrong.
Today, I don’t know a single woman that hasn’t at some stage, felt uncomfortable or even downright scared after some man she works or socialises with has made some totally inappropriate comment or move.
Sometimes she spoke out at the time, mostly she didn’t. Occasionally she told someone afterwards but never made a formal complaint. Many of them felt ashamed, as if they were somehow to blame.
So not a lot has changed. If an older man in a position of authority in your workplace or social scene makes unwanted sexual advances, you know you can make a formal complaint but it’s not as simple as that and even today, it’s not a given. If he’s your boss, or your boss’s boss, you worry it could jeopardise your promotion chances, you worry about having to give evidence and of not being believed. Or, if you’re an aspiring actress and you’re offered the casting couch, you worry about not getting the part. And your fears could be very well founded.
Emma Thompson is just one of the many women being asked what it’s like now the Harvey Weinstein scandal has encouraged discussion about powerful predators like him. Emma, too, says it’s nothing new, that Weinstein is just one of many preying on young women. “It’s been part of our world since time immemorial,” she says. Even when half of Hollywood knew about his predation, no one did anything about it – in fact, they pushed young and vulnerable women in his direction.”
How can it be stopped? How can there be no more Jimmy Savilles and Roman Polanskis? Can Hollywood change? Fat chance. Can all workplaces change? There’s no doubt it’s better. But it hasn’t stopped and I can’t see it stopping as long as there are men in positions of power who feel entitlement to behave that way. Heavens, even the President of the United States believes he is entitled to proposition young women. They have all the power (as they are older and higher up the chain) and we women, at the bottom of the heap, have none.
Hollywood loves a scandal. And the whole world loves it when Hollywood’s A-list celebrities have behaved very badly. Schadenfreude makes us feel so much better. But it won’t stop sexual predation on vulnerable young women.
Felicity Price ONZM is an ex-journalist who now writes bestselling books – funny, fast-paced romance-suspense for the over 50s. Read more on www.felicityprice.com.