The Harvey Weinstein scandal has opened a can of worms, but Ayesha Hazerika fears it will close again.
It’s been more than a week since the shock news broke that a massive, powerful, physically repulsive movie mogul, who was always surrounded by impossibly beautiful young women, turned out to be a giant sleaze bag and sexual abuser. No! Really! Well I never… What’s next? The whole thing has been like a one of those gross blackhead popping videos on the internet. Oh come on – we’ve all sneaked a peek. Sexual harassment has been building and building, then this big boil was lanced and now there’s this leaking pus all over the place in the form of women’s stories which just keep coming. Sorry. I know this is a gross analogy but if feels fitting for this whole tawdry episode.
Except it wasn’t an episode. Or a one-off. It’s a story which has more parts than Star Wars. It’s a story as old as the hills and which endures. It’s a story which pretty much every woman, from every walk of life, of every age will be able to tell.
On Sunday, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “me too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”
Hundreds, thousands and now probably millions of women have posted “me too”. In case you’re wondering – yes. Me too. And it’s happened to all my friends and female family members in Britain, America, India – all over the world.
It may have been quicker to ask women to identify themselves if they hadn’t been sexually harassed – “not me”. My stories are no different to anyone else’s. It happened, often, when I got my first job in the civil service when I was 21. It happened when I worked in the music industry and, of course, in politics.
The House of Commons is almost designed for it – lots of self-important, vain men in positions of power hanging about in what’s essentially a gentleman’s club with subsidised booze, lording it over young women in junior secretarial or assistant jobs. What could go wrong?
The “me too” campaign is a positive to have emerged. It’s important for women to share and to know that they are not alone. But my concern with what will happen is this. Feminists, and many decent men horrified by what has happened, will all furiously tweet, like and share stuff on social media and be righteously outraged.
Then the media will get bored of the anger of Rose McGowan – one of the actresses at the centre of the Weinstein allegations – and fatigue will start to set in about all these grim personal anecdotes of being groped by the boss. It will all become a bit last week and then the show will move on. Like it always does. And it will be business as usual. It already has.
Just look at cheeky chappie James Corden who thought it was hil-AIR- ious to make some terrible gags about Weinstein’s sexual abuse at a Hollywood jolly, for which he has since apologised. I wasn’t offended by the nature of the jokes, as I predicted them – it was the terrible quality. General rule in comedy – the more edgy and controversial, the funnier the joke has to be.
If you want to see how sexual misogyny works, watch a clip of Corden at a glitzy awards ceremony in Britain talking about having sex with Kiera Knightley using lovely phrases like “brutal”. Watch that clip. Seriously. It tells you everything you need to know about how deeply ingrained sexism is in our popular culture. Watch everyone throw back their heads and laugh. Because it’s funny to talk about women in that way. Top bantz innit?
I remember recording a podcast when Donald Trump’s crude comments about lady-garden grabbing emerged and the two lovely and pretty liberal male comedians I was on with declared “There’s no way he can be president now!” I remember saying “Quite the opposite – I think a lot of people will like that kind of chat”. That kind of coarse, locker room banter would help him connect with lots of people – mainly men but some women – who think “Yes! Finally, a normal red-blooded guy who thinks like us and just says it like it is.”
The truth is that, for every female columnist or broadcaster with a voice, such as myself, venting anger and frustration, there is a sizeable part of the population who, to quote a phrase, “couldn’t give a Castlemaine XXXX” about this whole business. Sadly for folk like me with ovaries, they’re the guys in charge.
Some will think this is all a big fuss over nothing; that the casting couch happens all the time; that the girls were asking for it; and my favourite – why didn’t they speak out about it?
Someone (a chap) I genuinely respect somehow thought this was all Emma Thompson’s fault for not storming into Miramax HQ, rugby tackling Weinstein to the floor and making a citizen’s arrest. Why? Because she’s famous. Ahh. But is she really that powerful in Hollywood? Of course she isn’t. Who has the real power? Who are the money-men? (big clue there). Who can make or break careers? Are there scores of leading female movie moguls?
Most big name female talent in Hollywood are actresses struggling to make sure no carbohydrate passes their lips, that they stave off the ageing process as long as is medically possible so they can get work. Once they do, they battle to get paid what their male co-stars get. The idea that they are going to tear down the system is for the birds.
Men do this kind of behaviour because they have power and they can. Many see it as a perk. It comes with the corner office, the big bonus and the title. That’s why people like me bang on about why it’s so important to have more women in positions of real power across all parts of our society. Until that changes, Harvey Weinstein’s story will have many sequels.