Kirsty Gunn: Women need to be brave on streets, not just say ‘me too’

In each situation, in an office, in a room, on the street, women must stand up for themselves. Picture: Getty/iStockphoto
In each situation, in an office, in a room, on the street, women must stand up for themselves. Picture: Getty/iStockphoto
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Women are tricky. Men are. We’re tricky to ourselves, tricky to each other. Though we do everything we can to close the gap between genders – thinking as feminists, thinking ethics, politics, sexuality and gender, all in terms of a social norm that might exist that would put all issues of domination and subjection to rights, still the trickiness is there all the same.

We’re different, is the trouble, in all kinds of ways, and though that difference may become increasingly flattened out as the heterosexual norm is eased and we embrace, more and more, a wider definition of masculinity and femininity, there are still the inevitabilities of animal behaviour, chromosomes, the fact that at the end of the day we’re all bodies together in a room.

The body no one has wanted to be next to recently, of course, in a hotel room or in a production suite, is Harvey Weinstein’s. His wife wanted to be, we might assume – there are the children, after all, that the two of them had together, and

the great big Hollywood house and lifestyle that they maintained which would have kept them all pretty close. And I suppose there are others, too, family and friends who’d known him for a long time and knew what he was like, but, generally, people like Harvey Weinstein are pretty hard to take.

READ MORE: Margaret Renkl: The raw power of saying #MeToo

Whether you’re a man or a woman, you have to be in for the long haul – with that wedding ring and divorce settlement in mind, or a job prospect, or a long-term professional relationship that’s going to be of advantage to you in all kinds of ways – if you are to put up with the sorts of behaviours that this kind of particular individual likes to put about the place. Which is why I am wondering why all those women climbed into black frocks at the Golden Globe Awards this month. “Why now?” was my first thought. Why “Me Too” at this late stage in the proceedings, when the systematic abuse of women that has been part of the Hollywood story from the beginning must have been something they were aware of from the moment they first said “I want to be in the movies”? Whether we’re talking about the casting couch of the big studios back in the 1920s, the sexual peccadillos of ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle or the breast-obsessed Howard Hughes, through to the victimisation of Marilyn Monroe and so on and so on and so on, right up to the present day, with these latest, frightful allegations, there’s nothing new about the story of the powerful, career-brokering movie producer who wants all the cakes in the shop and to eat them, one by one.

READ MORE: Why democracy can’t tolerate sexual lies and hypocrisy

I also thought, looking at the pictures of the ceremony – those rail-thin actresses in various iterations of designer kit, some dresses more revealing and figure-hugging than others, so many, with their big eyes and their big hair, straight out of a Disney film – why we should be considering the ghastly actions of one old jerk as a focus for feminist ire? Rather, I mean, than taking a wider view of an industry – and indeed, a social norm – that has it that women, in general, who aren’t of a certain proportion or appearance or age are somehow invisible?

Yes, there was Meryl and Oprah and Emma, in all their wise and wonderful glory, but on the whole the American movie industry has Snow White and Little Princess fixed as the ideal archetypes, not real, live, heaving, breathing women who are over 43. Where, too, in the pictures were the directors who are women, or producers, for that matter? Why is it only old Harvey, sitting squat as a toad on the top of the glass ceiling while all the pretty women of his films are trapped beneath? As so many women remain trapped, in whatever jobs they try to hold down – whether stacking shelves at a supermarket or maintaining the professional positions they’ve won through the applications of their intellects, education and hard, hard work.

A friend of mine, who’s a barrister and mother of three, talks about the institutional sexism that prevails in her “industry”. The “low-level abuse”, as she puts it, is “always just under the radar, so the men who are responsible can throw their hands in the air if you call them on it, and say, ‘it was just a joke...’”. Of course these men are too clever to come right out and admit that they think their female colleagues are really “just girls”, she says. Professional people are smart; they know how to cover their tracks. But that doesn’t mean the ongoing relegation to the margins that being the only woman in the room brings, or the continued assumptions that patriarchal behaviour is best doesn’t have an effect on how all women everywhere think of their work, their role in society, and their self esteem. What we need to do, to my mind, is stand up for ourselves one by one, in our own terms, in our own way.

Make individual judgments and act on them to keep ourselves protected and safe. That wolf whistle in the street? Call it out. The inappropriate comment from the boss at work? Step on it. Even if he comes back at you with the usual: “Oh, lighten up, why don’t you?” If you’re an actress wanting a job, or a woman wanting to keep hers … still, step on it. “Me Too” doesn’t speak loud enough, to my mind. It’s hiding in a group. Women have to be brave. In each situation, in a street, in an office, in a room. we’re on our own.

The men who batter women and rape them and kill them don’t start off that way. They start off by saying, “Come on, darling. I didn’t mean it. It was just a joke.”