If you want entertainment recommendations, can I suggest Thor: Ragnarok or all twelve seasons of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia? I saw the former today and have recently finished on the latter (in my defence the episodes are less than half an hour, it is very addictive, and I started weeks ago), and the former is super crazy fun times and the latter is literally one of the funniest shows I've seen in years (if very on the dark side which is how I like them). So if that is what you came for you can now look away.
This post is instead mainly about the spiralling circus of Hollywood sexual assault allegations, and the #metoo campaign.
Unless you have been living in a cave, you will have seen in recent weeks that numerous women have come forward with allegations of sexual assault against Harvey Weinstein, who for those not aware is one of the most powerful film producers working in Hollywood fordecades now. The volume of women who have come forward is shocking and what is more shocking is that, as is always the case with sexual assault, these women may be a tip of the iceberg. It has caused ripples that have impacted into US politics as Weinstein was a prominent contributor to the Democrats- the Republicans shamed them for this but considering the fact that the current Republican president has a significant backlog of sexual assault allegations which were often settled out of court for large settlements, and that they took funding from several prominent contributors who have recently also been the subject to cases like Weinstein's, I feel it is a case of people in glass houses...
The question I want to start with here is the appropriate reaction to case like this when it comes to paying money at the box office. There have been several prominent cases of men in Hollywood being accused as Weinstein has been, there have also been cases of domestic abuse, and tacit approval or turning a blind eye on these matters. The first reaction is to boycott but then people ask the question once again of separating the art from the artist- even easier in the case of the producer as they are the money man not the artist per se.
This is where I have to be honest about my own inconsistency in this area. As you may or may not be aware, one of the best known cases of abuse or assault of a woman, or female child, by a Hollywood player is that of Roman Polanski. Polanski has lived in European countries without extradition to the States for decades now to avoid trail for the rape and drugging of a 13 year girl in the late 1970s, and it was not only about six years ago that he offered what was quite a feeble apology to the girl who is now 53. Polanski is also a much awarded and quite talented film director. His career significantly slowed after he fled the States- his first film was released in 1955 and about half of his output is between then and 1977 when the rape occurred, with the other half coming in the forty years since the rape- but his last Oscar, for The Pianist, was in 2002 only 15 years ago and he is still actively making films in France. Now here is my honesty on this director, the rape was committed before I was born so any exposure I had to him as a director was with that knowledge. My first Polanski film was, like most people's, his 1971 version of Macbeth at high school and as far as I know it remains one of the most used cinematic treatments of Shakespeare in schools. Now I had no choice in that one but I saw it several times both in class and then at home whilst I studied Macbeth. I remember people telling me the fate of the lead actress (I'll come back to that) but no-one told me about the rape case maybe because at the time I was only a year or so older than his victim. Even after I knew the whole story, I paid money to see The Pianist at the cinema and I purchased and still own the DVD of Rosemary's Baby (his very terrifying 1968 horror film). Polanski's skill as a director has lead him to be one of the most frequently mentioned cases of people attempting to seperate art from artist and crimes of artist. In addition to this Polanski's personal history has lead him to be seen as someone scarred by his past in an incurable way. Polanski grew up in the Jewish ghetto in Krakow in Poland at the beginning of the Second World War- if you read or watch, Schindler's Ark/List, the young girl in the red dress that Oskar Schindler sees is Polanski's cousin (her memoir The Girl in the Red Dress (if memory serves, I read it over a decade ago) is well worth the read). He managed to flee the ghetto and lived in hiding for the last part of the war but his mother died in the Holocaust. He then lived for a time in Soviet occupied Poland then moved to France, England, and ultimately Hollywood. In England he met Sharon Tate, an up and coming American actress, and they married- she was in a few of his films including playing Lady Macbeth. Then in 1969, Tate was murdered by followers of Charles Manson along with friends at the house she and Polanski were renting in Hollywood. At the time of her death, Tate was pregnant and almost full term with what would have been the couple’s first child- the unborn child died in the attack on its mother. Now that personal history is overwhelmingly horrifying but does it excuse the rape and drugging of a 13 year old girl? Obviously it does not. For years, I have felt problematic about the few times I have given money for Polanski films in the knowledge of this, and I feel the guilt of the fact that crimes like this become easier to ignore (though they shouldn't never be ignored) when the person is skilled, the crime in the past, and the output of the criminal art of a genre that appeals to you.
The second guilt confession is an actor/director who I have actually boycotted, Mel Gibson. When I mention to people that I don't watch films that he has anything to do with, most people assume that it is because of the domestic abuse allegations from his last wife or one of the times he has shown himself to be profoundly sexist. The fact of the matter is though I boycotted Gibson because of his anti-Semitism, and his treatment of women was a secondary factor. It is as if I assumed that men in Hollywood were likely to have abuse allegations levelled against them, and then tacitly ignored this factor. When I realised that it was racism not sexism that had lead to my boycott of Gibson's work, I was troubled as to why not both.
The idea of the selecting the art in spite of the artist has come up for again in recent months and years with allegations levelled at creatives whose work I really enjoy or in the case of Weinstein, a man who funds the work of artists whose work I enjoy. First there were the allegations levelled by the ex wife of Johnny Depp which came out just over a year ago. I'm not a fan of Depp's recent work (the impact of his Captain Jack Sparrow character on every other character has become more than a bit much) but his earlier works especially with Tim Burton are some of my favourite films. When I saw Depp in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (sorry that might be a spoiler but the film is a year old), I cringed simultaneously because I don't find his acting very undifferentiated nowadays and also because suddenly I was paying money for a film with a man who was currently under investigation for domestic abuse in it, and I knew that I would have to make the call on the sequels in part based on his presence. Second there was the shock of the piece published by the ex wife of Joss Whedon- she stated that Whedon had cheated her repeated and then gaslighted her about his infidelity. This one showed me why you should never have heroes because as those who know me at all know, I am a massive fan of Whedon's work. This left me and many others reeling because we are now in the position where one of the most feminist works of the late 20th/earliest 21st century, Buffy, was created by a man whose treatment of his ex-wife is under serious question. The impact of Whedon's work meant that in the week after this article was published, people did start having the separating the artist from the work conversation. Personally I don't know if I can watch Whedon's work in the same way now and I'm deeply saddened by that.
Then finally we get to Weinstein. As I said Weinstein is a producer so is not the artist, however as one of the men behind Miramax and later The Weinstein Company, he is the producer who has nearly exclusively funded the works of some of my favourite directors. Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith, two of my all time favourite directors, have both had their works produced by Weinstein associated companies for decades. In the actor turned director space, you also have George Clooney and Ben Affleck working with Weinstein money on occasion. I single out these four because the represent (though not in order), the worrying responses, the good response, and the best response. The worrying responses were Tarantino and Affleck. Tarantino was one of the last of Weinstein's prominent collaborators to comment on the allegations and the delay wasn't the only issue. Tarantino clearly indicated that he had been aware of rumours about Weinstein for a while and in fact implied even that he knew that there was substance to them. Now he could have sought to help the women who were victims of this without bring things to light but it did sound like he had to a degree ignored the rumours. Affleck was in a similar boat to Tarantino- not that he was late but that has response was worrying. Affleck responded fairly early condemning Weinstein BUT Affleck's brother, Casey, was accused of sexual harassment a few years ago and Ben Affleck has never gone on the record about that. Now I won't be boycotting the works of Ben Affleck (though I have considered boycotting his brother's work for a while) or Quentin Tarantino for their replies being worryingly lacking but just to highlight I would have preferred if they had either condemned Weinstein early and directly with no room for question as Clooney did, or gone the extra step and declared that future profits from their Weinstein produced works would be in part donated to charities that assist victims of rape and assault as Kevin Smith did (his response was exactly what you would want and makes me want to pay additional copies of his films as I already own the ones I would want to own so my money did go to Weinstein). It is harder to boycott a studio but there needs to be a question whether in Weinstein's case we should.
That is a little all over the place but it was essentially just to raise the question of whether we can or should ever look to the art and not also see the artist (or in Weinstein's case the money) behind it.
Now I've written quite a lot and I haven't spoken about in length or even named the women who were victims of these attacks or this treatment. I want to be VERY clear that this is not to highlight the men who did these things over the women who were victim to them. It is to say that as we need to know these women are more than the victims we make them. Their names are important but because of the things that they did in their lives that make their lives meaningful not the incident/s in their life that made their life horrible. These men may have made them feel less than human so I feel it is not my place to repeatedly associate them with that dehumanising act/s.
This brings me to the victim side of things and the newest internet awareness campaign. Alyssa Milano who is one of the women who has accused Weinstein called last week for women to share on social media their own stories of sexual assault or harassment with the hashtag MeToo.
What I found interesting about the response to the hashtag was not the volume of it, most women I knew (myself included) were of the opinion that sadly we live in a world where rare (if non existent) was the woman who could not use the hashtag, but more the shock that some men felt when they saw the volume and the slight push back (mainly around assault of men by women- no-one said it doesn't happen and it is horrible too but even in cases of male sexual violence or harassment, the perpetrators are usually male, cases of female on male sexual assault make up less than 10% of assault cases). I have said in the past that internet based awareness campaigns can be ineffective but this one might be the most effective thus far. I applauded the men who responded well on social media- owning times when their own actions might have been less than ideal and supporting the women there knew- but this isn't the big impact and I wanted to talk about that and about the women who didn't share the hashtag.
Being honest about assault or harassment isn't easy, and the way Western culture works means that women can feel shamed even when the harassment is not directed at them. For example, a woman sees another woman get cat called and then the same group of men do not cat call her when she walks past them and society encodes in the second woman the desire to question her attractiveness and to compare herself to the first woman instead of standing in solidarity with the first woman and declaring the actions of the men as demeaning and awful. Society says that women should not stand together but should be put at loggerheads over who is the more desirable. For thousands of women to come out on social media and declare in solidarity, that they all experienced similar acts is powerful. It helps break the stigma of victimhood. Sexual assault and harrassment can lead to massive psychological and emotional scars and women around the world were able to communally have a moment to work through those scars in a medium where rape threats are more common than female solidarity. I therefore want to say to those who like me shared the hashtag that I support you in coming to terms in whatever happened to you. To those who ask why not all women did say the hashtag I will offer some possible reasons:
1. They were not psychologically ready to do so. This does not make these women less brave (the word used for women who did share) or less strong. Some women may spend most of their lives fighting to process what happened to them and reaching a point where they can do so in private much less in public. It is one of the most horrible parts of sexual assault and harassment, that it can forever scar its victims.
2. Society tells them that it won't listen. Many women fear that they will not be believed and this is not uncommon, and not being believed can also be psychological scarring. Others think that they will be slut shamed or that the assault or harassment was in some way their fault. Finally if the assault was an incident where consent had been given at another time but not that time or where the woman felt that she was not able to say "no" as clear as she would want to, there is the potential for guilt on the part of the victim.
3. They don't think what happened to them is significant enough to share. This one I heard from people online who were cautious about not sharing a hashtag of their own. It is one where maybe more people in this boat should have shared. We are told by society that assault and harassment need to be "serious" to be worth mentioning.
Trust me on this internet land, many of women you know who didn't share likely fell into these categories or fell into the "I shared on another occasion" boat- women has shared similar hashtags though not as broadly in the past, for example when the Trump Access Hollywood tape was reported on.
I do want to say that the significance argument is so common that I feel the need to say that harassment and assault can take many forms that don't get reported to the people from the person who grabbed you arse in a crowded space but you never see who it was, to men who have conversations with your chest instead of your face, to cat calling, to internet based attacks based on gender, to any act or conversation that crosses a line and makes you uncomfortable or scared for your safety. I would suggest that we could or should take it further than strict harassment or assault to cases where women are made to feel their only worth is their looks and who are questioned when they do not function to the norms that society sets for women as pretty faces. That said if we took it that far the avalanche of comments on that hashtag might break the internet.
I was going to share one of my MeToo stories, but I've written enough on this so I will say that I've been able to say MeToo since I was very young and not by my broader definition. I would suggest that beyond every woman being able to say it, it is significant number that can say it of their high school years and even earlier (I'm thankfully not in that second basket so far as my memory serves).
These hashtags may not have smashed the patriarchy in the past but the volume of response to this one has received a response for men in support that makes me a little more hopeful if not much.
I wanted to say beyond comments on assault and harassment. It might be worth always checking your privilege when you comment on anything that isn't your personal experience online. This means that for all my experience as a straight white cis gendered middle class woman I need to be always be mindful of the fact that only in my being female am I not privileged and I know that the internet I speak into also largely speaks with that privilege unless they also have the added privilege of being male. I have found that when you share something that could be controversial or presents a view that undermines or questions privilege, the bulk of those who engage in debate are white men whilst women are more likely to use the Facebook reacts but stir clear of comment. Maybe it is just the folks I know and not to say anything bad about white dude engaging in discussion (go right ahead as long as you are meaningful engaging and not just stopping after a few terse words- this is the internet so don't forget your lack of tone), but I have to say I was deeply impressed when a young guy I know the other day started a comment on such a post (an opinion piece- by a white dude in fact- about linkages between violence by men broadly and mass shootings that I had shared as a think piece) by acknowledging his discomfort with the fact that only white dudes were commenting and he was therefore not sure how he felt about adding to that (his comment was really good as a whole and ultimately prompted the only female comment on the post that wasn't me). Checking privilege welcomes engagement and in the world where people are trying to tell personal stories as the MeToo hashtag has encouraged, we need to support and encourage others in our online engagements and not shutting people down with privilege.
Just to end my post on a lighter note. Did you know that snow peas are also called mangetout? I discovered this earlier this evening and knowing I was sitting down to write male violence and harassment towards women, it made me laugh. My new joke, "what is the most feminist vegetable?" "Mangetout". Supposedly it is pronounced mange-tout but still could easily be man-get-out.