Hiding in plain sight

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(image from a 1960s ad for Smirnoff Vodka- with added text)

CW- sexu­al abuse, sexu­al assault, harass­ment, miso­gyny, racism, silen­cing- noth­ing described in graph­ic terms, only in outlines

I’ve wanted to write about some happi­er things for the last few days, but my mind has been very much consumed with the Harvey Wein­stein sexu­al assault scan­dal. I have never worked in the film industry or had much to do with power­ful million­aires but the constant stream of new testi­mon­ies of abuse by Wein­stein and other power­ful media figures that are now coming out are a daily remind­er that there are a hell of a lot of men out there in all kinds of settings who abso­lutely get off on humi­li­at­ing you and feel­ing like they have power over you, no matter how small, safe in the know­ledge that soci­ety always lets them off the hook in the end. It reminds you of the times these things happened to you. I’m not alone, it’s stir­ring a lot things up in a lot of people.

There’s a lot of pres­sure to keep silent about these things. As Stassa Edward’s  Don’t Make A Scene article states:

“‘Don’t embar­rass me in the hotel,’ Harvey Wein­stein commanded model Ambra Battil­ana Guti­er­rez … ‘You’re making a scene,’ is a phrase that nearly every woman is famil­i­ar with. It’s invoked to command a kind of moral author­ity over women’s beha­vi­or, quickly coding it as irra­tion­al and veer­ing towards crazy. To ‘make a scene’ is a series of ever-chan­ging images, flex­ible enough to be used to describe a range of beha­vi­ors.”

Rose McGow­an was vocal for years about her abuse, and mostly was just dismissed as crazy and hyster­ic­al, a washed up star bitter she wasn’t more famous. Terry Crews, a man with a super-mascu­line public image, revealed this week that he was groped in public at an awards show by a Holly­wood exec­ut­ive, but knew that if he reacted or caused a fuss he would prob­ably be the one to get in trouble and labelled with the stereo­type of the aggress­ive or hyper-sens­it­ive black man.

I’m also wonder­ing as well when the Holly­wood child abuse scan­dal is going to come out. Corey Feld­man has been talk­ing for years in inter­views about how he and other child stars were horribly sexu­ally abused by someone who’s still a big name now, but he didn’t feel able to publicly name the perpet­rat­or because he’d prob­ably just end up getting sued into the ground for defam­a­tion. He discussed it on a talk show a couple of years ago and was scol­ded by Barbara Walters for “ruin­ing” Holly­wood and his profes­sion. Cory Feld­man is also easily dismissed as a washed up child star.

R Kelly contin­ues to get away with being a sex crim­in­al, because he delib­er­ately targets teen­age black girls from poor famil­ies, and plenty of people out there just can’t quite bring them­selves to be bothered about them. I mean R Kelly has all those songs we know the words of? And he’s kind of funny and kitschy and 90s? Stop bring­ing me down.

Sarah Polley, a child star who quit acting to become an acclaimed direct­or (you prob­ably remem­ber her from the Ramona tv show) has writ­ten anoth­er very good article about grow­ing up in the film industry and her run-in with Wein­stein- The Men You Meet Making Movies

“On sets, I saw women constantly pres­sured to exploit their sexu­al­ity and then chas­tised as sluts for doing so. Women in tech­nic­al jobs were almost nonex­ist­ent, and when they were there, they were constantly being tested to see if they really knew what they were doing. You felt alone, in a sea of men.”

“One produ­cer, when I mentioned I didn’t feel a rape scene was being handled sens­it­ively, barked that Dakota Fanning had done a rape scene when she was 12 — “And she’s fine!” A debat­able conjec­ture, surely.”

“Like so many, I didn’t know what to do with all of it. I’ve grown up in this industry, surroun­ded by pred­at­ory beha­vi­or, and the idea of making people care about it seemed as distant an ambi­tion as pulling the sun out of the sky.”

Lucy Preb­ble has also writ­ten an excel­lent article on the topic- Short Cuts.

“Young­er, less exper­i­enced employ­ees are look­ing to you to define what their role is, how they should be, wheth­er and how they matter. When you teach them that the way they matter is in how attract­ive they are to you and the ways they can bolster your sense of power, you don’t only abuse your posi­tion profes­sion­ally and person­ally, you also alter their sense of self.”

I’m avoid­ing read­ing comments on these stor­ies on main­stream media. They’re full of men (and women over­come with inter­n­al­ised miso­gyny) complain­ing that the women didn’t come forwards fast enough and are to blame, while para­dox­ic­ally also complain­ing that they’re exag­ger­at­ing and prob­ably making the whole thing up for atten­tion or spec­u­lat­ing which slutty slut sluts slept with Wein­stein to get their career. Even when Björk came forwards today on Face­book to speak out about Lars von Trier (oh sorry, the “Danish direct­or”), she was receiv­ing the same treat­ment from people who are appar­ently her fans.

I remem­ber at the time that Dancer in the Dark came out it was often mentioned in the press how the film “broke” Björk – like it was almost some kind of badge of pride at how it was push­ing the bound­ar­ies of art or whatever to “break” a person. Lars von Trier is always portrayed as the daring provocateur who is allowed to “break” other people because it’s in the service of his art. A lot of film direct­ors get viewed in that light. You only have to look at a lot of the reac­tions to the stuff that came out about the film­ing of the rape scene in Last Tango in Paris- a completely differ­ent scene to what was planned was sprung on Maria Schneider without her consent because Berto­lu­cci wanted to get some real humi­li­ation on film to fit his artist­ic vision, and her body was just the mater­i­al he could use to get that

I have already got into one online fight today with a near stranger about Woody Allen. He barged in to Well Actu­ally did you know there are tech­nic­al­it­ies that mean he didn’t tech­nic­ally marry his step­daugh­ter? Tech­nic­al­it­ies that wise, neut­ral, enlightened men must patron­isingly explain to you. We must excuse our artistes. They make films we like, and well, other people don’t quite matter, do they?

I think it’s very, very inter­est­ing that Ronan Farrow, Woody Allen’s estranged son who hates his father’s guts and calls him out as a child abuser who took advant­age of a legal loop­hole to marry one of his victims, wrote the big take­down article of Wein­stein that set the ball rolling. Perhaps Allen will be next.

Farrow’s New York­er article was the result of nearly a year’s patient detect­ive work, care­ful build­ing of the victim’s confid­ence and a posit­ive usage of Ronan Farrow’s impress­ive family connec­tions and wealth- he was able to persevere with the story even when his employ­er NBC News wanted to drop it. Emily Reynold’s article An Incom­plete List of All the Men Who Have Wronged Me discusses the pres­sure from “ally” men to come forward with complaints ASAP without any consid­er­a­tion for the precari­ous posi­tion many victims are already in:

“He doesn’t under­stand this — as he doesn’t really under­stand his ex-girlfriend’s harass­ment, and never really will — because unlike me, he has noth­ing to lose. He’s much older than me, he has a career; a career so much less precari­ous than mine that he often considers just jack­ing it all in for a bit. He can do this because he has things I don’t yet have: a repu­ta­tion, a name, money, exper­i­ence. Yet some­how, with all of this, he thinks that by fail­ing to stick it to the estab­lish­ment I’m also fail­ing as a femin­ist and as a woman. He doesn’t real­ise that despite his postur­ing and his endless mentions of female friends and how badly they’d been wronged by men, he has much more in common with my harass­er than he does with the harassed.”

The sad fact is as well that in real life a lot of men will say all the right things when it’s some celebrity who is essen­tially abstract to them, but when it’s their pal (or even just someone who they’re a fan of)? They close ranks.

“He seems genu­inely sorry”
“You’re making too big a deal out of this”
“I really like his band, and I want to contin­ue putting on their gigs”
“Oh but he’s so funny”
“Are you not making things diffi­cult for every­one”

There are plenty of women who will do this too. Making the bargain with the devil so they can convince them­selves that it won’t happen to them. Only those other women. I have even seen this in action with women who sell a public image of them­selves as an ultra-femin­ist work­ing for women’s protec­tion suddenly being unwill­ing to take any action against a pal of theirs who had been seen commit­ting seri­ous domest­ic viol­ence. We have to be “nuanced” about this suddenly. He was in the right cool bands after all.

Even when pred­at­ory men can refrain from phys­ic­ally assault­ing people, there are still plenty of other ways they can get their fill of humi­li­at­ing and having petty power. Wein­stein used his extens­ive press contacts to dig up or invent humi­li­at­ing press stor­ies about people who crossed him. Of course rich people can also suppress stor­ies by threat­en­ing to sue you into the ground.

Even people with little-to-no power or cachet can get their spite­ful fill via the inter­net. Revenge porn – the shar­ing of nude or sexu­al images without the subject of them’s consent- has become a crime recently in many coun­tries. How do you categor­ise the verbal equi­val­ent however? I dated someone a couple of years ago (oh, let’s call him Ste Barrow, and say, oh he now lives in Manchester and is 36 years old) wrote a grot­esque sex story about me made up of exag­ger­ated real details and made up sensa­tion­al ones, and then posted it on the discus­sion section of a nation­al music website because he needed atten­tion and wanted the power of humi­li­at­ing me (I’m still not sure quite why- I thought we were on excel­lent terms). I didn’t find out for nearly a day that it exis­ted, so I still have no idea who read it. There was the added humi­li­ation of real­ising that lots of people I know in real life use the site.

I complained to the website, got it removed, and made that prick write an apology. Rather than being angry with him, the online boy’s club of “sens­it­ive” music fans turned on me. Don’t you know giving the boys club five minutes of laughs or amuse­ment over­rides anything else? How dare I make them uncom­fort­able. The atti­tude was that I was the prob­lem and the best thing to do was lay into me and humi­li­ate me more to win inter­net bro points. Even more when I poin­ted out that a lot of these guy’s real life iden­tit­ies were very obvi­ous and they weren’t safely anonym­ous.

I got ol’ dick­face above banned from a lot of places and gigs he wanted to go to, and good luck to him if he ever wants to be in a band again and get gigs, because people I know in real life were thank­fully horri­fied and appalled by what he did. Once there were suddenly consequences for him, he was eager to apolo­gise and try to make amends.

Alas it turns out that apolo­gies from compuls­ive liars and manip­u­lat­ors are worth­less. He had done exactly the same thing to anoth­er woman in anoth­er city before and not learnt a thing. After creat­ing yet more mess with his continu­al lying, I never wanted to see or hear anything of him ever again. Unfor­tu­nately I don’t get that luxury, as he pops up like a bad penny, and has his boys who stick with him no matter what he has done.

When I came forward and got him banned from places, so many people I know contac­ted me to say they had simil­ar stor­ies and had not felt able to make the fuss. I was “lucky” enough that there was solid writ­ten evid­ence- I didn’t have to the run the start­ing gaunt­let of being assumed to be a liar. Even then, I still got the “You’re making too big a deal out of this” and “Are you not making things diffi­cult for every­one”.

Maybe the Harvey Wein­stein scan­dal is the one that opens the floodgates and changes a lot of things. Maybe it won’t be. If it isn’t, we surely can’t let anyone get too comfort­able and compla­cent again. Actions have consequences now, and despite all the negat­ive aspects of social media, it’s much, much harder to make your bad deeds disap­pear now.

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