As the Weinstein revelations have reverberated, I have, like every other man with a conscience, reflected on what it all means. In one sense that wasn’t difficult.
I’ve only been peripherally aware of Weinstein. But it doesn’t really need more than a cursory glance at the man, his persona and his modus operandi to suggest to anyone reasonably perceptive that something might have been amiss. And anyone with their eyes wide open surely knew that there is no shortage of Weinsteins out there.
But as we were met with wave after wave of testimony, of course, it became important to take more than a cursory glance. A variety of commentators have helped me do that. Mostly they have been women. Mostly they have helped because they have had something to say which resonates. Sometimes, unfortunately, commentators have made me think because of the sheer crassness of their responses. Mostly, they have been men.
For me, two particular thoughts keep surfacing.
The first thought puzzles me. It’s the idea that all this is somehow confusing for men. This has left me pretty perplexed and here’s why.
We live in a world where men continue to have the upper hand in myriad ways, at work, in the home, in sport, in culture. Take large corporations. Take the FTSE 100 for example. There are just seven female chief executives. And male chief executives earn 77% more than their female counterparts. Sure, things have changed over the last 50 years. But men still run stuff. And despite all the progress we’ve made, we also know that things can easily go backwards.
We live in a world where women’s sexuality is relentlessly objectified. At the apparently less harmful end of the spectrum, this takes various forms, the billion pound fashion, beauty and slimming industries for example. Sure, men are part of the target market but on nothing like the scale that women are. It is women who are expected to spend, spend, spend on their appearances. It is women’s bodies that are expected to be a certain size. It is women’s attire that is obsessed about.
And then there’s sheer scale of the porn industry and its normalisation worldwide. Porn is almost impossible to avoid on social media. It accounts for around a third of all internet downloads and data transferred across the internet. Of course, there are different kinds of porn but it is predominantly made by men, about men doing things to women. And, chillingly, the most common female form in porn is women in their 20s portraying teenagers. Porn is overwhelmingly not about consensual sex.
We live in a world where rape and domestic violence are a pandemic. The World Health Organisation reported in 2016 that around 1 in 3 women worldwide has experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. Most of this violence is intimate partner violence. Worldwide, almost one-third of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner.
I could go on. I haven’t even mentioned DT. But do I really need to? Exactly which bit of this is confusing? Check. Male power is super resilient. Check. Women are routinely objectified. Check. Male violence is undiminished. Join the dots. And yet somehow we, men, were shocked that someone like Weinstein existed and that he got away with it for so long.
For sure, in this country and in the USA where the story originated, we have legislation which outlaws some forms of discrimination and sexual violence. But by no means all. Make no mistake, sexism and sexual exploitation are legal. And in any case, laws only take us so far. They put the brakes on some of the most unacceptable behaviours. But they don’t, in and of themselves, change or even challenge the prevailing culture. The constellation of images, symbols and beliefs which reinforce male power, discrimination and the abuse of women haven’t actually gone anywhere. They are, in fact, more rampant than ever. Little wonder that for many women, gender equality as an aspiration is insufficient. The women’s liberation movement wasn’t so named by accident.
Women knew all this. If any bloke has been left in any doubt about women’s daily experience of harassment and abuse, this past couple of weeks, they just haven’t been listening, let alone reflecting. And so we must. Not one of us can be excused from that. I’m gay and leching at women, far less physically abusing them, holds no attraction for me. Does that mean I’m off the hook? Of course not. I’m still the daily beneficiary of male privilege. I can still think of situations where I have witnessed behaviour from men around me and failed to challenge it. If you can’t, you’re kidding yourself. It doesn’t matter who you are or what relationships you have with women.
And so the second thought is a good deal less puzzling.
It is simply this. If we are genuinely outraged. If we really think this has to be a watershed moment. It’s up to us. Of course at first, that’s about listening. But it’s more than that. It’s about accepting. And believing. As one commentator said, we don’t challenge victims of theft by repeatedly asking them whether they are sure they didn’t just give their possessions away.
So listening is good. Up to a point. But culture change is about behaviour change. And that’s about us. Men. You know those strategy days where you reflect on what your organisation should stop doing and start doing? Put yourself right there. Stop colluding. Stop turning a blind eye. Stop ignoring. Stop taking advantage. Stop pretending it isn’t about you. Start looking. Start intervening. Start taking responsibility. Now.
(Oh. And for goodness sake, if you're still confused, go into a dark room and stay there until you've worked it out.)