I’ve always thought I’ve been extraordinarily lucky with men. Most of the ones I’ve come across have been good, kind, decent guys. Pretty much all the ones I have in my life right now would rather remove their own eyes with a spoon than hurt a woman. I can honestly count on one hand the number of situations I’ve been in where I’ve thought, “shit, this could turn nasty”.
I hadn’t thought about one particular incident for years, until I read the New Yorker’s report on Harvey Weinstein (serious trigger warning for that, I honestly wouldn’t read it if you’re feeling fragile in any way). If I’m honest, I’m not sure how much the occasion I’m thinking of counts – it wasn’t a wholly one-sided thing, there was… preamble. Circumstances that mean it wasn’t entirely straightforward. But to keep it vague and brief: a slightly older guy threatened to make life difficult for 19-year-old me if I did not acquiesce to a certain request. The wave of panic I remember feeling was double-crested: one, that he would follow through on his threat and I’d lose a lovely, happy thing that had only recently come into my life, and two, that he would physically hurt me as we stood there in his room. Because that is what it comes down to: women know that if a man wants to overpower us, there is very little we can do to stop him.
And that knowledge is there, flickering like a candle in the back of our minds, every time we travel home alone. Every time we step into a windowless meeting room with one or more men. Every time we leave the house after dusk. Every time we accept a lift from an acquaintance, the candle winks. Is this the night I become a headline? Is this the car journey that takes me into those awful statistics?
It’s hard to read the Weinstein allegations for many reasons – his actions are hideous, the amount of enabling and blind eyes turned is incomprehensible, the words of the women are utterly devastating. But for women who’ve been following the news, what lingers in the mind most is recognition. Long after we’ve closed the tab or discarded the newspaper, the feeling haunts us. These accounts of strange meetings, inappropriate conversations, threats, physical assaults – they unlock memories. We recall the bad boyfriend, the vile boss, the creepy colleague. Men who thought they could do as they pleased. The “misunderstandings”, the “overreactions”.
And we know it’s not all men, of course it’s #notallmen. But it’s enough men for it to look like a something of a trend.
It’s enough men for it to now be on all men to stop it happening. Step in, speak up, make a God-damn scene.
And as an aside, if your first reaction to the Weinstein scandal is “but it’s not all men”, then you’re deliberately missing the point. Because while it may not be all men, every woman has a story, and most of them can rattle off a list. From catcalling to being groped in a club to being followed home to outright assault, every woman has been made to feel less than human at least once in her life. Every woman has seen muscles of power being flexed at her expense. Because that’s what it’s about: power. There’s a reason Weinstein preyed on younger, less well-known actresses. He knew exactly what he was doing, which makes the news that he’s gone into rehab for ‘sex addiction’ all the more troubling. Addiction makes the person sound helpless, not fully in control of their own actions. Call me a cynic but somehow I don’t think sex addiction is at the root of Weinstein’s problem with women.
Now is not the time for victim-blaming, for “casting couch” jokes, for whiny “not all men” thinkpieces. Women know it’s not all men; it’s just far too many of them to not look a bit suspicious.