So men in power apparently abuse their position to grope women and indulge in some major sexual harassment on an industrial scale? Who fucking knew??
Seriously people, is anyone really all that surprised? I mean, it’s surprising that these scumbags have gotten away with it for quite so long. It’s surprising that they have committed these crimes – and yes, they are crimes, and they should be punished for it – with the full knowledge of their peers and colleagues and nobody has challenged them. Well, money and influence seem to be more important than human rights, decency, and the law. Actually, I shouldn’t be surprised at all. We’re a disgusting species sometimes. And we disparage the way animals behave? Sheeeesh!
Hollywood is driven by sex, from the way stars are marketed, to the content of the films. And why not? Sex is fun and great, and we’re far too prudish about it. The prudishness around sex is why they’ve gotten away with it of course, because the victims are shamed into silence by the people who surround the perpetrators. That, and everyone in Hollywood is beautiful. Well, not Weinstein. He looks like Jabba the Hutt’s acne-scarred brother, but money buys a lot self-confidence I suppose.
I can’t open my eyes without seeing every single flat surface covered by images of the beautiful. It’s on every bus, every magazine cover, every single screen that is switched on, for the flimsiest of excuses. I’ve just been looking to get some firewood, and I found a UK firewood supplier’s website, and for some bizarre reason they’ve got pictures of their net bags of seasoned logs lovingly caressed by a shapely young lass with a winning smile and slender legs, as if that’s going to make wood more appealing to me. It adds a new meaning to the phrase “Got Wood?” I suppose.
So I’ve got to explain all of this to my innocent little Alice, and it shits me right up. For one thing, we’ve had the awkward “What is Sexual Harassment?” talk as a result of all this being in the news. Well, if I’m honest, it wasn’t me dealing with it. Poor Sarah happened to be the one to deal with it, which has obviously led on to all sorts of tricky conversations about Alice and her ownership of her body, and how people could abuse her, and what’s appropriate or not. On one hand, I kinda feel that we’re being rushed into telling our darling daughter about things that she’s too young to fully understand… but on the other, it’s never too early to tell children (boys as well as girls) about such essential concepts: consent, abuse, ‘wrong-touching’, harassment, groping, sexism, misogyny, domestic violence… not so much how to stay safe, but more about how to not put up with abuse, sexism, violence, misogyny, and being groped for ONE SECOND.
I hate that my daughter is growing up in a world where at some point in her life she will get catcalled, risk getting intimately touched without consent, or have some massive arsehole leer at her. We’re a more enlightened civilisation now, and we’re better than this, right? Apparently not.
She is also going to have to live with the fact that at some point she will hate her body, not because anything is wrong with it, but because society has told her she must assume she is inferior. And unless she is incredibly, almost unrealistically fortunate, she will not meet a man (I’m assuming her default setting will be hetero, but I’m happy to be proved wrong) who will love her unconditionally, and respect her boundaries and her body for many years yet. I fear she may have to kiss a few frogs, and I’ll be angry on her behalf several times (from sympathetic comfort eating, to me passing on my inadequate advice about such things, and wishing I could beat up some troublesome, pestering rodent who bothers her, to telling her over and over again that she is beautiful and her body is normal) before she truly meets someone who will treat her the way everyone should be treated.
It’s an uphill struggle, to be honest. Whether it’s the overwhelming barrage of glamorous imagery in advertising, or the almost hyper-unreal bodies of celebrities in magazines, or the way women are portrayed in films and television programmes. I want to show my daughter positive female role models who aren’t slender and gorgeous. I also want to show my daughter films where men aren’t fucking arseholes to women all the time.
For example, I’d love to show my daughter James Bond movies, but this is problematic for two reasons:
a) He’s a fucking louse to women. OK, in the later years, this was sort-of addressed in a jokey way (and Daniel Craig’s version of Bond is certainly less of a prick), but to show Alice the early Connery movies means that she will see him slap women about a fair bit. And in Goldfinger, he is not exactly consensual with Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore (oh yeah, gonna enjoy explaining that to Alice). Roger Moore is as bad, if not worse. Just forget that in the later ones he’s a creepy, crinkled, walnut of a man, cavorting with willowy 20-somethings, OK? I’m thinking of the moment in Moonraker where he arrives in Brazil, gets shown to his hotel room, and then – within seconds – starts to undress some girl who was nearby. Because that’s how men should treat women in real life, yeah?
b) Alice doesn’t like the Bond films anyway.
We love our pop-culture movies in the Phnut household, and as has been written before, we’re keen to show Alice some of our favourite movies. But this is seriously problematic. Any pop-culture film made between 1970 and 1990 has some tricky issues to cover. Back to the Future deals with incest and a near-rape – the former being handled in a funny way, the latter most definitely not, but it’s still hard to explain to a kid. Bill Murray’s character in Ghostbusters, if you look at it through 2017s less rosy spectacles, sexually harasses Sigourney Weaver in a really creepy, manipulative way. I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but he does. His behaviour towards her warrants a restraining order from the very first meeting. I know it’s one of your favourite films from the 1980s, but if this is the way Hollywood treats fantasy, are you really that surprised that the reality is so foul?
Even Star Wars is not immune. The Empire Strikes Back sees Han Solo behave like a Tinder-stalking wanker to Princess Leia, right up to the very moment she suddenly decides to fall in love with him. Eww. Raiders of the Lost Ark has a really disturbing sub-plot about Indiana Jones having an implied relationship with the under-age daughter of his mentor. These are two of my favourite, top-ten films of all time. I mean, I like films with an edge, but it makes Marvel’s ‘hey let’s not make a film with a woman as the prime hero’ policy look somewhat progressively Feminazi by comparison.
(Empire and Raiders are still in my top-ten, by the way. I may see subtexts and sexual politics differently these days, but a fucking ace film is a fucking ace film. Likewise, Kevin Spacey is a brilliant actor. He is a sexual predator who has escaped – for now – from facing justice by having “treatment” for his appalling behaviour. What a fucking coward… But he’s still an amazing actor. It’s a contradiction, I know)
Closer to home, casual sexism is all around us. I work in retail so I encounter some lovely people. I also encounter shits. There was the couple where they bickered in front of me, and then he faced me, and in full view of his wife, said: “I should have left her by the side of the road when I had the chance”. Or the man who stopped his wife speaking by shoving his hand over her mouth. Or the man who, when I asked him what he was looking for in home furnishings, replied: “I dunno mate. I’m not the one in charge, am I? She is. [pause] What a bitch.”, and then laughed in that blokey way when men expect a kindred response. I was revolted.
Closer than that. All around our family, in fact. Couples we know well where the woman is expected to clean the house, or prevailed upon to cook, or do the bulk – if not all – of the parenting, even on weekends or family holidays. We say nothing, or very little.
It gets closer still. Alice has started to get it in the playground of her school. Some of the boys are under the impression that they’re automatically better than the girls. One boy in particular has decided Alice is his girlfriend, and when Alice has asked to be left alone by him, has been possessive, jealous, and manipulating. If he were 18, I’d be all puffed-up, manly, and confrontational with him. But he’s not. He’s 8. At this point, I’m loathe to fall back on what we all know boys will be (answer: they will be boys), but I’m awkwardly balancing between taking this far too seriously, and not taking it seriously enough.
Closer to me: Male friends of mine who put the quality of a woman’s tits before their personality, intelligence, or talents as a pre-requisite to a relationship, or a working creative partnership. I’ve said nothing to them. Sarah has been yelled at in the street throughout her life – I still get furious about it – and even then she still didn’t feel the need to hashtag “me too”, because she feels it doesn’t compare to what some women endure.
My one contribution to standing up to this onslaught of human shittery was when we had a family friend, who was close to us and a regular visitor around the time of Alice’s birth. A depressive lonely guy, but a pleasantly conversational geek who shared interests with us. Ostensibly a really nice guy. But his facebook page was a litany of pop-culture references, a stream-of-consciousness about his misery and loneliness, and daily mentioning of breasts, boobs, tits, jigglers, jugs, whoppers, bouncers, mammaries, ta-tas, and female lady-nipples. It got tiresome; tiresome enough that Sarah began to complain vocally about it to me.
So, when he one day announced it was Topless Tuesday, and that the women on his feed should take pictures of their norks and publish them for the world to see, between myself and a close female friend, we called him out on it. The result was predictable: First there was a denial, then an angry insistence that if we don’t like it, we shouldn’t look at it. Then it was just a bit of harmless fun. Then there was the grovelling but insincere blanket apology to all womankind for all his crimes. He vowed to never post about boobs again. Then he finally threatened to commit suicide. I walked away from the conversation at that point. Then he unfriended me.
He didn’t commit suicide in the end. And a whole bunch of his loyal Facebook chums, some female, told him not to worry, and that I was a bullying arrogant prick, and they knew he was just having a bit of harmless fun. He swore he was done with such behaviour. Three weeks later he commented about a female musicians’ breasts and how comely they were. That was when Sarah gave up on him. This was a guy who used to buy Alice presents (a few too many, if I’m honest) when she was a baby. I’m glad he’s not part of her life now.
I write all of this smug, virtue-signalling pontification, knowing damn well that at times I’ve been part of the problem. I have, with almost complete certainty, done things that do not make me look good now. Inappropriate comments? Sure. Disrespecting boundaries? Yup, I’m fond of a hug or two, and I’m sure I’ve given out some when they were not wanted or solicited. Creepy behaviour? Yes. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve bombarded girls with texts back in the day. I daresay there is one – maybe more – woman from my past acquaintance that equate my face with creepy loathsomeness. I’ve commented on the attractiveness of women’s bodies on television (or even in the street when I hoped they weren’t listening), sometimes to myself or with leery, beery, rowdy, bellowing mates.
I know I have to explain this to my daughter over the coming years. This very morning I had to explain what pornography was, thanks to a news report about a politician who enjoyed looking at smut during work hours. Ah, parenting.
I have to explain the shitty things about growing up in a world where women have less value than men. I might have to confess about my past antics, and she will undoubtedly witness things about me and my behaviour that will disappoint her. I am a father, but the job description more or less says I should be perfect, and I know I’m not. There’s plenty of evidence to support this.
And hope she becomes a better person, who has sincere, respectful loving relationships with better people than me. And that she can walk the streets any time of day, wearing whatever she wants, without fear of attack or being shouted at. I dunno, maybe I’m being unrealistic.
But then, I recall this story, told to me by someone else: A girl of his acquaintance was out at a local nitespot, quite a few years ago, where she was accosted by some random arsehole. The conversation went something like this:
Arsehole: Hey, nice tits!
Girl: Excuse me?
Arsehole: Aww, I’m just having a laugh
Girl: No, what did you say?
Arsehole: Look, it’s nothing, really
Girl: Good. Because if you say I have nice tits again, I’ll break your fucking neck.
[Arsehole slinks away]
^^^This. This is how I want my daughter to react. I’ll be telling this story to her sooner rather than later. Ah, parenting…