The cast of the Harvey Weinstein-backed Project Runway. Photo: Project Runway/Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been slimed too, by:

  • The office boss who came up from behind, put his hands on my shoulders and leaned over to give me advice and get a look down my blouse;
  • the parking lot attendant who cornered me and offered to waive the fee for a kiss and a squeeze;
  • the two boys who offered teenaged me a ride home from a party because I had a cast on my leg and then lunged at me from both sides of the front seat…

In fact, the more I focus on retrieving those memories, the more of them I find.  From what I see on Facebook, a lot of women are experiencing something similar.

“Black, white, pretty, ugly, rich, poor, human, a plant! — when it comes to sexual harassment, every day, women are going through an obstacle course,” said comedian Michelle Wolfe on The Daily Show.  Harassment is common for all women, and yet violators often manage to remain off the radar for years or decades.  

When harassment complaints surface against a powerful man, often the public and media’s first response is to claim the first few complainants are lying or crazy. In this case, alleged predator Harvey Weinstein has influenced U.S. culture massively by producing iconic independent films such as Pulp Fiction; Clerks; The Crying Game; Sex, Lies, and Videotape; and Shakespeare in Love, for which he won an Oscar. On Broadway, he has won seven Tony Awards for producing hits such as The Producers, Billy Elliot the Musical, and August: Osage County.

To date, more than 60 Hollywood figures (including men, such as, Quentin Tarantino) have come forward with accusations against Weinstein. They say that he conducted interviews and auditions in his bathrobe or his underwear. He asked women to perform massage on him, or tried to put their hand on his penis. Women who rebuffed him, found their careers stalled or detoured — although Angelina Jolie shunned him and still succeeded.

Project Runway judge and Charmed actress Alyssa Milano kicked off a viral Twitter campaign when she tweeted, “Me too.” Her idea was to show the magnitude of the problem — that is, the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and assault. She asked her Twitter followers, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” Within a week, more than 1.2 million Twitter users had tweeted, “Me too.” By Monday morning, six million Facebook users had also posted, “Me too”, with or without examples.    

“It’s the perverse culture of Hollywood that got us talking,” said Susan Kent on This Hour Has 22 Minutes, “But it’s a perverse culture, full stop.” Women have made this point on social media before, in 2014 with #YesAllWomen in response to the Santa Barbara shooting where the killer targeted women,  and in 2015 when Antonia Zerbisiasis and Sue Montgomery launched  #BeenRapedNeverReported in support of women who alleged radio host Jian Ghomeshi had assaulted them.

Gloria Steinem told The New York Times that social change often requires repetition. “‘When dealing with deep bias like racism and sexism, it usually takes more than one injustice — or even a few,’ Ms. Steinem wrote in an email. ‘The Weinstein scandal would probably have been taken less seriously if Cosby, Ailes and others hadn’t come first and been within easy memory.'”

Men have been subjected to abuse at other men’s hands too, of course. These campaigns point to a difference in degree. Jackson Katz, author of The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help, describes one of his exercises:

I draw a line down the middle of a chalkboard, sketching a male symbol on one side and a female symbol on the other. Then I ask just the men: What steps do you guys take, on a daily basis, to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted? At first there is a kind of awkward silence as the men try to figure out if they’ve been asked a trick question…someone finally raises his hand and soberly states, ‘Nothing. I don’t think about it.’

Then I ask women the same question. What steps do you take on a daily basis to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted? Women throughout the audience immediately start raising their hands. As the men sit in stunned silence, the women recount safety precautions they take as part of their daily routine. Here are some of their answers: Hold my keys as a potential weapon. Look in the back seat of the car before getting in. Carry a cell phone. Don’t go jogging at night. Lock all the windows when I sleep, even on hot summer nights. Be careful not to drink too much. Don’t put my drink down and come back to it; make sure I see it being poured. Own a big dog. Carry Mace or pepper spray. Have an unlisted phone number. Have a man’s voice on my answering machine…”

As Michelle Wolfe said, women run an obstacle course every day.  She suggested that every time a man is removed from a powerful position due to predatory behaviour towards women, than his job should go to a woman.

Full Frontal comedy host Samantha Bee offered ambitious men some advice in a “Penis PSA” video that went viral the week after the New York Times broke the story. In the video, a beautifully groomed Bee faces the camera and says straight-faced, “Fellas, I’m a big comedy star/Hollywood executive and I found that it’s quite easy not to masturbate in front of my employees. In fact, it’s one of the easiest things I don’t do… Next time you get the urge to masturbate, just ask yourself, ‘Am I in front of an employee or a colleague?’ And if the answer is yes, don’t — just don’t.”

Because nobody likes to be slimed.

Photo: Project Runway/Wikimedia Commons

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Penney Kome

Penney Kome

Award-winning journalist and author Penney Kome has published six non-fiction books and hundreds of periodical articles, as well as writing a national column for 12 years and a local (Calgary) column...