A piece in today’s Times, emphases ours:
Did you stay up last night for the Oscars? I didn’t but let me guess: was it a carnival of sanctimony in honour of #MeToo? Did the winner for best sound mixing tearfully raise his statuette for all women who have ever had an unwanted hand on their knee? Were there starlets in black satin slashed to the navel wearing solidarity pouts? Perhaps the red carpet was graced by a burning effigy of Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer, Benjamin Brafman.
Over the weekend Mr Brafman took a pin to this bubble of self-righteousness by speaking out about the casting couch. “If a woman decides that she needs to have sex with a Hollywood producer in order to advance her career . . . that’s not rape. You made a conscious decision that you’re willing to do something that is personally offensive in order to advance your career.”
Mr Brafman’s remarks will have had the Hollywood set quivering with indignation, as though the San Andreas Fault were going bananas beneath them. Certainly, the comments sit uncomfortably with what we have heard of Weinstein: his habit of blocking doorways, grabbing, snarling and generally acting like a large poisonous human toad. I do hope his cosy room at an Arizona sex addiction clinic is soon swapped for something a little more austere.
Yet Brafman raises an uncomfortable truth that has been lost in the MeToo noise. In relations between men and women, the latter can also use their assets to exploit the other party. Young, attractive women wield immense power over men, which they sometimes use to their own advantage. The women’s rights campaigns currently being waged are in denial of this. They want to reduce much of what is complicated about sexual interaction to a simple predator-victim picture — and it isn’t the truth.
Whenever one writes on this subject there must come the disclaimer that what follows does not refer to actual coercion, rape or sexual assault. No woman is ever “asking for it”; refusing sex immediately wipes out all earlier flirtation; physical force is always entirely inexcusable.
Beneath this, though, is a whole swathe of grey-area behaviour now routinely cast as exploitation: drinks, flirts, consensual activity between senior men and less senior women that are seen as abuses of power. There is something oddly patronising in this. It ignores the fact that a lot of the time women are not only complicit in a useful flirtation but at the controls. I have not, thank goodness, had cause to say “MeToo” to stories of abuse — but if there were women who came out admitting that their youth or looks had at some point been advantageous, it would get a “MeToo” from this corner. That doesn’t mean sleeping my way to the top (I wouldn’t even sleep my way to the middle); rather that during those years of sharp-elbowed advancement in my twenties, it was clear that simply being a young woman could open doors closed to men.
For years I was a researcher in parliament. There were downsides to being a young woman in Westminster; mainly being patronised by older men (a peer once helpfully explained to me that the First World War was “the one with the trenches”). The flipside to this irritating old codgery was that as a twentysomething woman I tended to stand out against my male counterparts. However upstanding or faithful to his wife, a heterosexual MP is likely to be more receptive to a conversation with a female researcher than a male political nerd in coffee-stained tie. As a woman you may not be unaware of this advantage. You will try to be nicely turned out and pleasant to gain an entrée into various people’s orbits — from which position you can then prove you have a brain too.
This is the truth of a lot of male-female interaction, but alas it doesn’t fit the predator-victim line pushed by the MeToo campaign. When Damian Green was alleged to have brushed the knee of a young female journalist while having a drink with her, the mob raged that it was an abuse of power. Yet let us rewind a little further: would the journalist in question really have been clinking glasses with the deputy prime minister if she had been a hack of equal talent named Gareth and in possession of an Adam’s apple? In the game played daily the world over, many women are wise to the rules and use them to their own advantage.
Of course, the charge levelled at politics, showbusiness and other industries is that men, more than women, tend to be the granters of opportunities, status, money and thus hold the power that obliges women to bat their eyelashes. I agree this needs to change, and slowly but surely it is, as more women reach senior positions. But let’s face it, the implicit transactions between male status and female beauty are unlikely ever to go away. As the writer John Mortimer once remarked, “I suppose true sexual equality will come when a general called Anthea is found having an unwise lunch with a young unreliable male model from Spain.” It is humorous because we know it will never happen. Men will always have their heads turned by youth and beauty; some women will always use this to their advantage.
The key thing is female choice, as Brafman stated. When a woman is choosing to flirt, fluff a man’s ego and perhaps take things further in order to get on, she is no helpless victim of the patriarchy. So let us stop this patronising insistence that men are always the predators and women always the victims — and admit that “exploitation” can cut both ways.
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