18 October 2017

Weinstein behaviour is all-too common: Men have to change, now

Come sit down here beside me honey
Let's have a little heart to heart
Now look at me and tell me darlin'
How badly do you want this part?
Are you willing to sacrifice
And are you willing to be real nice
All your talent and my good taste
I'd hate to see it go to waste
King of Hollywood (Glenn Frey, Don Henley) - Eagles (from The Long Run, 1979)

You could hardly miss the biggest news story of the past fortnight. It’s been everywhere: on mainstream media, blogs, TV current affairs shows and it’s filled thousands of column inches in print and online.

Of course I am referring to the allegations made against movie mogul, Harvey Weinstein, with respect to his long-hidden ongoing sexual harassment of female actors and female employees, which were finally given a public airing when The New York Times broke the story on 5 October.

After initially announcing that Weinstein was taking a ‘leave of absence’ the Weinstein Company Board quickly escalated the issue and 48 hours later Weinstein was fired.

Since then an avalanche of further claims against Weinstein, and other powerful men in Hollywood have hit the media with Jennifer Lawrence and Reece Witherspoon sharing their own stories of harassment and humiliation. 

It seems like 2017 might be the year when skeletons really come out of the closet to haunt the, seemingly, never-ending parade of pathetic ‘powerful’ men and their appalling behavior.

Across April and May we saw the high profile sackings of conservative media icons Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes after their respective histories of serial sexual harassment were revealed.

In the wake of Weinstein’s firing Amazon Studios boss, Roy Price, resigned this week after a producer working for Amazon alleged he sexually harassed her.

Women (and some men) in the online world have responded immediately and in unison to the call of actress Alyssa Milano to use the hash tag #MeToo when sharing , or identifying with, their own stories of sexual harassment or worse. Just a brief review of what has been written elicits a range of emotions in me from shock to bewilderment to anger.

I find it hard to comprehend that so many men all over the world behave in such a way, although I completely accept that they do.

I was raised with three sisters. My first four bosses in recruitment were all women, fantastic women. Each one of them I totally respected and learned much from. Each of these women had high standards and demanded plenty of me as an employee but they treated me with respect and showed care and compassion on the occasions when I was confronted with personal challenges that spilled over into work.

I took that example and did my very best to be the same sort of boss with all the employees, regardless of gender, who reported to me over the years. I never witnessed anything from another male employee that I now wish that I had acted on, or spoken up about.

Yet, clearly, my experience is not in the majority.

Last month, closer to home, the treatment of 7 Network (Adelaide) cadet journalist, Amy Taeuber, after she made a sexual harassment complaint about a senior male journalist, was nothing less than disgraceful. 

The recording that Taeuber made of her 'meeting' with HR when she was presented with, unsubstantiated and anonymous, allegations about her own behaviour, demonstrated exactly how far a powerful employer was prepared to go to demonise young women who make complaints about the inappropriate behaviour of their senior male colleagues. Humiliated and denied her rights Taeuber, understandably, was shocked and devastated to be treated in such a way when she had done nothing wrong and was simply following accepted practise for reporting inappropriate workplace behaviour. 

No prizes for guessing what message the other Channel 7 female employees would have received from Taeuber's treatment.

What can be done?

Blogger Helen Vnuk has some suggestions for men about what we can do:
To acknowledge that this is real, this is pervasive; this is a serious issue that needs to be addressed.
To listen; to not tell a woman what she should have done, but try to understand why her reaction might have been to freeze, or do nothing.
To look out for harassment; to not laugh along with harassers; to do what’s in your power to stop them; to be the good one, the strong one.
To not harass; to read women’s stories, and ask yourself if your sexual comments or jokes or advances or touches have constituted harassment.
And… this is the hardest one… to question yourself, really deeply, about your sexual encounters. US writer Kate Stayman-London, in a Facebook post, has asked the men in her life to think back on their sexual history – to the times when they were overly insistent, or when their partner was “pretty drunk” or “mostly asleep”.
“I need you to think back to the most uncomfortable moments in your sexual history, and I need you to ask yourself if maybe they were worse than uncomfortable for your partner,” she wrote. “I’m asking you to search your soul and think if any of these encounters might have been sexual assault.”
Here’s a personal story published on US recruitment site ERE that tells the story many women could relate to, no matter what country they live in; the reality of men in a position of power acting unconscionably toward a junior, younger, female employee.

What are you going to do to help stop this?

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