There has been a lot in the news this week about the goings on relating to Harvey Weinstein. And on balance it would seem, just looking at the volume of complaints against him, that there is likely to be truth behind the whole thing (if not every single detail). I am sure there will be some who jump on the bandwagon for some quick cash, but the majority of allegations come from successful women in the industry who have no financial reason to step forward.
Isn’t it a shame then – that this seems to have been going on for a long time and it has taken 30 YEARS for some of these women to speak up.
Why is that?
Maybe partly it is down to feeling isolated – if you think you are the only one this has happened to and you are an unknown actress and this is a Hollywood powerhouse – perhaps you think no-one will listen to you. Maybe you believe that your career will be ruined. Possibly no-one will believe you. Potentially you feel it is in some way your fault and that someone else would have handled the situation better.
The power of social media is such that it takes down all the barriers. The power someone like Harvey Weinstein had for many years meant that any story that DID pop up would have been easy to squash. We are hearing now that ‘everybody knew’ about what was going on. So why did no-one DO anything? Probably because no-one felt powerful enough in their own right. Men or women.
But this is not the 1980’s. Today we have social media, and, as Kathryn Bigelow, Oscar Winning Director, said this week “The democratization of the spread of information can finally move faster than a powerful media mogul’s attempts to bury it”.
There is a caveat to all this. We DO have to be careful and check our facts. A witch hunt can easily be started on social media – with no checks and balances – unlike the press. Whatever you might think about the press – they do have to show they have tried to verify the facts of a story before printing it – or risk being sued. On social media – people Can and DO say all sorts of untruths, so you have to be able to differentiate the lies form the truth.
Overall though, I think it is a good thing. Of course, one person can always have a problem with one other person. Individual disputes, bitching and moaning or slagging someone off is NOT anything that should be encouraged or carried out on social media. It is nigh impossible to take words back once they are written indelibly on the internet. And with no proof and just ‘your word for it’ YOU are often the one who ends up looking like the trouble causer / the loser with a capital “L” or the bully.
I don’t encourage that kind of behaviour AT ALL.
However, in this case, and the case perhaps of other serial offenders – if enough of the victims stand up and say NO publicly, then it can’t be buried under the woodwork any longer. And it sounds as if in Hollywood, this culture has been prevalent and it is long past time for a change.
I think in life generally, women have a tendency to keep the status quo, to not rock the boat, to not speak out. And that leads them not only to not speak up in cases like this but also to hiding their light under a bushel in business and in life generally.
Let me tell you a story.
If you had been with me on a sunny summers day in the 19080’s, we would have been walking down Deansgate in Manchester to the first day of my new job. I was 18. This was the first ‘proper job’ I had. I had worked since 13 doing paper rounds and Saturday jobs at Boots, and working in the local chippy in the evenings and weekends whilst doing my A levels. But this was ‘proper job’. It was in an office! (My definition of a ‘proper job’).
It was only for 6 weeks as a contract and it was more money than I had ever seen. I can’t remember how much now, but it was at least twice the amount per day that I was used to getting.
It was for a company who booked tickets for Pakistan Airlines (which at that time only flew out of London). There was a tiny office with 2 desks and a filing cabinet, and a boss – who was Indian I think, could have been Pakistani, I never thought to ask, whose name I have expunged from my memory.
My Dad was a travel agent at the time – Regional Manager, no less, at Exchange Travel in Piccadilly Plaza, and he knew all the airline people, naturally because of his job. He also had great relationships with many Indian friends because he was born and lived in Calcutta for 27 years and he spoke Hindi, Gujarati, Bengali and Urdu. Clever man my Pa.
My Dad had asked around within his contacts for someone looking for a summer employee (I was off to Uni the year after), and this chap – whose name I have blocked forever from my mind, came forward.
The first week I loved it. I learned how to answer a phone, use a typewriter and put together a letter, and how to use a Telex machine. Look it up if you are too young to know what that is – but basically it was the thing people had before they had a fax machine. What’s a fax machine you ask? Oh – stop it!
On the Friday of the first week we went to my first ever networking evet. It was held at some other airlines premises and I thought I was so grown up having a couple of glasses of wine at a LUNCHTIME – how decadent?
When we got back to the office and feeling rather tipsy – my boss asked if I wanted a whiskey. I said no, because I don’t like whiskey, but he poured me one anyway. I managed to pour it in my tea when he wasn’t looking and pretend I had drunk it. It made me feel a bit uncomfortable as I didn’t like that he ignored my ‘No’, but I was just a kid and didn’t think I should make a fuss. He was just trying to be nice, right?
The following week was another networking event and more wine at lunchtime. When we got back – again I was asked if I wanted a whiskey. I declined saying I was a bit tired and my boss then came up behind my chair and said – “I will give you a massage if you are tired. That will make you feel better”. “No, that’s OK thanks – I…..” Too late. He was already rubbing my neck and shoulders.
As soon as I felt I could, I stood up and excused myself because I “needed the toilet”. The Boss didn’t seem pleased.
The next day I tried to get out of going to yet another networking lunch, but I was told in no uncertain terms it was part of my job and expected.
That was the day he tried to put his hand into my bra as he ‘massaged‘ me.
I told him to stop. He didn’t. I told him to stop or I would tell my Dad. He stopped – immediately. “No, no, don’t tell Mr Fossey, there is no need to tell Mr Fossey” he said, looking very worried. People were afraid of my Dad. Luckily for me.
Don’t ask me why – but I continued to work there for the remaining 4 weeks of my contract (which was not extended). I didn’t see much of my boss in that time, he would only come into the office if we had a client to see who wanted to buy airline tickets. The rest of the time he left me to it and hardly spoke to me, leaving instructions on a written note by my phone. There wasn’t much to do apart from answer the odd call or type the odd letter. So mostly I read a book or 6.
At the end of the contract I left him a nice note thanking him for the opportunity and I never did tell my Dad. I haven’t thought about that incident for many years, but it was interesting this week analysing why I reacted the way I did (which would be totally different now).
Firstly – why did I not tell my Dad? Well partly I guess because I was embarrassed and felt humiliated by it. I know my Dad would have gone round and literally knocked the guys block off, and would have ruined his career (and possibly my Dad’s). I didn’t want to feel responsible for that. Also, I felt bad for my Dad, he went to the trouble of getting me this (seemingly great) opportunity and I didn’t want HIM to feel guilty about putting me in that situation.
Also – I was a kid. What did I know? But I was also fiercely independent and I didn’t want to rely on anyone else to sort out my problems, including and perhaps especially, my Dad. I wanted him to be proud of me and not sorry for me. The worse thing ever for me at that time, would have been to see pity in my Dad’s eyes. That would have proven to me that I was NOT grown up (as I liked to think I was), that I COULDN’T cope on my own, and that I NEEDED someone else. For various reasons I won’t go into here, that was an anathema to me.
What it did achieve though – was a much tougher stance from me in terms of workplace relationships. I turned into a warrior, for myself and for other women. No-one ever tried to take the p*** out of me again in this way, without getting a glass of water thrown over them, a loud and effective put down or an actual threat of physical violence. I once threw a very drunk guy across a nightclub in Manchester for harassing my friend. I put up barriers and stood for no s***.
And it worked – it protected me. But it also made people a bit wary of me. Which I guess is no bad thing. I was the one running after a group of 6 lads who had thrown a branch through a window in my student digs, and marching them back to the site office. I was the one with the big carving knife roaring “Come on then you F***ers!” through the un-curtained windows of my first house the week I moved in, at the people who had tried to break in.
No-one messed with me. Physically. Ever again.
I wonder how things might have been different if I had said anything at the time. And the thing that I do regret now, which never even occurred to me at the time, is – what if he did it to someone else? Someone less able to cope emotionally, someone more vulnerable, someone who couldn’t say No. What if that shock of me saying no and threatening to expose him didn’t stop him. I do regret that.
And so – I think the social media on Harvey Weinstein is a good thing. Not just for calling HIM out but for initiating change in that industry – and maybe every industry. Perhaps, finally, people (because it isn’t just women) who are bullied and harassed in the workplace, will find the courage to speak up.