Opinion: Misconduct as old as time itself

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The explosion of public outrage at the so-called Harvey Weinstein scandal has been a long time brewing.

It is an open secret that some film stars, producers and other self-made celebrities of the entertainment world, and their close friends, have always seen women in the industry as their collective harem.

Also aspiring actresses and fashion models have come to almost accept the so-called “casting couch” as an essential rite of passage to fame and success. For some it has indeed led to lucrative contracts but it has destroyed the careers, self-image and confidence of many others.

Since the dawn of history a minority of the physically, politically and financially powerful have preyed on the vulnerable people around them. The histories of Hollywood, royalty, Christian churches and politics are full of tragic stories of abuse.

These sad and brutal tales have several things in common. First is the assumed right of people in positions of power and authority to impose their will on others. Second is the culture of denial and protection provided by those in power who have too much to lose if the perpetrators are brought to justice. Third is the attack on those who dare to call the abusers out. If providing personal evidence of rape is difficult for victims, providing evidence of harassment is equally so.

Attempts over the years to bring an end to the deeply entrenched attitudes of some men, and also a few women, to sexuality and the roles of men and women in society have mostly failed to make any real progress, simply because most of those who were in a position to intervene shrugged it off or suggested women were the architects of their own mistreatment. Such ignorance is, sadly, still widespread.

Women have often complained that they are seen by too many men as simply sex objects and, indeed, they are, but women are not alone in that. A walk along the beaches of any tourist resort in summer will show young women wearing next-to-nothing swimsuits which rarely get wet and muscular young men with their beauty-parlour bronzed and oiled torsos.

They are clearly on display in all their sexual attraction – and so they should be. It is part of an ancient and essential ritual. Another part of that ritual, which too many have forgotten, are the unwritten rules of civilised social engagement which say that these displays are not an invitation to unwelcome sexual advances.

Rape and physical violence make up only the tip of a large and very ugly iceberg on the troubled sea of human relations. Most sexual abuse and harassment is by deliberate misuse of power, subtle coercion, bullying or threats.

Sexual harassment and abuse subtly reflects on all men. The reality is that that the huge majority of men do not engage in such misconduct and most deeply resent any implication that they do.

If this latest protest against the unacceptable behaviour of self-opinionated sexual predators is to achieve a permanent solution, it must be actively supported by men and women working together. If we can’t bring criminal charges against these people, we can shun them, boycott their enterprises and vote them out of office. Our world would be a much better place without them.

By Tom O’Connor. Mr O’Connor is the national president of Grey Power.