Weinstein, Tanzi, Milano and defining sexual harassment
The boundaries of propriety in regard how a woman should be addressed have substantially changed over time. Back in the “Mad Men” period of the sixties, men were callously demeaning to women as a matter of course.
In the modern politically correct era, it is difficult sometimes to discern where the line of demarcation is between innocent, sexually-nuanced banter and sexual harassment.
Conspicuously, there are recent famous examples of louts and bounders who have been clearly abusive to the fairer sex. Conversely, there are modern men who have expressed attempts at good-natured witticisms that have been misconstrued as harassment.
The tightrope between friendly plutonic kidding and kibitzing and the opposite heinous practice of belittling and being abusive is often in the eyes of the beholder. Thus begging the question, are women who have joined in the “Me-Too” movement righteous in their indignation? Or, have they misinterpreted a perhaps failed attempt at convivial humor?
In a whirlwind of societal self-reflection, the events of recent weeks in regard to movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, activist actress Alyssa Milano and Rhode Island State Representative Teresa Tanzi have whipped up a frenzy of volatile discourse. Inter-sex interaction is being examined under an electron microscope of conscience and new definitions of social mores.
Certainly, there are lucid aggrieved examples of abuse. However, we should not be blind to the possibility that some females may have taken misguided attempts at humor or flattery as being harassing.
Undeniably, this is a juncture in our nation’s social history for self-examination; a teachable moment. Therefore, we must strive to understand what should be acceptable in the context of day-to-day exchanges and interactions between genders.
18th Century philanderer Giacomo Casanova wrote in his famous autobiography “Histore de ma vie” (Story of my Life) that whatever it took to bed a woman, regardless of marital status, was perfectly permissible. Casanova asserted that spouting flamboyant falsehoods, extortion, physical intimidation and any kind of intrigue and deception were not only necessary but essential to the cause of conquest. His adventures would have made Wilt Chamberlain and Hugh Hefner blush.
Porcine predator Harvey Weinstein undoubtedly aspired to Casanova’s template. The movie mogul is accused of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape. The New York City Police Department (NYPD), the London Metropolitan Police Service, and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), all have active criminal investigations into the movie maker’s past actions.
According to an article in The New Yorker, solid allegations that Weinstein sexually assaulted 13 women and raped three have been established. Sixteen co-workers have verified that they had either witnessed abuse or been informed by the injured of Weinstein’s actions. Correlatively, the New York Times has reported that over 60 women have accused the producer of sexual harassment or assault. The accusers include many marquee actresses including Gwyneth Paltrow, Rossana Arquette, and Mira Sorvino.
Furthermore, a Gawker article from a couple of years ago titled “Tell Us What You Know About Harvey Weinstein’s Open Secret” described his well known, but not openly discussed,m, horrific behavior.
Inevitably, the question of why, despite this monster’s studio position, could decades of these crimes avoid public scrutiny and criminal prosecution?
The “Casting Couch” of the film industry is a devilish tradition that dates back to the silent movie era. Movie star of the 1920s Clara Bow complained in recollections later on in life of abuse from predatory producers during her film days. Also, child star Shirley Temple was abused at age 12 by celebrated producer Arthur Freed. Legendary producer of the sixties, seventies and eighties Sam Spiegel had many accusers, including actress Theresa Russell. International producer Roman Polanski sexual abused underage girls with impunity until he was forced to flee the country.
Similarly, America’s Dad of the 1980s sitcom star Bill Cosby, making use of a “Mickey Finn” cocktail, took advantage of many an aspiring actress as well as others. Cosby’s actions were beyond reprehensible and there is no viable excuse for his duplicity.
In all these cases, if the abused had come forward in a timely fashion then other prospective starlets might not have been abused.
Perhaps that is the impetuous behind the efforts of television actress Alyssa Milano. Following the righteous public crucifixion of Harvey Weinstein, Milano created the Twitter destination “#MeToo.” She encouraged any woman who has been harassed or assaulted to respond. Her stated goal: (the number of respondents) “might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem”. So far 500 thousand tweets, and growing, have claimed victimization. Facebook officials have asserted that 4.7 million people have posted 12 million times in the first 24 hours of the social media response to the movement.
The enormity of the response generates a new set of questions. Are all the MeToos actually victims of sexual harassment or abuse?
Without question, the piggish behavior of history’s Casanova, and the modern era’s Weinstein, Cosby, Spiegel and Polanski, are beyond forgiveness, mercy, or justification. Nevertheless, it seems improbable to believe that all of the millions of respondents on social media have actually experienced harassment. This is where we as a society must understand the rudderless standing that the modern man has in casual conversation with the modern woman.
Convivially, a man may be attempting plutonic charm and have his innocent effort be construed as harassment. A compliment about a woman’s apparent beauty on a particular day may be misinterpreted as aggressive flirtation.
Anecdotally since this issue has come to the forefront, I have had several communications with fellow men who have conveyed a story of where their brotherly kidding has been erroneously thought to be a debasing act. There seems to be a hypersensitivity to any utterance that is even remotely sexually nuanced.
This misguided inference might be the case with RI State Representative Teresa Tanzi. Tanzi told the Providence Journal that she had been harassed. She said: “I can say that as an elected official, as a state representative, I have experienced this firsthand” and “I have been told sexual favors would allow my bills to go further.” Additionally, she asserted that the person involved was “not someone who was my equal…it was someone who had a higher ranking position.”
Tanzi was pressed to why she did not report this alleged abuse when it occurred. She responded that she did not think people would take her seriously. She also said that the person challenged would say, “Oh, I was just joking, certainly didn’t mean it.”
If this crude exchange did happen as she reported, then the male representative involved was undoubtedly foolish with his words. Yet, what he said might have been offered in jest. Social stupidity is not necessarily harassment. He might have been ignorant to the fact Rep. Tanzi would take the remarks seriously. As a result of Tanzi’s claims, the Attorney General’s Office and the State Police have said they would “review the allegations.” Also, a study commission will be formed to look at the present laws on sexual harassment in the General Assembly.
In a hypersensitive politically correct world where an attempt at ribald humor might be misinterpreted as actual assail, some men simply do not know where the boundary line of appropriateness is. Obviously abusive pigs like Weinstein should be easily distinguishable from an office coworker or the friendly acquaintance making a feeble attempt at humor.
No matter what the employment circumstances or organizational dynamics are, women who are legitimately harassed should immediately call the perpetrator on his misdeed. Contrarily, a woman should not condemn an awkward attempt at a witticism as being an act of devilment.