Tuesday 19 June 2018

Sexual predators and standing up to the abuse of power

This article first appeared on Malta Today

Ever since the news of sexual misconduct by powerful film producer Harvey Weinstein broke, each day we seem to be hearing about yet another producer or celebrity who has been accused of sexual abuse or assault by women who are coming forward.

In fact, the growing list has prompted a team of young web developers to create a searchable database aptly named Rotten Apples, “that informs users which films or television shows are connected to those accused of sexual harassment or worse.”

To some people, this might seem like a witch hunt and of taking things much too far, but in reality it shows how the lid has been blown wide open on Hollywood’s best kept secret, which was really no secret at all – the fact that powerful producers have always wielded their power to take sexual advantage of actresses eager for a ‘break’. In fact what continues to surprise me is just how little has changed in the film industry since the days of Marilyn Monroe where actresses were treated like pieces of meat by movie moguls.

On the other hand, what also surprises me is that despite so much talk of female empowerment, nothing much has changed since the days of the infamous casting couch. So many women and young girls who want to break into show business are still having to deal with being pawed (or worse) by men such as Weinstein. Of course, standing up to such men is not easy, not when they have it in their power to make or break you, as the saying goes, but it still seems to me that women continually fail to realise that by saying No to what they do not want to do, they might lose some battles, or even career opportunities, but they will ultimately win the war.

Unfortunately, the way things are going no one is winning much of anything. As an avid watcher of TV and film, I have seen an increased use of gratuitous sex and nudity over the years in almost every single genre (and not necessarily romantic films where it would at least serve some purpose to the plot). As I watch these scenes where it is inevitably the woman whose body is shown the most (apart from the occasional backside of the male actor) I am always distracted because I find myself wondering how the actress can allow herself to be put on display like that in front of a whole crew of mostly men. Even on TV shows, where sex used to just be implied, these days you get certain cable channels where literally anything goes – again my mind inevitably starts to wander – did the actress know she was signing up for this when she agreed to do the show?

I tend to give short shrift to those who claim that nudity and sex scenes by actresses are just another form of ’artistic expression’, because ultimately a group of men watching you simulate sex will only have one thought on their mind, no matter how much of an artistic masterpiece the movie might be. With so many actresses willing to disrobe these days in the name of ‘art’, no wonder producers such as Weinstein as well as actors feel that nothing is off limits. Now I know that might not go down too well with those who will accuse me of victim-shaming, but surely there comes a point when everyone has to shoulder responsibility: men have to stop being pigs, and women have to stop allowing themselves to be manipulated by powerful men. Let’s face if it you walk into a room and see a fat guy with an open bathrobe, your best course of action would be to hightail it out of there and tell someone about it, right? It is about time the women at the receiving end of such demeaning demands start talking to each other when it happens to show a united front and establish their real power through sheer numbers.

I couldn’t help but contrast this with an interview I just saw this week which Raquel Welch gave to Piers Morgan a few years ago. The famous 70s bombshell who made millions of men swoon at the sight of her in a fur-clad bikini in One Million Years BC has always been labelled a sex symbol. And yet, surprisingly, she said she has never appeared in the nude, because that was a line she would not cross. Badgered for many years by Hugh Hefner to strip for Playboy she was adamant in saying no, and only conceded to posing in bikini pants and her breasts covered. He was not happy with the photos because they did not show ‘enough’ and he never published them, but she took her lawyer with her and still made sure he paid her for the photo shoot anyway.

A small victory perhaps, but an important one. Because the funny thing about saying No is that you get more respect than if you say Yes to everything.

Powered by