Most women have had a Harvey Weinstein moment

Orna Mulcahy: The casting couch is still a reality – and not just in show business

Actors react to the sexual harassment scandal surrounding Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein. Video: Reuters

 

After an initial not-so-stunned silence the Hollywood greats are lining up to condemn Harvey Weinstein and his grubby casting couch.

Glenn Close puts it well in her statement: “Harvey has always been decent to me, but now that the rumours are being substantiated, I feel angry and darkly sad . . . not just at him and the conspiracy of silence around his actions but also that the ‘casting couch’ phenomenon . . . is still a reality in our business and in the world: the horrible pressure, the awful expectation put on a woman when a powerful, egotistical, entitled bully expects sexual favours in exchange for a job.”

At a party last night the talk among the women turned to predators and creeps we’d met along the way

A nice thread is building on Twitter called When did you meet your Harvey Weinstein?, based on women’s nasty experiences with men – bosses , colleagues, coaches and lecturers galore – including one poor girl whose teacher accosted her in a corridor one day, saying “I can’t help myself!” before thrusting his hand down into her knickers, Trump style.

I imagine that most women have had a Harvey Weinstein moment.

At a party last night the talk among the women turned to predators and creeps we’d met along the way. Maybe not in five-star hotel suites, involving gaping dressing gowns or unnecessary enriching of potted plants, à la Weinstein, but sordid encounters all the same.

The experiences varied wildly, but there was a thread. Women had laughed away incidents, told their friends about them, cried in some cases, and moved on. But things rankled, sometimes after decades, although other experiences had become party anecdotes.

The youngest, an intern, is in a situation as we speak. She works in the kind of company where they have meetings on huge beanbags and free snacks left around to test their willpower. There’s a man twice her age who regularly asks her about whom she’s dating and talks to her about Tinder. On a recent works event away at a hotel he texted her in the middle of the night, inviting her down to the bar. She is fed up and is ready to report him to HR. People agreed that she should, although one or two worried that it might not do her any good.

Glenn Close: the actor is angry about the “horrible pressure, the awful expectation put on a woman when a powerful, egotistical, entitled bully expects sexual favors in exchange for a job”. Photograph: George Etheredge/New York Times
Glenn Close: the actor is angry about the 'awful expectation put on a woman when a powerful, egotistical, entitled bully expects sexual favours in exchange for a job'. Photograph: George Etheredge/New York Times

I remembered a colleague of old at a previous employer who had to be kept away from new recruits because he would draw them in by talking about the most innocuous things, like where to find the Post-it notes, before launching into a description of some God-awful porno video he’d happened upon over the weekend. In another workplace the notoriously flirty editor would invite women to meet him in out-of-the-way hotels for chats and occasional paw them.

Another woman remembers her experience with an eminent surgeon, who interrupted a consultation to show off photographs of a penis that he’d recently sewn back on to its owner after a gruesome accident. Why would he do such a thing when the woman was not looking for a penis transplant but instead was concerned about a suspicious lump?

In the heady world of finance another friend recalled the time that a colleague drove her to dinner at a secluded hotel, then produced her pyjamas and the teddy she was known not to be able to sleep without. He’d thoughtfully broken into her flat to get them.

Things were different in those days. I regret not making a stand for myself, and for the women who came after me

Australian friends chimed in with stories of Macquarie Bank in Sydney, where a case that’s making its way through the courts revealed grown men taking photographs up their women colleagues’ skirts – and one particular charmer who came up behind a woman at work, cut off her ponytail and laid it on the desk in front of her.

It doesn’t feel good to trot out these stories. Most men do not behave in this way, but the ones who do tend to do it over and over. As one colleague remarked, it’s a minority of men who do these things, but a majority of women seem to experience them.

My own Harvey Weinstein was not wallowing in a bath in a posh hotel suite, inviting me to massage him, or to watch him having a power shower. Instead he was sitting at a desk, surrounded by colleagues, when I approached him with due reverence (he was a top columnist in those days) and asked if he would write a short piece for a magazine I was editing as a nixer. He swung around in his chair, gave me his full-beam smile and said, “Yes, of course I will, if you let me feel your breasts.”

Later I tried to laugh it off with another colleague, who said it was just the way he was. Things were different in those days. I forgot about the incident for years but have been thinking about it in more recent times. I regret not making a stand for myself, and for the women who came after me.

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