Saturday, 14 October 2017

The Message is Domination

 Television actor, Mayim Bialik, writes in the New York Times about her experience as a woman who is not conventionally attractive – at least not by the entertainment world’s definition of physical attractiveness.   She talks about how she has negotiated her place in a world in which standards of physical (and hence, sexual) attractiveness – especially for women – are abnormal. In that rarefied world, instead of being in the majority, female actors who are average in appearance are atypical.

Somewhat controversially, Bialik suggests that if women in the industry dressed and behaved more modestly, as she has done, they would be less likely to be sexually objectified and assaulted.

This comes too close to blaming the victim for a lot of people and it is about as wrong as it’s possible to be in the wider social context in which, irrespective of how they dress or conduct themselves, all sorts of girls and women are sexually insulted and assaulted by men.

A depressingly large number of women and girls have experienced sexualised insults and assaults or felt at risk of them.  Like many women, I have my own stories, from being intuitively aware of the intentions of a paedophile when I was very young, to being physically attacked in the street and in my home, to being treated by men in ways that, as an older, wiser and much stronger woman, make me want to both weep and rage for my younger, more vulnerable self.

I’m now well past the point where the question of my sexual attractiveness or lack of it intrudes on my life but I know that I could still be raped or beaten by an angry, dysfunctional man - just because I’m a woman.

Men sexually assault women irrespective of where those women sit on the beauty spectrum, or how young or old they are. It is why the cliché of rape being about power is so utterly true. 

The motivator is anger and fear, the sex is the medium, and the message is domination.

But it’s simplistic to cast all men as actual or potential abusers or all women as passive actors or hapless victims of a male controlled narrative when some women participate in, collude with, and benefit from that narrative, and some men are harmed and appalled by, and seek to change it.  

In strict legal terms Weinstein has had allegations made against him. He is yet to face criminal charges but in the court of popular opinion he's already been tried and found guilty because it's pretty obvious that the reason there's lots of smoke is because a big fire has been burning for a long time.  He has been sacked, his wife has left him and all manner of public humiliations have been heaped upon him including people he has bankrolled politically, distancing themselves from him. 

In my view he deserves what he gets even though I'm not a naturally vindictive person and in an auto-da-fé I'm usually one of the people running up with a bucket of water.

The powerful behave in such openly abominable and destructive ways because they can -and they can, largely because other people allow them to. 

As individuals, less powerful people can be intimidated and constrained by the threat of the loss of a job and being boycotted, which is why the less powerful need to be in a collective.  It is only in combination that small voices can be heard over the racket made by the powerful and privileged minority.

I can find no such excuses for rich and powerful people who know and who do nothing.  
Any actor, director or any other person in the industry who is rich enough or who has enough celebrity cachet to be able to choose, and who knew what Weinstein was like and chose to work with him anyway - has no place on the moral high ground.  

In truth, in that part of the entertainment world, in relation to the commission of, or collusion with, sexualized bullying, intimidation and assault, I suspect it would be hard to even locate the moral high ground. 

This is especially true if the issue is widened out beyond the actions of this one man, however obnoxious he might be. 

The entertainment industry is an atypical, somewhat aberrant world that has a grossly disproportionate impact on how the wider world sees, and judges people - and especially women.

It is a small, insular world of extreme wealth and privilege in which power is still wielded mostly by men, a majority of whom are white, and whose standards of what constitutes talent, beauty and desirability are narrow and damagingly stereotypical.

The industry actively promotes feminine stereotypes of age, appearance, style and behaviour. These stereotypes don’t just reflect the personal preferences of the powerful men who dominate the industry, they help to put bums on seats, which serves to boost personal and corporate power. 

That some of those powerful men then prey upon young women who personify the industry stereotypes is about as wrong as it can be, but it is not surprising. 

As well as condemning this sort of exploitative and oppressive behaviour,we need to engage with the ways in which the entertainment world's stereotypes reinforce the sexual objectification of women that is one of the main underpinnings of the modern phallocracy. 

And we need to examine the extent to which we contribute to that through our own consumer and other choices.

Otherwise all that happens is one man gets pilloried, and after a while, it'll be business as usual. And viewed from down here, and in the context of the global everything, business as usual is pretty damned toxic.

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