First of all, am getting tired of seeing people thrown in the same box as somebody like Harvey Weinstein.
Harvey Weinstein and Morgan Freeman are NOT accused of the same transgressions. Has anyone noticed how we’ve come to label everything ‘sexuam harrassment’ and don’t see any nuance? There are fifty shades of sexual harrassment.
What Morgan Freeman did – it’s reasonable to assume it’s true – is not cool. He tried to lift up a woman’s skirt, he rubbed women’s shoulders longer than they liked, and he made so many comments on the clothes of women he worked with that they started dressing very conservatively when they knew he was going to be around. Not cool.
But he’s not being accused of violently raping women like Harvey Weinstein. There’s a huge difference. Our outrage should be different too. It’s simply not the same.
It’s like asking the same jail time for someone who slapped you in the face and someone who blew a hole in you with a shotgun… Big difference…
Having said that…
I’m no Harvey Weinstein. Since rape is not really about sex, but more about feeling power, dominating, etc, I have no taste for it whatsoever. I enjoy sex, sort of – not always – and it makes me feel like I am coming alive, it boosts my creativity, but I get those nice benefits only from consensual sex.
However… I do tend to tell women I find attractive that they are attractive. I even tend to tell them in elaborate ways, even in written form, even when they are my students or co-workers. I assume most find this pleasant and I do notice that the fun wears off for them if I do it too much, at which point I stop.
Ten years ago I acted in a lot of plays and there were three actresses that I touched for longer than I should have. I wish to apologize for that. These women never accused me of anything, but perhaps that’s because I’m not famous. I didn’t touch them in intimate areas, but I rubbed their shoulders too long, just like Morgan Freeman. There were other women who didn’t mind at all and welcomed touching and eventually sex. It’s not always so clear when you can touch someone and when not. In those three cases the touching was also part of the scene, but still. I’m not entirely sure if they found it as unpleasant as I think, but it could be. I saw their discomfort and I stopped.
Would these women come forward and remind me of these situations in the media if I were as famous as Morgan Freeman? Would the media go hunting for these stories? I do believe that in some cases the media actively hunt for these stories. In the case of a Belgian tv maker, Bart De Pauw, people reported that the media put pressure on them to also accuse him of harrassment after some of this female co-workers had done so. Given how the media works, I’m sure that’s also part of it. A lot of these stories are real, but perhaps some come forward because these stories sell. Especially now the lines have blurred. I see people putting nasty comments online about Morgan Freeman, and from the tone of those you would think he’s a mass rapist. That’s not to say his behavior was ok, he should have kept himself in check. I wonder if he had a good friend in his environment who, in private, scolded him for his behavior. Perhaps he really didn’t realize what the impact of his actions were. We should tell each other what we don’t like, I think this could prevent a lot. Often we take a mental note of something we hated, but we don’t confront the person doing it. Of course, this becomes much harder if the person causing you discomfort is your boss or someone who can influence your career. Sexual harrassment has a lot to do with power, and not just with sex.
I hope this confession of mine encourages others to think of their own behavior, I hope it helps people to speak up about what they don’t like, instead of suffering in silence, and I hope we can make a very clear distinction between rape and other forms of sexual harrassment like commenting on someone’s looks.
What have I changed about my own behavior? I don’t touch anymore, unless I know for sure that the touching is welcome, and I still tell the women I like that they are beautiful, but not endlessly, and when I see they don’t like it (not responding, avoiding eye contact, closed body language) I stop telling them things like that.
I’m a firm believer in the positive power of flirting. It’s just that we need common sense, responsibility and a willingness to really check if your flirting signals are welcome or not.