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Mitch Benn: All men share responsibility for Weinsteins of this world

The comedian, musician and writer on the disgraced Hollywood mogul

Hmm. Kind of nervous about bringing up The Whole Harvey Weinstein thing as it strikes me as a soundbite minefield; however carefully I measure these 1,000 or so words there’s bound to be at least one sentence I come out with which, if angrily brandished in a context-free environment by either progressives or conservatives (or even both), will serve as clinching evidence that I am a Terrible Person.

But it’s struck me that the whole (increasingly) sordid saga is flagging up some important issues, and not just the obvious ones about the persisting imbalance between men and women with regard to power and influence, and the culture of power-worship which enables Big Guns like Weinstein to degrade and traumatise innumerable women while everyone around them ignores or enables this.

One thing I’ve noticed is that it’s highlighted a fundamental difference in (American, at least) liberal and conservative mindsets. The right-wing media in the US, still sore from the similar-ish revelations about Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes (and cognisant of the fact that it helped install a self-proclaimed sex pest in the Oval Office) has seized upon Harveygate as an opportunity to flag up liberal hypocrisy.

‘Where are all the Hollywood élite now?’ they cry. ‘Why aren’t the liberals condemning Weinstein like they did Trump and Ailes?’ To which the answer is: they are.

Ever since the story broke, the great and good of Tinseltown have been falling over each other in their haste to denounce Weinstein, many going so far as to admit that they had Heard Stuff over the years and are berating themselves for not having done anything about it.

But the conservative media appears oblivious to this; they seem to be assuming that liberals will cover for one of their own because that’s what they do.

All politics has a tribal element, but it’s always stronger at the ends of the political spectrum. Staunch conservatives regard themselves as inherently good (God-fearing patriots, and so forth) and as such, attacks from the left are always malicious and perfidious in nature.

The kind of pragmatic, centrist (yeah, I said it) politics espoused by American liberals (let’s face it, you don’t get a lot of actual LEFT left-wingers in the States) recognises that ‘goodness’ is defined not by your position on the Overton scale but by what you do. If someone turns out to have spent 30 years sexually coercing and/or assaulting every woman he finds attractive, then liberals have no hesitation in decrying him as a loathsome creep, whatever party he’s been fundraising for.

Interestingly, of course, as you keep going along the spectrum to the actual left, you find the same presumption of moral superiority starts creeping back in, which is how you get the Labour Party still fudging the question of its anti-Semitism problem because they think it’s impossible to be bigoted if you’re a proper socialist (spoiler alert: it isn’t).

Another reason I’m hesitant to even broach the subject is that there’s not a lot of consensus right now among the online community about what part, if any, men should be taking in the conversation about Weinstein’s downfall.

Certainly it’s a conversation to be entered into carefully and respectfully (and those people, both male and female, who have been giving it ‘Why didn’t these women speak up at the time?’ need to re-read the victims’ statements very carefully, and then shut up for the foreseeable future), but men have to be part of this discussion, even if we’re off in a corner of the internet having a separate but related conversation of our own.

The point is that sexual harassment is a problem for men and women. It’s a problem for women because in the vast majority of instances, they’re on the receiving end of it, but it’s a problem for men because in the vast, VAST majority of instances we’re the ones doing it.

It’s encouraging and right and proper that women are leading the protests against it, that they’re feeling able to share their stories about it (and I don’t know a single woman who knows me well enough to talk about this sort of thing who doesn’t have such a story), but it’s only going to stop if WE pack it in.

Men have to take collective responsibility for this, and those of you out there about to go into #notallmen mode, I don’t just mean by examining and monitoring our own behaviour, although we must do that as well.

Silence is enabling, and one of the ways that sexual predators (and we’ve all met them, if perhaps not in Weinstein’s league) justify their actions to themselves and others is with the belief that the rest of us men have their back. That we’re all at it, or wish we were. That the only thing that prevents all men from forcing ourselves on any woman we fancy (and using whatever coercive measures come to hand) is timidity or lack of opportunity.

And that even such mild condemnatory statements as we might occasionally come out with are borne merely of envy, or just a case of ‘virtue signalling’, burnishing our liberal credentials in the hope that we can hoodwink feminists into going to bed with us (i.e. just a more subtle version of the brutal ‘game’ they’re playing).

We’ve got to stop dancing around this and tell them – to their faces and in as many words – that it’s not okay. Even if this shatters the atmosphere in the pub. Even if this loses us mates. Because those guys aren’t who we want for mates.

They’ve been hearing it from women for years but by definition they don’t give a fig for women’s opinions. They need to hear it from us.

Right. I’m going to re-read this column 20 or 30 times, check it for possible misquotes, then clench everything and hit ‘send’.

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