The following is an abbrieviated extract from my novel Transgression. It is set in 1943 but based on an incident I witnessed as a seventeen year old apprentice in a machine shop in 1959. I used it to illustrate the way some men behave towards women. The recent publicity surrounding the behaviour of Harvey Weinstein shows that little has changed in the near six decades since I first witnessed such abuse.
That said, I question the extent to which Mr Weinstein’s behaviour has dominated the news media in recent days.
Of course such behaviour is unacceptable.
Of course some of the allegations describe criminal acts of a serious nature (which he has denied).
And yes, as so many of those commenting have stated, it illustrates an unacceptable aspect of the relationship between men and women in places of work.
But is it really news that the powerful exploit the vulnerable?
When that exploitation is of a sexual nature, however humiliating, is it really any worse than the many other ways in which we all take advantage of the disadvantaged?
From the slaves of ancient Greece and Rome, through the serfdom of medieval Europe to the exploitation of Africans as slaves in the ‘New World’, to the sweated labour in Asia that produces so many of the things we in the developed world take for granted, the life styles enjoyed by the successful are bought at the expense of those who have no other way of providing the bare necessities of life for themselves and their families.
You, reading this, may see yourself as poor. And you surely are, when compared to the Duke of Westminster or Mark Zuckerberg to name just two of the super-rich 1%. But you are rich enough to be able to own the device on which you are reading, and to pay the subscription to an internet service provider. There is, it seems to me, an irony in the fact that the tax your government levies on the sale of that device is used, among other things, to ensure that no-one in your country is as poor as some of the people involved in its manufacture.
And there is a further irony in the fact that those who support such policies as ‘America First’, or Britain’s exit from the European Union, resent the tiny portion of their taxes that is devoted to the relief of the extreme poverty of the poorest nations.
Whilst Mr Weinstein’s behaviour has been described as evidence of a crisis of masculinity and the continuing inequality of women in the workplace, is it not also true that there have always been, and still are, women who use their sexual wiles to exploit the weakness of men for their own ends, whether career advancement, social climbing or inheritance?
The trauma suffered by a young woman who, upon accepting an invitation to an older man’s hotel room, discovers him naked, cannot be compared to the suffering of thousands driven from their homes for no reason other than their ethnicity or their religion. And yet it is the former that has driven the latter from our television screens this past week.
I know that some of the women who have come forward with such stories donate part of their income both to help, and to highlight, the plight of, people in the most distressed parts of the world, but the truth is that their lives are infinitely more comfortable than those of millions of women experiencing exploitation, both sexual and economic, in parts of Africa and Asia, and in the darker reaches of our own cities.