Gosh, a lot is being written about the behaviour of Harvey Weinstein! He has always been described as someone who made stars and now the world knows what some of them had to suffer to ‘succeed’. Sexual favours are still a currency in the entertainment industry and his behaviour is at the extreme end of a continuum familiar with women there. Most women in the entertainment industry have experienced attempts of sexual coercion, in one form or another, subtle or not so subtle, so the collective shock of the great and the good is a little hard to believe. At least Ryan Gosling said he was disappointed in himself. As we know, sexual harassment and particularly this type of individualised behaviour is not confined to one or two superstar movie moguls nor to the glossy backdrop of Beverley Hills.
Its disclosure was timely for me for a purely personal point of view. I was digging out a research study on sexual harassment in the UK armed services that I conducted with my colleagues Robin Schneider and Alexis Walmsley at Schneider Ross in 2006 because the topic was back in the news and I wondered why our research was no longer referred to. Diversity consultants get used to our reports being put in that proverbial desk drawer but this one was big, cost a lot of taxpayers money and if I do say so myself shed a lot of light on the behaviour of men towards women in the workplace and so relevant to other industries. It can be found buried in the archives of the MOD website! A version of the survey was done by them internally in 2015 but because of changes they made and a different sample comparisons could not really be made with our findings.
In our study the majority of individualised incidents were perpetrated by senior men over junior women. Inappropriate sexualised behaviour has a number of different purposes. In some male dominated industries it is a way of warning women off male territory or of reminding them of their inferiority.
We found a lot of the individualised sexual harassment was really a form of bullying. As many, many of us have insisted over the years this really isn’t about sex or desire at all, because if men want sex they can usually find it even if it means paying for it. No, this is about humiliation, deference , submission and the pleasure some men get from forcing women to submit in whatever way that means to them. But as Hollywood continues to be dominated by a male power elite and films are made almost entirely from a male perspective with perhaps an occasional nod to female emancipation, this furore may be the catalyst for an in depth debate about the entertainment industry and the subjection of women within it, that is long overdue.