Neeson, Ansari and #MeToo

While the #MeToo movement shook Hollywood, with its ripples felt globally, including the calling out of Michael Colgan here, the less black and white stories are beginning to emerge and many people aren’t happy.

When asked about the #MeToo movement on The Late Late show, Liam Neeson began by saying it was a bit of a witch hunt. While full details of Garrison Keillor story may not be clear, Neeson brushes off the accusation of Dustin Hoffman groping a female colleague daily before a show as “childhood stuff”.
Inappropriately touching a woman, particularly as an adult, which Hoffman was at the time, can, and should, not be dismissed as anything playful or innocent.

Neeson justifies what Hoffman did by talking about the superstitious things that actors might do before a show starts and refers to a cast as family.
It is very problematic to act as though this is an excuse for harassing women. Because a theatre or rehearsal space is a creative place and performers do physical work – as opposed to the more normalised jobs like in offices – it is often not taken seriously as a workplace.
The majority of people want to have a good relationship with their colleagues and the intensity of a show can make a cast and crew bond quite quickly, but that should never legitimise harassment as playful behaviour.
Even in a non-professional setting, groping someone without their consent should be recognised as harassment and be considered inexcusable.

The fact that Neeson’s first response was not one of solidarity with women, but of accusing them of a “witch hunt” against men, reflects a view that men should be allowed to continue everyday sexism which is held by many who are unaware that they are even guilty of it.
To call out the most manipulative men, who are married, in positions of power etc etc is one thing, but once it begins to threaten them, the women are suddenly vilanised for speaking up.

This brings us on to the Aziz Ansari allegation and the public reaction. Ansari was confronted by text by the woman who made the allegations against him and he apologised, saying to her by text that he believed it to be consensual and fun. The woman who accused him of harassment stated that she tried to give Ansari verbal and non verbal indications that she was not comfortable with the situation and what he was doing.
In comments, and in opinion pieces, she is being told that she just had bad sex, that she could have left, that she just wanted a relationship and now regrets sleeping with him and wants revenge after he didn’t offer that.
Much of this is plain and simple victim blaming.

There is not a doubt in this writer’s mind that Ansari genuinely thought that this sexual encounter was mutually consensual and enjoyable. What this situation points to is a far more insidious manifestation of sexism than the extreme cases of sexual assault, which are generally accepted as unacceptable.

Women unable to speak out

Woman have been silenced and experience this silencing on a daily basis. From not being taken as seriously as men on visits to their GPs to being interrupted by men on a regular basis.
There is an attitude in society, which women and men are both socialised to, that women don’t complain when men do something that makes them uncomfortable. When men do something as little as putting their arms around a woman or kissing them when they don’t want this, it is often easier for women to go along with it and hope that it doesn’t go further.
This socialisation is coupled with the fact that there can be hostile, or even volatile reactions to women when they turn men down, which also prevents women from making their discomfort known.

So called “micro-aggressions” of sexism, which are unconsciously done need to be spoken about and brought to the fore. The fact that men, who may be sympathetic to women’s issues and want to be respectful, act like this results in social situations which are unsatisfying for all involved.
For example, a man who may believe that he has positive and mutually enjoyable sexual encounters would be upset to find out that women had uncomfortable, negative experiences and were left feeling violated.

Ansari needs to be held accountable for his side, and to be more conscious of how women try to communicate their discomfort. It is because of these situations that “an enthusiastic yes” is said to be the only form of true consent.

How to talk about sexism

The reaction to the allegations of harassment by Ansari and Neeson’s comments show us the reaction that can come through women speaking out.

Calling a man out for interrupting a woman can seem to him as women attempting to take down his confidence and can seem unwelcomingly militant, which leads to terms such as “feminazi”.
Threatening the status-quo will unfailingly result in some hostility from which ever party feels attacked. This was seen in Ireland when pro-choice activists were called shrill and advised to tone down their campaigns and arguments in the main stream media.
In actuality, the demands made by the most far reaching campaign groups for abortion rights are the ones resonating the most with young people in particular.
This is because of the confidence it instills in people and the fact that they are correct to make the demands that people want, such as advocating pro choice rather than watering down demands to cases of rape, incest or fatal feotal abnormality.

The difference between these two is that the pro-choice campaign is addressing the political establishment directly, whereas calling out everyday sexism includes calling out people who consider themselves progressive and a feminist.
The deeply embedded sexism that we all experience everyday, whether consciously or not, can only be overcome with radical change.
Sexism can be linked to capitalism, which has used the nuclear family to excuse itself of responsibility for properly funding care and social services, has used the commodification of women’s bodies to make profits and then protects high profile or profitable people, such as Johnny Depp (Daniel Radcliffe recently compared this to how a less famous actor was let go from the Harry Potter films after growing weed – a less serious crime) or sports players on college campuses by vilifying and blaming women for their own assault.

Because the allegations against Ansari are more controversial in their nature than the ones against Weinstien, it is actually a more important conversation to have, and to educate people on how deeply entrenched our society is in sexism.

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