I agree with those who say all forms of sexual harassment always were wrong, but I have two caveats. There is a grey area where definitions are changing, and the law has always applied the principle of mitigation: we find you guilty, but in view of all the circumstances the full force of punishment may not be appropriate. I think this principle should be applied more widely than those cases which really should go before the courts.
I have seen a news report that young people interpret unwanted sexual advances more strictly than older people, and that does correspond to my own impression. If the new norm is to be that men must wait for some sign, then that is fine by me, but I have to point out that there was a time when men did take uninvited initiatives which were not accepted. As long as they took ‘no’ for an answer, that would be regarded as the end of the matter. I am not defending such behaviour, just pointing out the very different culture many years ago.
Abuse of power is a different kettle of fish, but the circumstances referred to above have got conflated with it. However, I believe the whole ‘Weinstein’ episode and aftermath is more closely associated with a move to an ecological world view than appears a first sight.
We are approaching the end of a long period of expansion, both of numbers and per capita consumption. As long as expansion is the norm, competition will generally be more prominent than co-operation, flaring up into aggression and warfare from time to time. In such circumstances it makes sense for males to be dominant, with all that implies.
But if there is an unconscious recognition that expansion is coming to an end, it begins to make more sense for women not just to become equals, but to actually play a greater part in communal decision making.
This is of course conjecture, but I believe that such an unconscious paradigm shift has been slowly taking place for many decades. I would place the start as circa the 1960s. I see the rise of feminism as a natural part of this trend. It could only be a matter of time before ‘Harvey Weinstein’ happened. This was merely the earthquake following a long period of building pressure.
This is more conjecture, but for me, the Green Party’s development is consistent with this view. The Party which was founded on a platform of sustainability, not growth has been at pains to stress gender equality, to the extent that a leadership election procedure intended to achieve just that, in 2012 unintentionally catapulted a male, Will Duckworth, from obscurity to Deputy Leader. Why? Because as it happened, several females had risen naturally to the top, and did not need assistance.
Caroline Lucas and Amelia Womack call for ‘consent lessons’ to deal with the continuing abusive culture. I agree that it is all too possible that this furore will settle down too close to the previous pattern, just as the economic crash of 2008 changed little or nothing in the financial system.
Consent lessons may be a useful part of the way forward, but I wish to draw a wider lesson. We are learning (I hope) that to tell Brexit voters they are stupid is not the most effective way to change their minds. I have suggested in blogs that if we are to persuade the better off to help us save the planet for future generations, then we must stop hurling abuse at them as the class enemy.
Similarly, if we want to persuade unreconstructed males voluntarily to accept that the world is changing, then an amnesty on what some of them did many years ago might produce better results than hounding them.