Chris Morvan writes a weekly column for the Newsday.
There are worse people in the world than Harvey Weinstein. That is not an apology for the sins of the disgraced Hollywood mogul but the case is a sad indictment of the way things are on this confused, beleaguered planet.
Weinstein is getting it in the neck like no philanderer ever before because his wrongdoings emerged at the wrong time. He was exposed in the era of the social media lynch mob mentality. And it doesn’t help that the president of his country, Donald Trump, is cut from the same cloth.
How Trump ever made it to the White House despite all the allegations of impropriety made against him is beyond belief. This is the man who was quoted as saying (before he got into politics) words to the effect that in his experience you could go up to a woman, grab her by the crotch and get away with it, as long as you were famous enough.
Why he wasn’t rubbed out by some radical feminist death squad when that came to light, we will never know. But the fact is that he managed to shrug it off, along with a lot more, dismissing it as “locker room talk,” the sort of bravado that men spout to each other when they feel they are among friends who will empathise, not criticise.
With that sort of precedent, perhaps a ray of comfort crept into the hearts of men like Weinstein, who had already been challenged on his behaviour but somehow managed to keep it out of the media.
But what was happening at the same time on the other side of the sexual divide was women thinking of the Trump quote, “I saw that… and I’m going to get you, or someone like you”.
Someone like Trump, of course, means a famous, powerful middle aged man. So when the Weinstein business emerged and he was hoping it would blow over pretty quickly and his wife was sticking by him and so on, the global lynch mob mobilised as one.
Supporting the underdog is a modern obsession and it doesn’t matter so much what area it is in. If there’s a minority, the thinking goes, it must be being abused and the antagonists must be persecuted.
The sexual harassment debate, well-meaning though of course it is, sweeps aside certain basics of human nature. The trigger for this was Weinstein and the abuse of power, which is very different from the day-to-day dealings of ordinary men and women.
Man meets woman and likes what he sees. Man is not sure if woman wants what he wants but thinks there is a chance she might in the right circumstances. Man engineers circumstances. Woman doesn’t go for it. Man, if he has any sense, backs off and apologises. This doesn’t mean coercion, groping or – heaven forbid – rape. It means a man trying it on with a woman who may or may not be interested. It only becomes “harassment” if she is not.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained, and the world would be struggling along, vastly underpopulated, if no one ever made the first move. But very few men believe the just-walk-up-and-grab-her approach is going to lead anywhere but a prison cell.
Weinstein is an extreme case and his methods were far from subtle–although as far as I know he didn’t resort to drugging his victims, as Bill Cosby is accused of doing– but he represents the male dilemma. All over the world there are millions of men feeling grateful that they are not rich and famous, because their indiscretions are less likely to become public knowledge. I would argue that is particularly so in a place like Trinidad and Tobago where sexuality among both men and women bubbles closer to the surface than in many places.
Only last week we saw a young Tobago politician, Farley Augustine, allowing thoughts that should have been reserved for his memoirs to surface in a Facebook comment about how, since his election to serve a remote and peaceful part of the island, women were throwing themselves at him and keeping him from “psalm and prayer.”
This has nothing to do with the global scandal of power-abuse, but the “Me too” campaign which encouraged women to tell their stories of unwelcome propositions has filtered down into all spheres of sexual interaction, including homosexual.
The principal reason for Mr Augustine’s downfall, perhaps, was his use of a term originally used for a pet cat but which has come to be regarded as a dirty word in recent years.
But the fury vented against him seems to disregard his advice to men, tacked on at the end: “Charm the pussy and don’t rush it.” Wise words, but they’re not going to be his epitaph.