Harvey Weinstein. Photo: Getty
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#MeToo and why even if we think it hasn’t happened to us, it probably has

We should focus on how many men raped, not on how many women were raped.

A few weeks ago, before the Harvey Weinstein allegations sent pundits their yearly memo that sexual violence is still very much a daily thing, a friend asked me if I had ever felt, at any point in my prolific sexual life, like I might have been in danger of serious harm. Had I ever been hurt, and if not, had I ever felt like I might have been, by no one other than my bedfellow, if I didn’t play my cards very right? And it struck me that, no, that had never been the case.

Indeed, as I read through the horror stories collected by the #MeToo hashtag, I realised I was in a very small minority. And I asked myself: “Why me?”

Women understand and live with sexual harassment – the patriarchy’s first warning shot to women – and assault – the full exercise of its violent power – as they would a Gorgon-like creature, with many venomous heads, sibilantly wrapping itself around our unsuspecting necks.

This is so much so that the first reaction I had when facing the simple fact that I had never been raped or threatened with rape was to think of it as abnormal. “Why has it never happened to me?” It’s not a question borne out of jealousy or alienation, but one borne out of fear. If it hasn’t happened to me yet, surely it will very soon – any day now?

The fact is, of course, that it has happened to me. Not in the horrendous way retold by thousands of victims through #MeToo, but in a variety of styles, various degrees of banter, pestering, and physical contact. And the reason why I discounted those events, some of which should certainly not be discounted, is because the reality of sexual harassment and contrived sexualisation is so prevalent, from such an early age, that if a woman were to recall all incidents of such a nature she would immediately cease to function and melt on the spot.

From my own little treasure-trove of forgotten harassments, there was the 11-year-old who spent over an hour telling an eight year-old me how he would “fuck me” while the only adult supervising (unsurprisingly, a male) stayed impervious to my complaints about the boy’s behaviour. There was the balding, middle-aged man who used an overcrowded bus as an expedient to grind his crotch against my bum when I was barely 17.

And there was the drunk older man who robbed me of my first kiss, in a nightclub, after I repeatedly told him not to touch me as we danced. He grabbed me, thrusted me against his sweaty body, and proceeded to shove his tongue down my throat until I wrangled myself out. To my great embarrassment I shouted as I pulled away: “I have a boyfriend!” I didn’t, but he didn’t bother me again. I had pronounced the magic words, conjuring the totem that is another male.

The subtext to crying “I have a boyfriend” – something I am sure I wasn’t the first to claim in such an hour of need – is that my body belongs to another man, and that only for that reason, this man assaulting me is in the wrong. “You trespassed onto another man’s property,” it says. And it worked, for my sins.

Another way this Medusa works its way into our socially-constructed brains is that sexual violence will happen to you, if you act a certain way. Often it is women who enable this mentality. Which of you hasn’t heard from a well-meaning friend: “Catcalls? Best just ignore them, don’t give a man the satisfaction of your attention.”

And if you think this self-policing attitude is exclusive to the kind of woman who has never heard of Simone de Beauvoir and doesn’t like calling herself a feminist, think again. For it wasn’t that long ago that actress Joanna Lumley advised that women “don't look like trash – they’ll rape you”, or writer Caitlin Moran suggested high heels made it harder to run away from predators.

Read more: The Harvey Weinstein allegations are monstrous. But it’s not just monsters who harass women

Every time they express their freedoms – be it social, professional or sexual – women are told that they might expect retribution. If you go out and get drunk, you will get assaulted. If you do well in your place of work, expect some indecent proposition from a powerful man. And if you are confident in your sexuality, you will almost certainly be raped.

These are the warnings, the scaremongering that women grow up with. That is why we hold keys between our knuckles walking home at night, that’s why we walk two more blocks and then back again if we hear steps behind us. #MeToo is not just a series of events, it’s a perpetual state of mind.

As part of #MeToo I saw many women, and men, correctly pointing out that we really need a hashtag for men to come forward and talk about the times in which they shouted something crass at a woman; about times their sexual advances were not welcomed and yet they persevered; about times they drunkenly had sex with someone and, in retrospect, are unsure of how much consent there really was. We should focus on how many men raped, not on how many women were raped. I agree.

But abuses of power are not always as clear-cut as a big movie mogul allegedly jerking off into a potted plant next to a young actress. To dismantle patriarchal power we need to learn about subtlety, about the pernicious ways of the many snakeheads. Until the time comes when women can enjoy their lives without the chaperoning presence of a man, or fearing some sort of misanthropic karma, we still have a long way to go. 

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Four key thinkers more deserving of a revival than “Trump’s philosopher” Ayn Rand

If thinkers have enduring value, it is because their ideas are timeless, not timely.

A recent story in theTimes carried the headline, “Trump’s philosopher is heading for your local pub”. The philosopher in question was Ayn Rand, whose works The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957) have been a profound influence on the American right since they were published, and are apparently enjoying a resurgence.

The story went on: the previous week, “about 15 people packed into a room above the Plumbers Arms in Victoria, central London” to discuss Rand. You read that right: 15! Three more than a dozen! Their cups runneth over indeed. We later discovered that Britain’s first Ayn Rand Centre is being set up. Moreover, new groups dedicated to Rand have popped up in Reading and Milton Keynes.

Everything about this story was designed to make me angry. For one thing, Rand was above all a novelist, not a philosopher. For another, it’s generous to suggest that the star of America’s Celebrity Apprentice, who is also the current occupant of the White House, is deeply familiar with her overall body of work. He said he enjoyed The Fountainhead; that’s some way short of her being a favourite philosopher.

But the thing that really riles me is this fashion for stories about intellectual fashions. Last year, apparently, there was an upsurge of interest in, and sales of, George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. During the financial crisis, displaying knowledge of Hyman Minsky’s oeuvre became the columnist’s trope du jour – just as, in the recession that followed, flaunting one’s knowledge of John Maynard Keynes’s The General Theory was a mark of cool and learning.

If thinkers have enduring value, it is because their ideas are timeless, not timely. So here, apropos of nothing in particular, are four other key thinkers that are being unfairly neglected.

1. Polonius The true hero of Elsinore, who manages to distil in one speech more wisdom than the self-indulgent prince manages over five acts. Where Hamlet’s meandering vanities take him hither and thither to no great end, Polonius speaks the language of uncommon common sense to which this column aspires. And how prescient is he? His “neither a borrower nor a lender be” anticipated the post-monetary policy era four centuries before Mark Carney took the reins in Threadneedle Street. And his advice to “Give every man thine ear but few thy voice” is the perfect coping mechanism for social media. 

2. Judith Kerr If you have young children, chances are you are more than familiar with Kerr’s seminal work, The Tiger Who Came to Tea. In it, Sophie is having tea with her mother in the kitchen when a big, furry, stripy tiger knocks on the door. It joins them and promptly eats and drinks everything in the house, forcing the family to go out for a special dinner when Sophie’s father comes home from work. Naturally, I don’t approve of the stereotypical gender roles in this plot; but the message of instinctive generosity and openness to unfamiliar outsiders, with unforeseen benefits for family life, undoubtedly carries lessons for our age of mass migration and rapid demographic upheaval.

3. Meryl Streep Less neglected than my other candidates for your attention, I’ll grant; but I really think Meryl Streep’s assertion, when asked in 2015 by Time Out if she was a feminist, is crucial. She said: “I’m a humanist.” In doing this she proclaimed the connection between feminism and universal ideals, placed feminism within a broader philosophical tradition, and revived interest in humanism at a time when religiosity is again on the march. Given the current conniptions over gender in our public domain, this was an important contribution, don’t you think?

4. Humphrey Appleby Have you noticed that, amid the toxic warfare over Brexit, the once unimpeachable integrity of Britain’s civil servants is now being traduced? Jacob Rees-Mogg criticised them only the other week. I recommend he revisit Yes, Minister, in which the peerless Nigel Hawthorne played the ultimate British bureaucrat. His dictum that “a cynic is what an idealist calls a realist” is both plausible and the perfect coolant for our
overheated democracy.

Back to the Ayn Rand philosophy club: I don’t believe I’ve tried the Plumbers Arms in Victoria. But I’ll make an exception if some New Statesman reader is prepared to start the first UK society dedicated to the propagation of these thinkers’ ideas. Anyone fancy a pint? 

This article first appeared in the 15 February 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The polite extremist