The furore about Hollywood director Harvey Weinstein has cast a light on a dark corner of male behaviour. The number of women coming forward to tell their stories is shocking, but perhaps the fact that they do at last feel able to speak out may mark a watershed; the opprobrium heaped upon Weinstein marks a public shaming of behaviour that has no doubt been prevalent in Hollywood throughout its history. Suzanne Moore’s piece in today’s Guardian, “My whole life has been marked by sexual harassment – just like all women” reminds us that such behaviour is not rare – indeed it is widespread, even rampant. The same awful conclusion is drawn by anybody who has visited the everyday sexism web site.
One of the unexpected consequences of being trans has been to be able to acquire a small insight into the disgraceful way that some men behave towards women. I thought that the photographs of erect penises that men sent me on Facebook were a special gift because they found I was trans (and obviously a prostitute). But a piece in the Guardian a few months ago described how two women had set up a dating web site where men were not allowed to make the first move, because they had got so fed up with conventional web sites where they were inundated with photos of erections. I cannot begin to imagine what goes through the mind of a man who decides to send a photograph of his penis to a complete stranger.
One of the recurring tropes in rape cases is that the girl was “asking for it” because of the way she dressed or walked. Just a few months ago, in an appallingly mishandled retrial of the footballer Ched Evans for rape of an inebriated teenager, the judge allowed the defence to reduce the trial to a consideration of whether, in fact, the victim was “a bit of a slapper”. I remember a movie a few years ago in which a provocatively dressed woman was raped, and the argument was all around whether, in some sense, she “deserved it” because she looked so sexy. The idea is that if a woman causes a man to be inflamed with desire she should watch out because he will need to be satisfied. This idea is monstrous but in surprisingly common currency. I always believed I was quite liberal and was sympathetic of women’s concerns on such issues. But being trans has helped me understand the sleaziness of some men in a new way. What I’ve learned is that what you wear has nothing to do with it. You can dress in a very downbeat way, you can advertise that you are married, not looking for sexual adventure, not attracted to men; it will still count for nothing if a guy has a hardon. I find it hard to be confrontational – I say “no” politely, but some guys just push. In the end, when you tell them to fuck off, most get the message. But no doubt there is the odd one who will still claim you were just talking dirty to him.
For the great majority of my life I have enjoyed what feminists call “male privilege”. I don’t claim to have suffered anything like as much as an average woman. But I’ve had tiny glimpses of the sleaziest aspects of the behaviour of some men and it has been both an education and a horror.