I know myself to be rather childlike when it comes to some societal issues of propriety. I trust my moral compass, I trust my instincts and I strive to be on the right side of history because I know that thinking evolves. Recently I’m discovering myself at odds with people whose intellect and reason I’ve long respected…and I’m now looking at where I may just be out of touch.
I’ve always been an observer of people, of human behavior. Its one of the fundamental tasks of acting. Of late I’ve noticed many women, friends and public figures, speaking frankly about the oppressive, continuous and unwanted attention they receive in life. I’m grateful they now feel safe to address this and I’m trying to keep up.
I’m pretty empathetic, ofttimes I see someone else’s point of view before I’ve formed my own. This just feels very contradictory. Women intend to be attractive, desirable. That is their conscious intent when they put an outfit together, when they put on heels that require them to mince and strut, rather than fall down. I doubt it’s this simple but is it the verbal rather than conscious approval that women find offensive? I mean, if she dressed to be attractive and passersby look at her with appreciation or desire, is this an example of harassment? And is there any correlation between a woman feeling flattered and the particular man doing the flattering?
I’ve been looked at, all my life. At times because people either recognized me or thought that they did. At times because someone might have felt attraction for me (and that’s happened with men and women). At times because I was the first or only person like myself, of color, of authority, of assertiveness they’d ever seen. In that sense…and in that sense ONLY, I know what it is like to be a pretty girl. So I expect to garner scrutiny whenever I am out in the world. You’d think that would encourage me to dress better…and you’d be wrong. I rarely dress to impress…and I can be pretty impressive when well turned out.
I don’t really relish attention all that much. Sure I like approval, doesn’t everyone? But todays cultural realities are so contemptuous and snarky and mean-spirited, Stella’s counsel often comes to mind. “To succeed as an artist you need the soul of a butterfly and the hide of an elephant.” But I digress. When a good looking man walks down the street, like maybe Jon Hamm or Brad Pitt, I’d imagine women have a reaction, perhaps verbal, perhaps not. But thats not fair, since both are huge stars AND good looking. What happens when an anonymous good looking man walks down the street, passing women? I assume they notice, I assume they respond. Perhaps with a smile or a lingering glance or a toss of the hair or a pose that features their best attributes. They’re responding as do men, just in their own way, right? And I assume if a woman strolling drew the attention of a Jon Hamm or a Brad Pitt, there would probably not be too much of a problem, doncha think?
So it seems I’m responding to a lot of comments from women, inspired by the iCloud hack – or password hack. That’s right, always blaming the victim. They are pissed, weary, creeped out, disgusted, offended, appalled, ever so over catcalls and whistles and efforts from strangers to chat them up. I get an underlying sense of longstanding resentment, just beginning to find its way into the conversation. This is tough. People want to be attractive. We all want approval. But how that approval is expressed and who does the expressing seems fundamental to how upsetting the encounter was.
Intimate pictures were released to the public. They had been intended to remain private. Many of my thoughtful friends seem to be saying they were not at fault in having these images posted, they are innocent victims. They had no hand, they bore no responsibility in this invasion of their privacy. Victimized, yeah. Egregious? Hell yeah. But guiltless? You trust your mother but you cut the cards. You had every right to photograph or film any aspect of your life. But you have to know that even if stuff is deleted, it still “exists”. And therefore the possibility that it may someday be exposed will always exist. OK? You have to assume some responsibility in the matter. And I think those that don’t feel any responsibility for having been violated are being illogical and self-righteous. I think those that defend this perceived absence of responsibility are enabling and being ingenuous.
I long had a photographic album, reflecting decades of being a single man in a world of compelling women. It was private, it was personal, it was never intended to be seen by anyone but me. Every image was consensual. Over the years, I’ve offered sanctuary to a number of women, during a rough patch. Some of them violated my trust by going thru my personal possessions. I was always shocked, always offended, often resentful. “Why would you repay my kindness with such disrespect?” But I have known a great many women. And I know – whether I like that knowledge or not – that some women are compelled to pry. You know who you are 😉
So in the instances I experienced this betrayal, tho hurt, tho angry…I always knew I could not have been vulnerable if those images had not existed. I knew it. So I accepted responsibility for it. Yes, I removed those women from my life…but I held myself ultimately responsible. I haven’t heard any such statements from the recent victims
And since I’m still up, I’ll share this. Many years ago, on a film, a very attractive woman and I had yet to meet but exchanged smiles from time to time. I can be shy. I can also be uncommonly forward. I stopped going to bars years ago. Its not that I had no game. I learned I was absurdly good at picking up women. But I was offended by my own glibness, I found I didn’t really like myself that much when so little was required to succeed. Anyway, after a week or two, I noticed this woman standing waiting for an elevator. She was not alone…but I approached her and said softly, “I’ve given this a great deal of thought and Ive decided that I would like to have your baby.”
I’d never done anything remotely so bold in my life and I was kinda surprised at myself. This glorious smile appeared on her face. She LOVED it. In short order we were a couple…which led to later grief, since my director had also been smitten by her charms.
Now today…I doubt I’d do it. Harassment suit. Slap. Public shaming. It was a line. I think it was a pretty good one But it was a romantic impulse. In this instance it worked out for me. But I know the world in which I now live is far more nuanced.