Weinstein Syndrome: Drivers and Accomplices

Writer Meaghan Delahunt reflects on the Weinstein case from her own experience of uncontested power and male violence.

In common with many women this week, the Weinstein case has forced me to look back. It has forced me to re-evaluate my past.

In the mid-1980’s in Sydney, I was attacked by a man and left for dead. I had seen the man get out of a car –  he had an accomplice.  We never think an attack will come from the front, but in my case, that’s exactly what happened. He got out of a car and ran towards me as I made my way home. I did not see the threat until it had me by the throat. Still now, thirty years later, when I am anxious or under stress, I have flashbacks to the assault and find it hard to breathe or sleep.

At the time, I was a member of the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) in Australia, part of the Trotskyist Left. The Party (as we called it) was led by a man named Jim P. and his brother John. There are parallels with the Weinstein brothers. Jim P. was a big man, obese, larger-than-life.   He was the Party Secretary.  He was intelligent, charming, bullying and ruthless.  He had huge appetites for food, for women, for control. His brother John was quieter, more introverted, a very different personality.  The Bob Weinstein character, you could say.  And, just like Bob, if he knew the extent of his brother’s behaviour, he kept quiet about it.

I remember one time attending a national meeting of   Resistance –  the SWP youth organisation.  The branch organisers   were all young women, a fact the Party leaders (mostly male) took great pride in.  At one point, Jim P said, ‘Do you think I play you all off against each other?’  I thought this was an odd  thing to say at a political meeting.  All the young women demurred, laughed nervously.  Myself included.  His current favourite (like Weinstein, he always had ‘favourites’) looked down at the table, embarrassed.   Then it dawned on me.  I was the only woman at that meeting who hadn’t slept with him.   I’d always kept my distance.  I’d always thought he was old, fat and ugly. Why on earth would I want to sleep with that?

There were many creepy older men in the Party who hung around the youth organisation. The reasons why women have sex with men whom they find unattractive are  complex.  But generally it comes down to this: the man has power, he is physically stronger; you don’t want to look like a bitch and turn him down; you’ve somehow got yourself into a situation with this man.  Hell, you may even like him as a friend, and don’t want to ruin the friendship. The pervasive culture in the Party then was one of ‘free love’. The mantra was ‘monogamy is bourgeois.’  Some  of these men had long-term partners. Some did not.   In Jim P’s case – he had a partner – but used the youth organisation as his personal harem.  The men in the National Executive of the Party were doing the same thing and if they weren’t, they   turned a blind eye to what their Party Secretary was doing.  The men had proximity to power.  It was a vicarious thrill.  It meant unlimited access to young women. Why challenge that?

After I was attacked, not one of the male Party hierarchy came to see me, or enquired after my welfare. After all the platitudes about equality and women, I felt abandoned and alone. I was urged to get over it, to get  back working for the cause as soon as possible.  A few weeks later, Jim P transferred me to another branch.  He sent me to Perth – on the other side of the country –  a place I had explicitly told him I did not want to go.  As if I had any choice in the matter.

A few nights before I left Sydney, there was a small gathering to say goodbye. Jim P didn’t attend. But there was a young girl there, fifteen years old, a high school student, a recent recruit to the organisation.  We started talking and she became tearful. She told me that Jim P had tried to assault her. He tried to force himself on her.  How could this happen?  What could be done about it?, she asked.   It had occurred at his house.   She said that she was never coming back to the Party and she wanted me to know the reason why.  I was shocked, but on another, deeper, level I knew that this was not a one-off.  I listened to her, put my arm around her, apologised for his behaviour and told no one.   Today I would accompany her to a police station and help her to press charges.

Why did I keep quiet?  The man had power and his behaviour was the norm. Instead of challenging the Party Secretary   I got on that damn bus to Perth and did his bidding, still with scars from the attack and tranquilisers to help me sleep.  I don’t feel good about it.

The Left is rife with such stories. I have no doubt that if Jim P had lived longer (he died more than two decades ago) that he’ d be facing a string of harassment and abuse charges, as would many other Party men.

Over the past week, as I watch the allegations against Harvey Weinstein grow, I also wait for the (male) backlash.  We all know this is only the tip of the proverbial and that men in power, in many walks of life, will want to contain things.    And it has begun. Woody Allen protests that the right of any man ‘to wink’ at a pretty girl is compromised. Woody Frickin’ Allen?    If we substitute the word ‘child’ here for ‘woman’ we would understand the extent of abuse and how it operates. Paedophiles rarely act alone. Nor do abusers of women. There   is a network of silence and complicity, of nods and winks that enables some men to act without consequence.   Harvey Weinstein is not a sex addict. We need to take the word sex out of the equation. Get rid of the prurience and titillation here.  Get rid of the pot plants and bathrobes and sordid details.  See things for what they are.  He is a power addict. At present there is no rehab for that.

The man who attacked me had a driver.  Weinstein and  Jim P. also had accomplices. They are not isolated ‘monsters.’  They are the symbols of  a culture which worships ‘the strong leader’ – in business and in politics, in academia, in the media, in the gig economy –  in every workplace.  Allegedly, Weinstein kept a baseball bat in his office.  Just to back up his strength.  Weinstein said that he will now focus his work on the gun lobby and Trump. That he is waiting for a second chance.  As if   liberal ideas   could excuse rape and assault. Until men stop identifying with bullies in powerful positions, on the Left and   on the Right, until men stop using ‘progressive’ politics as a figleaf for their overbearing, mansplaining and abusive behaviour, things won’t change.

Sometimes the attack comes from the front.

Who will be man enough to stop it?

 

© Meaghan Delahunt 17/10/17

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Comments (17)

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  1. Jenny says:

    I found this article honest and moving.

    I too think the left tolerated and facilitated men like this. At a time when women on the left were experimenting with and celebrating new ways of organising and exploring the links between the personal and the political.

    It was a hidden thread running through some left groups and networks. It made us all feel dirty and embarrassed, and was condoned and facilitated by a few.

    1. Jo says:

      Jenny.
      As a female I really found it difficult to get my head around the women Meaghan describes here and this view that they had to sleep with creeps because “they had the power”. Really? It makes them appear helpless and I just don’t accept that. I think to suggest nothing could be done is just not true. By giving in they were enabling the bullies. We really need to stop painting women as defenceless, cowering creatures. We are not. The truly brave thing to do is to refuse to be manipulated in that way and call the abusers out.

      In the Weinstein case so many women stayed quiet! Is Rose McGowan attacking them on Twitter? She originally stayed quiet herself and signed a settlement agreement! Now she’s effing and mother-effing at random people all over Twitter! If her vile language is anything to go by she’s anything but defenceless.

      1. Alasdair Macdonald. says:

        This is a pretty unsympathetic, ill-informed and, probably, misogynistic response.

        The fact remains that many victims of harassment – males as well as female – do not say anything about it and that has to be explored. People whom I have known and met in the course of my work who had suffered abuse, whether, physical, mental or sexual, all seemed to display self-disgust and various degrees of self-disrespect, including cutting themselves. There are people who return several times to live with abusive partners. All that this article is doing, by its condemnatory tone, is reinforcing the self-loathing that these victims have.

        Today, I experienced an attempt to con something from me. The approach was courteous, with a reasonable and, in the context, relevant question, which I answered. This was followed by some complimentary remarks, further questions and a gradual intrusion into my space. There was no sense of physical threat, but the persistence of the engagement made me suspicious and eventually the attempted ‘sting’ was delivered. I politely declined and left. As I reflected on the situation, amongst my feelings was one of annoyance WITH MYSELF that this person seemed to have perceived a vulnerability in me which he sought to exploit. This was a relatively minor incident and, had it come to violence or threat of it, I reckon being male, fairly tall and fairly fit that I could have dealt with it. But, amongst it all was a sense of shame. Until now, I have not related this to anyone else. Having done so here, there is a sense of ‘cleansing’ of affirming myself, of rejecting the blame I had felt.

        I suspect with the alleged victims of Mr Weinstein there may be similar feelings but much more intense, coupled with the fact that physically and verbally, he was intimidating them and also the knowledge that he had the power to remove their sources of income and the certainty that he would take such actions.

      2. Willie says:

        I think you are right Jo. I see women as equal. Yes there are stupid women, bright women, but equally there are stupid men, bright men.

        Indeed, it may be that there are more bright women than there are bright men men

        So yes, what is it about some sections of women’s rights that they cast women as timorous cowering beasties, dependent upon presumably, male aid.

        Some of this bilge would give you the dry boak.

      3. Anna Reid says:

        you don’t accept there is any power imbalance or politics between the genders?

  2. Roger Gough says:

    Brendan Cox, adviser to Prime Ministers, walked from a very well paid job which required him to defend unfortunates. How utterly remarkable that when he decided to leave his enviable employment, not a single jot of complaint was heard – that the public could hear. And it still can’t be heard. This needs those affected to bring their complaints into the light NOW at this most opportune moment – or they are complicit. I wonder why the silence? We all know why. Talk about circling the wagons. MEH !

    1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

      I literally do not understand what Roger Gough is trying to say or imply in his comment.

      I found the testimony of Meaghan Delahunt moving and wish her well in recovering from her ordeal and I hope that having written about it she has had some kind of catharsis.

      Sadly, what she describes is common amongst various groups, not just leftish ones. Religious ones have a pretty sordid record. And, these things have gone on for centuries.

      Mr Harvey Weinstein appears to have behaved in a way that big wheels in the entertainment industry have behaved since it started. I had thought that with previous revelations about Hollywood, about Jimmy Saville, about abuse in the Roman Catholic Church, etc that things had begun to change and that more victims would be confident enough to make such matters public. Along with the first reports I read about the infamous conduct by Mr Weinstein were statements by Meryl Streep and by Judi Dench. Both these women I had thought has sufficient status and power to be able to withstand any threats against them either individually or for speaking out on behalf of others. I hope that turns out to be true.
      However, they have been involved in the industry at a high level for such a long time that I ask myself, “Did they not know such things were going on?” I had similar questions about people in the BBC when the revelations about Jimmy Saville were revealed.
      I am not seeking to blame such people, because, never having been involved in that milieu, I simply do not know how I might have responded.
      Is it fear of litigation? Weinstein and Saville are/were pretty wealthy. Both had friends in powerful places. Were these people compromised themselves or were their egos such that they did not want to be seen to be tainted by association even though they themselves were innocent of any wicked conduct? Is the ethos within which they live so corrupt, yet so lucrative, that their desire for the lucre and what it entails is more important than seeing the Augean stable cleansed and probably brought down and them with it?
      At a psychological level as the author has frankly described there is the self loathing and self blaming by the victims.
      Amongst the many articles I have read there have been several which portray all men as having a common guilt for such malign conduct. Of course many men have behaved badly towards women, children, gay men – certainly more than I had imagined. I begin to wonder have I behaved in ways which have caused distress or have exerted male power for unjust ends? I know that I have not committed any crimes against women. I cannot recall any occasion when I condoned cruel behaviour I had witnessed and was in a position to intervene. Yet, have remarks made as ‘banter’ contributed to sustaining the power imbalance? Are there other beviours?
      I am married to a woman, we have a daughter, I have female neighbours, friends colleagues. I feel love and affection towards them. I want to help make the world a safer place for them. Does my maleness preclude me?

  3. Meaghan says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful response, Alasdair. Of course your maleness doesn’t preclude you from supporting women and girls and making the world a safer place for everyone. It’s essential. It’s the point I’m making. And it’s by men asking questions about their own behaviours (learned, unconscious) and standing up to bullying and intimidation by other men that will change things.

    1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

      Meaghan,

      Thank you for letting me know that what I wrote provided some comfort.

      When we are growing up we learn from the examples of our fathers and other males. (Of course, we learn most from our mothers and we learn from other women, too.) I was a boy and a young man during the 1940s/50s/60s. Attitudes amongst the majority of people were different.

      Consensual homosexual acts between males in private were considered crimes and there was a range of offensive terms for homosexual men, which I learned and used. When I made my tax return, my wife’s earnings and expenditure were included, I received a ‘married MAN’S allowance’ and my wife paid the ‘wee stamp’ for National Insurance. In my first student job, I was paid at a higher rate than my female colleagues on the shop floor, and, at tea breaks, the foreman would tell the women to return to work after 15 minutes, but would tell me to ‘take my time’. There were, literally, thousands of things, mostly fairly small which pervaded everyday life. Looking back, I can see they were oppressive, but they were hidden in plain sight. My mother, like millions of others of her generation had lived through a world war with her husband absent from home for several years. She and others thrived during that time – she would have preferred my father to have been at home – and performed many jobs previously considered men’s jobs. But, when hostilities were over, most were quickly dismissed from these jobs for returning men. They felt resentment – who would not? But, given their legal status with respect to their husbands, most had little option but to ‘knuckle down’. However, I think most resolved that their daughters would not suffer such a fate. However, mothers love their sons, too, and most of us were often shielded from the harsh social and economic realities that was the lot of sisters.

  4. SleepingDog says:

    Presumably such abusers within organisations will have tried-and-tested ways of sounding out potential collaborators, blind-eye-turners and whistleblowers. Possibly some of the kinds of “banter” we hear about are tests (laugh along, ignore, object). And nowadays with social media, likes and reposts.

    One odd impression I get (which may be inaccurate) is that unlike other types reformed criminals or wrongdoers, we seldom (if at all) see an establishment sexual predator break ranks, confess, and spill the beans on how they got away with it.

  5. Jo says:

    I’m struggling with this whole Weinstein business and the current media obsession with it. I hope the many allegations will be properly investigated but I am sickened that so many are being kicked around on Twitter and elsewhere in the media. In effect the trial is being conducted there and that’s just wrong.

  6. Hilary Christie says:

    I have been thinking the same sort of thing over the last few days but a bit more widely.
    Weinstein and women, Madrid and Catalunia, Westminster and Scotland, Iraq and the Kurds. It’s the same mad obsession with power and the refusal to give an inch to the smaller side in any circumstance. All power corrupts, like all wealth.

    1. Jim Bennett says:

      I think that you’re right.

  7. Jenny says:

    We live with constant everyday sexual harassment of women and girls by men and a culture that both permits that abuse and also silences and refuses to listen to its victims. This abuse is something that all women have experienced from an early age and that many of us accepted as our lot without even recognising it as abuse at the time. The Weinstein case has resulted in much soul-searching by older women as they re-visit violent and unpleasant experiences from their past and face the fact, as Meaghan has done, that their silence at the time left abusers free to carry on abusing other women and girls. This particular issue is not one of generalised bullying and power, but the very specific issue of patriarchy and masculine power and sense of entitlement that makes not just the workplace but the entire world a dangerous place for women and girls.

    I too generally find the celebrity world an area of zero interest. However, in the Weinstein case it has meant that the mainstream media focused on harassment and abuse for more than 24 hours. All over the world women and men have responded. I have great respect for Meaghan and for the other women who have spoken out about past experiences as part of the MeToo campaign. I have been thinking back over my own past and my reluctance to acknowledge harassment and abuse of myself and other women. Partly from a loyalty to male friends, brothers, father. Maybe also as a way of dealing with it – if I don’t see/name it it can’t hurt me. This article has made me rethink this.

  8. Meaghan says:

    Jenny – thank you for this great support – and for being the first to comment, too. My aim was to prompt discussion. To encourage men& women to challenge abusive behaviour & cultures of behaviour. To highlight that ‘the Left’ is not immmune.

  9. Redguantlet says:

    Jenny and Meaghan, thanks to you both.

    This is a societal problem which has to be addressed in schooling, in the education system.

    Men do not receive – at least my generation, I’m in my forties – ANY sex education at all. They are not told about how vulnerable many women feel when you approach them, for example.

    Until I read Margaret Attwood saying “The difference between men and women is that men are scared of making an idiot of themselves in front of women, while women are scared that men might kill them…”…it had never occurred to me, ever, that a woman actually think of me as a threat.

    What was my first notion of women and sex? A frigging porno mag, a dirty mag…. it’s pathetic but it’s the truth…. and men are not just led to think about women on monotonously sexual lines, they are encouraged to do so. There was a societal pressure on you to hit on women, constantly. If you didn’t do it you were a queer…a poof… am I right or am I right guys?

    I remember having a girlfriend at school who I didn’t even want to have, but I had to have a girlfriend, you know? I mean, it’s fucked up…

    So men are basically brainwashed from an early age to think about women in a certain way. It’s the education system which should address it but, of course, I doubt they will. Why? Because it’s run by men. And most men, when you ask them to question themselves, get uncomfortable and they reject that…

    As for Weinstein,the guy was always an asswipe….what a fucking bully and a dick he has always been, even without these revelations. Weinstein is credited for making few decent movies – basically Tarantino’s two first pictures which are exceptional – I don’t see much else there.

    But what nobody knows is that Weinstein killed pictures too. Weinstein killed the fantastic DEAD MAN by Jim Jarmusch, because Jarmusch wouldn’t give way on final cut.

    Weinstein used to buy pictures and also screenplays, just to take them off the market. He would buy them and dump them in the vault, just in case the competition got them… he was famous for it.

    He was always a total wanker….a complete fucking wanker…

    He’s a serial abuser of power…

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