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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