Harvey Weinstein is the man of the moment. But not quite.
He is an American movie producer and co-founder of Miramax. His credits include making Pulp Fiction. You have to be really, really old, like at least 25, to know that title is a pivotal film in history. Just hearing its name makes us old people start dancing while crossing a sideways V-sign in front of our eyes. Oh Travolta, what have you done?
But this is about the Harvey Weinsteins of the world. The famous man recently became infamous for sexual abuse accusations and charges by many actresses. Names include Ashley Judd, Gwyneth Paltrow, Rose McGowan, and Angelina Jolie among many, many others. These are mostly powerful women who for many years preferred to keep quiet for fear of their careers going south. Weinstein's MO involved inviting them to a room and asking for a massage. But because he didn't get his massage, he got wound up tight and retaliated with far worse.
This has been going on for years. And it goes on everywhere. The women of Hollywood spoke up. But this is Bangladesh and the situation may not always start with a body massage request, but it exists. We have ceiling fans that make more noise than people speaking up about sexual abuse in the workplace. Nobody really talks about it, the same way no one mentions Voldemort's name. It is a “topic-that-must-not-be-uttered”. HR practice is a bit of a joke in Bangladesh. Few organisations actually practise anything more than shuffling paperwork for hiring and firing employees. Some offices do not even have HR personnel. And that means it is free game.
Men love the Alpha Male label. This label is as poorly translated as James Blunt's song “You're Beautiful”. For the record, the song is about a stalker whining about someone else's girlfriend. This is NOT a love song. The Alpha Male label is a marketing construct aimed at making people without a positive sense of self-worth feel worthy. It denotes a leader. Except it also brings in characteristics of wolves and other seemingly cool creatures of prey. And what do wolves do? They relentlessly follow a female's scent. Yeah, we are not wolves. Wolves smell bad and they have fleas. There's a reason we domesticated them.
Being Alpha is an excuse to be cocky and domineering. And at the workplace this means strutting past that new girl's table multiple times and then making a suggestion.
Did she ask for it though?
This is for you manly men. Many men tend to think women ask for “it” in the subtlest of ways. Women are like the sun. They beam signals bright enough blind. Which is why some men tend to think the slightest look or glance is like a ray of sunshine. That girl looked at me? She must be in love. This works very well for Hugh Jackman, but then men also love him. But Hugh keeps his claws under wraps. Hugh is a gentleman.
Women are not food
Real men simply do not look at a woman and think of food. Since the Weinstein incident, many powerful boss-type men in the western world are now wary of having meetings with women in closed, confined spaces. Being in close quarters gives you no reason to rub up against them and lick your lips. It is uncool when you do it with food. And women are definitely not food.
And neither are men. A woman may look at the yellow stain on the wall behind your head and think, “Oh I'm so bored, I could really do with a hotdog with extra mustard.” She simply wants a food item. You're not a hot dog.
Don'ts and more don'ts
Which puts men in a weird situation often perpetuated by our social pretext that boys will be boys. Bangla movies show persistent lovers following a girl till she says yes. That is a stalker, not a lover. Even old Hollywood wasn't any more innocent. The manliest man of them all, Sean Connery, was shown to forcibly kiss a woman as stinky, cigarette-smoking James Bond. The movie girl loved it, eventually. But that's a script reality never followed.
It is quite obvious that like Weinstein, you do not ask your work colleague for a massage. Unless of course you are all masseuses. In the same vein, you respect boundaries. Stuck in a bus with your female colleague? Do not hug her. Need to work with the new intern from the seventh floor? Don't discuss body parts. When in doubt, go take a shower. Or treat women as you'd treat The Rock.
It took a whole bunch of celebrities several thousand miles away to bring this out into the open. We can only hope the realisation trickles down all the way here. Times have changed and the phrase “Boys will be men will be men” has taken a suicidal jump out the window. Real manly men actually don't over-complicate things. They make people around them feel comfortable by doing their job, by simply being gentlemen.
Ehsanur Raza Ronny is a confused dad, all-round car guy, model car builder, and cartoonist. He is also Editor of Shift (automobiles), Bytes (technology), and Next Step (career) of The Daily Star.