All posts by Helen Taylor

THE HARVEY WEINSTEIN SCANDAL AND THE CONSPIRACY OF SILENCE

This year’s award season for actors and actresses has been dominated by the scandal of sexual abuse in Hollywood. Notably at the Golden Globe Awards multiple actors and actresses chose to wear black in order to show their support for the ‘Times Up” movement. Whilst movements of solidarity against sexual harassment should of course be supported, this article serves as a reminder that if true progress is to be made, engagement with such issues needs to go beyond a hashtag or the wearing of black. The article also looks at what can be done in order to tackle the issue of sexual harassment, specifically in the workplace.

On the 5th October last year the New York Times published a story that revealed decades of allegations of sexual harassment against the famous American film producer Harvey Weinstein. This scandal has shone a light on the issue of sexual harassment not just in Hollywood, but in the workplace in general. Everyone agrees that something must be done about this toxic culture that allows sexual abusers to remain in positions of power within their respective fields, and campaigns that show support for those who have suffered abuse are certainly a step in the right direction. Moreover, the fact that this show of solidarity has allowed women to feel like they can come forward demonstrates the power that such campaigns can have. Maybe the Weinstein revelations mark a turning point? Take the example of Dylan Farrow, the adopted daughter of Woody Allen. This month Farrow gave a TV interview detailing the abuse that she has suffered at the hands of Allen. Her allegations have prompted a wave of solidarity. For example, following the interview actress Rebecca Hall apologised for her role in Allen’s new film and said that she will donate her wages to the Times Up campaign. However, this episode also reveals a key problem. It should be remembered that this is not the first time that Farrow has gone public in accusing her father of sexual assault; in 2014 she spoke about this abuse yet there was no celebrity outcry. Obviously the political environment then meant that actors did not feel secure enough to react against the allegations. Without trying to belittle the influence of power play, the changing reactions to Dylan Farrow serve to remind us that it is important that we are all brave enough to shun the perpetrators of sexual abuse. Only with this courage and lack of passivity will there be progress post-Weinstein.

The recent scandal in Hollywood reflects a wider trend that sees men (who dominate the hierarchies of the working world) exploit their position of power to harass women. Indeed according to a BBC survey last year, half of British woman have been sexually harassed at work or a place of study.[1] From a domestic policy perspective, therefore, a pressing issue for the UK government is what can be done in order to tackle this. Crucially we need to re-dress the gender balance in positions of power. This task should not be underestimated and will only be achieved when we, amongst other things, stop gender stereotyping from a young age. In the mean time we need to continue to fight against sexual harassment so that it remains a talking point long after the Hollywood scandal ceases to make news headlines. We also need to create an atmosphere where women feel safe speaking out. On this last point it should be noted that we must also ensure adequate protection for those accused of sexual harassment and perhaps the question of anonymity for the accused needs to be re-looked at; this is a difficult issue but especially pressing in light of the recent multiple collapsed rape trials. However, ultimately we need to progress to a stage where the perpetrators of sexual abuse are called out by their colleagues and thus the onus is not on the victims to reveal such scandalous and endemic behaviour.

 

 

 

 

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-41741615

FREE SPEECH: IN DEFENCE OF NO PLATFORMING

Jo Johnson, the Minister for Universities and Science, recently announced that from next April the “Office for Students” (a new university regulator) will be able to fine universities that fail to uphold free speech. This announcement follows the National Student Union’s no-platform policy and several related controversial incidents, for instance Canterbury Christ Church University’s decision to no-platform LGBT activist Peter Tatchell. Although I do not personally agree with all the decisions to no-platform speakers that have been taken by universities (indeed I would strongly question the decision regarding Peter Tatchell) this article does seek to offer a defence of “no-platforming” by showing that there is a degree of nuance to this debate.

Firstly, it is worth starting by noting that the notion of absolute free speech is a fallacy. Hate speech laws are found in several statutes in UK law – for instance s18 of the Public Order Act 1986 prohibits expressions of racial hatred – and this represents a clear example of when free speech is curtailed. Admittedly, however, this, as opposed to the no platform movement, is uncontroversial. A point that more directly supports this movement relates to the importance of inclusivity in debate. In everyday society it is easiest for those in power to get their voice heard. This is typically white, middle class men – Jo Johnson and his spearheading of university policy is a case in point of this. In other words, free speech in everyday life is reserved for those who have access to this and thus those that have a platform. In order to combat this, it is important that institutions provide an atmosphere where individuals from all parts of society – notably minority groups – feel comfortable using their experiences in order to add to the debate. From this point of view no platforming of voices that discourage minority groups – that already face so much oppression – is valid because it encourages a more open culture which allows all voices to engage, not just those that are accustomed to being able to dominate the current discourse.

Another important point is that a distinction needs to be made between someone being invited to speak in order to draw crowds and for the sake of being controversial, and someone who is actively contributing to the debate. A figure such as Katie Hopkins will most likely never change her mind and is not speaking in order to hear other opinions. She is, at least many would argue, only interested in being controversial in order to bolster her brand and employability. From this perspective no platforming Katie Hopkins is legitimate. Moreover, it is not as if no platforming a figure like Katie Hopkins is leading to the censorship of her; she has many other avenues that she can pursue in order to air her views. Another important distinction is the difference between free speech and free debate. I would argue that if a university wants to invite a controversial speaker, the responsible thing to do is to make sure that this speaker is matched with someone who presents a different view so that he/she can be directly challenged. This is often a more satisfactory solution than no platforming because it allows opposing views to be heard, however it also ensures that such views can be effectively challenged so that there is healthy debate – not controversy for the sake of controversy.

In any case, the policy of fining universities for “free speech breaches” is questionable. It does seem somewhat paradoxical to force a university to uphold what is seen as a freedom. Instead of such coercive measures the government should seek to win the argument regarding university speaker policy through the art of persuasion and debate – ironically the very thing that they are encouraging universities themselves to uphold.

 

THE PARADISE PAPERS AND THE ROYALS

This month has seen two damning headline stories for the Royal family. The first story concerned the Queen’s offshore investment, as revealed in the Paradise Papers, and the second detailed Prince Charles’ lobbying on political interests. In light of these recent revelations, this article makes the case for the abolishment of the Monarchy. The argument is separated into three points: the principled point, the political point and the economic point.

The principled point

The principled point against the Monarchy is the most compelling: it is out of line with progressive and liberal values to retain an unelected Head of State, appointed by virtue of birth status. Additionally, the excessive wealth of the Royals is – at its mildest – distasteful. Should we really accept a state of affairs where the Queen is preaching about austerity in the House of Commons, whilst draped in an excess of jewels? Is it fair that whilst there are cuts for the public sector, the Royal family get a pay rise of millions of pounds?[1]

Moreover, issue can be taken with the idea that the Crown should be retained as it is “traditional” and represents the country. Firstly, it is no argument to retain something because it is “traditional”, without further exploring the merits of this tradition. Secondly, on the point about the symbolic significance of the Royals, we should think deeper about what the Crown represents. The Royal honours take the titles of, for instance, “Officer of the Order of the British Empire” or “Commander of the Order of the British Empire”. Britain’s history of colonialism oversaw atrocities such as massacring and the establishment of concentration camps; the country’s honours system should not be harking back to the Empire.

The political point

Regarding the constitutional role of the Monarch, it is often said that the Queen’s “political neutrality” undermines any fear of the Crown being involved in the political process. However, it is untrue to say that the Crown has no influence on the legislative process. The recent headlines, as already referred to, demonstrate the point. At the beginning of November it was reported that Prince Charles campaigned to alter climate-change agreements in a way that would benefit a Bermuda company in which his estate had invested[2]. The claim of the Royals’ political neutrality is thus hard to maintain.

The economic point

Finally, supporters of the Royal family argue that the Monarchy is economically beneficial for the country because of the tourism that it brings in. However, such supporters presuppose that all of this tourism would be lost if the Monarchy was abolished. This is difficult to believe – indeed, last year around 7.4 million people[3] visited Le Louvre (where the French monarchy used to reside) and this site continues to be one of the most famous in the world.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/27/queens-income-rises-to-82m-to-cover-cost-of-buckingham-palace-works

[2] http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-41901175

[3] http://presse.louvre.fr/7-3-million-visitors-to-the-louvre-in-2016/