Why no women in the list of people we would be shocked by?

In my post and the comments about people whom I would be shocked by being charged with sexual abuse, Crip Dyke asked the following interesting question about the names given by me and other commenters.

I find it interesting that Tabby is the only person to name any women. Are there really no women who would shock the commenters on this post? Or is it that it doesn’t even occur to you that women might be perpetrators, so you didn’t imagine being shocked at an accusation because you can’t even imagine the accusation?

That’s an interesting point. I cannot speak for the other responders to Crip Dyke’s question but in my case, my response would be the latter. Almost any woman’s name would be a surprise. It is not that I think women are somehow better than men but the kind of behavior we have been hearing about requires a combination of abusive personal characteristics and power over others. It is the latter that women generally lack. I believe that this lack of power forces them to act more collegially to achieve their career goals and thus inhibits any temptation to indulge in abusive behavior. I think women are acutely aware of how vulnerable they are and that any single misstep could result in loss of career. No women who behaved towards others the way that Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey or Charlie Rose did would have lasted very long. The stories about them would have spread like wildfire because the women usually had no power to coerce silence or retaliate.

Women have been forced to adopt public personas that are friendly and engaging, nice and easy going, whether they are really like that or not. I cannot think of a single female actor who has the image of being hard charging, abrasive, and demanding, the kind of reputation that so many famous male actors have and for which they are viewed merely as naughty scamps. Can one think of any female equivalents of men like Russell Crowe, Marlon Brando, Billy Bob Thornton, and Mel Gibson (to name some just off the top of my head) who were notoriously disruptive and yet seem to find it easy to get good roles and high paychecks? On the contrary, Mira Sorvino and Ashley Judd, in addition to being sexually harassed by Harvey Weinstein, had their careers effectively sabotaged by Weinstein’s company Miramax spreading the word that they were ‘difficult to work with’, and that vague innuendo was sufficient for director Peter Jackson to drop them from consideration from any of his Lord of the Rings films.

That is what would make any allegation of abuse by women shocking. I expect that women in music would have greater flexibility to be ‘difficult to work with’ and even be abusive and yet succeed, perhaps because they are mainly solo performers and thus have more control over the production and marketing of the finished product than actors. Since I am way out of touch with popular music culture, I really do not know what the performers there are like so cannot list names to support my hypothesis.


  1. sonofrojblake says

    “I cannot think of a single female actor who has the image of being hard charging, abrasive, and demanding”

    Sean Young? Thora Birch? There are quite a few -- but their careers tend to be short.

    Ones with actual power would be fewer. I cannot imagine a young male actor ever thinking they could make any kind of accusation against Barbra Streisand without horrible consequences though.

  2. cartomancer says

    I was going to leave a comment on the original thread mentioning David Attenborough, Mary Beard, Stephen Fry, Ian McKellen, Sandi Toksvig and Noam Chomsky. Two of them are women. But my laptop froze and by the time I had rebooted I was needed elsewhere.

    To be honest, I do personally find it difficult to think of women as perpetrators of sexual harassment. I find it difficult to think of them in relation to sexual matters at all. Which makes it seem rather strange that my top-of-the-head list should include two of them. On reflection, I suspect that this is because I don’t really think about famous people in terms of who might be a sexual harasser. I don’t know enough about any of them to judge. So I just thought of a list of famous people who seem genuinely lovely -- general loveliness standing in as the best approximation my imagination can manage for not likely to be abusive.

    For Fry, Toksvig and McKellen, though, I suppose it’s partly the fact they’ve all opened up about their difficulties with being openly gay in showbusiness, and so I tend to think of them as victims of the toxic culture surrounding gender and sex in that business rather than potential villains of it. Fry’s particular mental health issues and the fact he wears his self-doubt on his sleeve are also a factor.

  3. says

    I remember reading once an article about method actors and how the more famous ones tend to be men because women can’t get away with the kind of bullshit that male method actors do.

  4. Mano Singham says

    sonofrojblake @#1,

    Interesting that you mentioned Barbra Streisand because her name crossed my mind when I was writing that post. She has the reputation of being difficult to work with and I have tended to find her on-screen persona irritating. But there is no question that she can sing and that combination of exceptional singing-acting talent is rare enough that she cannot be overlooked easily and so can get away with being temperamental.

  5. DonDueed says

    After I’d posted my original comment on the earlier thread (naming Alan Alda and others), I thought of a couple other people I should have included: Barack and Michelle Obama. I decided not to add a second comment. That was before Crip Dyke’s comment, by the way.

  6. lanir says

    I considered commenting on the earlier thread but decided not to. I can’t really figure out why but I find talk like this makes me uneasy.

    I probably should have actually commented because where my thoughts went after reading the comment that is quoted in this new post is “Why no one we disagree with?”

    I take issue with some of the things Megyn Kelly, Kellyanne Conway, and Mitt Romney do, have done, and stand for. But I’d be surprised if any of them turned out to be sexual predators.

  7. ardipithecus says

    It is not just the positions of power and the opportunities they afford. Hillary Clinton’s political career would have been destroyed by behaviour similar to Bill’s. Yet they both had power. The fallout in public careers is much more damaging to women.

  8. Timothy says

    The fallout in public careers is much more damaging to women.

    I might clarify with a small edit:

    The fallout in public careers [for women being seen as sexual predators] is much more damaging to women.

    I would suggest that a similar situation exists for men. The fallout of a male talking about being sexually victimized by a female would also be damaging to men.

    There is a long-standing conversation in the male survivors of sexual abuse community about how different the media reports on, say, a male teacher sexually preying on a teenage female than a female teacher sexually preying on a teenage male.

  9. says

    There are far fewer women in positions of power and those who are in positions of power know there is more fragility to their position than often accompanies men on the same level. However, when women have the opportunity to shed that fragility they are no more or less likely to abuse their position than men. Women are just as imperfect and seduced by power as men.

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