Jeremy Irons on sexual harassment

First, Helen Mirren shared her opinions on rape. Now, Jeremy Irons has weighed in on sexual harassment. I’m beginning to think I only ever want to hear my favorite British actors speak when someone else is providing their lines.

Says Irons (in the context of complaining about the proliferation of sexual harassment laws):

Most people are robust. If a man puts his hand on a woman’s bottom, any woman worth her salt can deal with it. It’s communication. Can’t we be friendly?

Put aside, for the moment, the implication that a women traumatized by sexual harassment is not “worth her salt”, and the suggestion that the motive for most such harassment is a desire to be “friendly”. Irons seems to be suggesting that sexual harassment laws are superfluous (ridiculous, even) because women can simply “deal with it”.

Yes, if someone grabs my ass uninvited, I can deal with it. It’s happened before and I lived to tell the tale. Likewise, if someone walks up to me and punches me in the face, I can deal with that. (And if I had a choice between which situation to deal with, I’d choose the latter.) That doesn’t mean either action is acceptable, morally or legally.

Women shouldn’t have to live under threat – whether it’s threat of physical violence, intimidation, sexual pressure or domination, whatever. The fact that they can sometimes adapt to the presence of such threat – that they can be successful or function reasonably well even in the face of it – doesn’t mean it does them no harm, and it certainly doesn’t mean they should have to put up with it.

Jeremy Irons may not like having to refrain from ass-groping, of course. But I’m sure any Englishman worth his salt can – what was it? – deal with it.

21 thoughts on “Jeremy Irons on sexual harassment

  1. I always wonder how straight men who think these things would feel if much larger, stronger gay men went around fondling their penises.

    Is *that* just friendly communication too?

  2. Hmmm, although I can’t say that I haven’t entertained the thought expressed in post number 2, I’m wary of that analogy. I’ve recently come across a number of straight men who’ve told me that they know what it feels like to be a ‘woman’ when they’ve been in situations with ‘gay’ men before. I’m extremely hesitant to think that there is an analogy that exists here, especially given the pervasive ‘negative’ constructions of ‘queer’ bodies and sexual practices. This isn’t to say that queer people don’t commit sexual harassment – just that there may be good social reasons to think that the straight/gay and man/woman situations may not be analogous.

  3. No, philfemgal, it’s disanalogous, because you see, Jeremy Irons doesn’t want gay men grabbing him, whereas we women definitely want any man, every man, to grab at our bodies. We’re so thrilled and flattered, because it’s what we live for!

    I just can’t resist piling on to philfemgal’s joke with sarcasm-sauce. This is less of a problem now that I’m older and therefore less likely to be rendered a sexual toy, but when I was young, I couldn’t leave a crowded baseball game without some drunk slob grabbing and squeezing my butt. What charming men, surely they’re just trying to be friendly. Or treat me like meat. Whichever.

  4. Ok, I’ll skip the anecdote then. Jeremy Irons comments are nasty. Sexual harassment is vile. But I’m still curious about magicalersatz’ assertion that she’d rather be punched in the face. Again, could you please clarify that?

  5. Confession time. I have touched, grabbed and spanked women’s asses before. In public. In workplace, school, and social situations. Most of the time, they don’t seem to mind. They usually giggle or do it back. But that’s because I only do it in cases where the girl seems to like me, and there’s a reasonable chance I’ll get away with it. If its clear that a woman doesn’t like me, I’m not going to grab her ass. Nevertheless, I’m always taking a risk. If I misread some cues, and it turns out that my sexual advances are unwanted, then it would become sexual harassment by definition. I think that at least some cases of sexual harassment are from socially awkward men who aren’t very good at “reading” women. Objectively, they engage in the same behavior as me, but it doesn’t look that way from the woman’s perspective, because he’s a “creep” or a “weirdo.”

    Maybe we should tell all men to behave in the most conservative way possible, to never take any risks, and never do anything that might possibly offend a woman. But then the human species might have some trouble perpetuating itself.

    On the other hand, if we accept that men should sometimes take risks, should sometimes push boundaries with women, then we need to recognize that sometimes, sexual harassment will occur.

  6. Grr. Did you come over from Hugo’s site, James? The answer to that question is ASK PERMISSION!! And start with the hands, and then the hair. Don’t just reach for the ass first!!

    Let me rephrase your argument in terms of break&enter and theft:

    Maybe we should tell all people to… never take any risks, and never knock on a door/hint that another could share his/her possessions, because it might offend someone. But then dinner engagements, visits, and all forms of charity/personal giftgiving would cease to exist.

    On the other hand, if we accept that people should sometimes take risks, then we need to accept that break&enter and theft will sometimes occur.

    BAH!!! Knock on her door once you know her well enough, and ask her to share her stuff and you’re not committing a crime!!

  7. I’m not sure who this Hugo fellow is, but you make a good point. Almost always, there will have been pre-ass touching before ass touching, and how much pre-ass touching there has already been is a good way for men to gauge when the ass touching will be acceptable. But as for asking permission… I won’t speak for you, but generally speaking, the women I interact with seem to find it more confident and sexy when a man “just goes for it,” than when he meekly asks permission. A slap on the ass and a cocky smirk is a little sexier than “may I touch you here?” And there’s the rub.

    Your analogy between ass grabbing and breaking and entering suffers from a few relevant dissimilarities. In both cases, we have a benefit that people seek, and social boundaries that might be violated in an overzealous pursuit of those benefits. But male-female interaction is unique in that boundary violations are sometimes rewarded. The fact is that some women, sometimes, reward some men for “crossing the line.” It’s as if it were possible to increase your chances of getting invited to somebody’s dinner party by occasionally breaking their window. Fortunately, the social boundaries with regard to people’s homes and property are pretty clear cut. Heterosexual interaction is a little more complicated.

  8. A “slap on the ass and a cocky smirk is a little sexier than “may I touch you here?”” – why do men have to make talking-sexy/dirty/asking for permission always seem so boring? If men can’t ‘talk sexy/dirty/nerdy’ than they should try and learn.

  9. James, do you know ANYTHING about women? Many women will giggle or appear to react positively because guess what – a lot of the time these things come right out of the blue, they are shocking, and we — just don’t know how to react. So we giggle or something. And later, when we’ve had time to mull it over we think “what a fucking asshole, I wish I’d smacked him in the face!”

  10. tkbtm: In many cases, yes, you’re right. In many cases there might also be a power differential – employer/employee, professor/student, and so on – and the woman feels that if she doesn’t appear to react positively, she might be punished somehow. These are real concerns.
    But do you really want to say that no woman, anywhere, under circumstances, has a genuine positive reaction to any man playing touchy feely with her? In my own case, I’m fairly certain that at least a few of my advances were sincerely welcomed. These were with fellow students, fellow coworkers, friends, and so on. I’ve built relationships from a foundation of grab-ass.

  11. James: Given that it sucks to be the object of unwanted and physically intimate touching, and given that it sucks to worry about trying to avoid it, the few success stories you profess doesn’t justify engaging in behaviour the prospect of which (never mind actually being on the receiving end of it) makes many women feel uncomfortable. Maybe some people might like it, but many people don’t, and I doubt anyone is able to reliably detect which is the case 100% of the time.

    Also, come on, surely -surely? – you’ve got more about you than to rely on a ‘grab-ass’ strategy as the foundation of a relationship.

    Ok, I’ve spent too much of the morning writing about bum-related things, so I’ll stop now.

  12. Just to back-up what Stoat said: that some women in some situations will respond positively to transgressive behavior (“taking risks”) doesn’t justify that behavior. There are women out there who respond positively to being insulted and demeaned – somehow, the meaner you are to them, the more they like you. That some women in some cases will respond in this way of course doesn’t justify insulting or demeaning women. Neither do the responses of some women to ass-grabing without prior consent justify ass-grabing without prior consent.

    And just to be clear – the claim here isn’t that it’s wrong to grab ass without consent *unless* the owner of said ass would respond positively, but given that you don’t know how a woman will respond before you grab some ass, so you should probably just refrain to be on the safe side. The claim, rather, is that it is wrong to grab anyone’s ass without their consent, the positive responses of some women not withstanding.

  13. Thanks for that clarification Magicalertsatz – I realise what I wrote didn’t make clear that it was about consent. I also realise that my articulation, in terms of whether someone ‘might like it’ was somewhat ambiguous between ‘wanting it’ and ‘responding positively’. (They could come apart, e.g. if one wants to be touched but then is disappointed by the interaction.) But it still remains the case that neither can be accurately anticipated, and this fact provides strong reason to refrain from it, as does the fact that it is not consented to.

    [The ‘wanting it’ disambiguation, which I think I had in mind, accounts for my expression of the claim not making it clear that it was about consent, because I think that in some interactions, showing that something is wanted can serve to express consent. When I first kissed someone, neither of use explicitly asked or consented, but we each made it clear that we both wanted it, the communication of which served to indicate consent.

    I don’t think that helps much in this ass-grab context. I’m trying to think of the kind of behaviours someone might engage in to communicate that one wants another person, specifically, to grab one’s ass, and thereby communicate consent to the ass-grab. There probably are some. They probably precede the unproblematic instances of ass-grabbing there are. I’d be surprised to learn that they preceeded many cases of actual ass-grabbing.]

    I realise I’ve blathered for some time now about ass-grabbing. Probably too much. Thought it was worth getting this on the table to fend off the ‘but no one explicitly says ‘I consent to …” line of objection.

  14. Well, maybe it doesn’t “justify” it. But it sure makes it tempting for a lot of men. Take my case of the home owner who responds positively to having his window broken. If there were some significant number of homeowners who reacted positively to having there windows broken – when *some* people did it in *some* circumstances – don’t you think we’d have a lot more broken windows out there? Now you may say that these occasional positive reactions don’t justify breaking windows, and you might be right. But do some of the “victims” now have any responsibility for this? Are the homeowners who sometimes, in some circumstances, enjoy certain people breaking their windows ruining it for the homeowners who never enjoy having their windows broken? Can you see where I’m going with this?

    So I’ll be awaiting Feminist Philosophers’ campaign to teach young women not respond positively when good looking, high status, confident men slap them on the bottom in just the right circumstances. A noble cause, but I think it might be a little more difficult then you imagine.

    magicalersatz: “somehow, the meaner you are to them, the more they like you.”
    That’s been most heterosexual men’s experience with women since middle school. If you don’t like it, the same points made above apply.

    One last thing:

    It’s funny cause it’s true.

  15. The responsibility is with the people who fail to ‘resist temptation’ and, without knowing whether it is wanted/liked/consented to, continue to grab/break windows.

    The people ruining it for others are the people who fail to attend to the express wants/likes/wishes of the individuals in question, and instead grab/throw because *they* want to, irrespective of consent.

    Anyone who assumes that all people like to be grabbed/have stones thrown through their windows just because some people do has clearly failed in an exercise in reflection (do you think your preferences are just the same as everyone else’s?).

    So no, we won’t be starting the campaign you suggest.

  16. stoat: I don’t understand why you attach uniqueness quantifiers to “responsibility” and “people ruining it for others.” There might be might be more than one responsibility to go around, more than one group of people “ruining it.” Of course, there may not be, as well, but that would have to be established by argument. I know that in the broken windows case, if I didn’t like having my windows broken, I’d feel justified in saying two things.

    To the people breaking my windows: “Hey, stop breaking my windows.”

    To the people who sometimes respond positively to having their windows broken without prior consent: “Hey, stop responding positively to having your windows broken without prior consent.”

    And I wasn’t holding my breath for any such campaign. Which is just as well, because I don’t you think you’d get very far, and surely – surely? – you have other, more pressing matters to attend to.

  17. Sure, more than one party can share full responsibility.

    But in this case, I’d reserve criticism, and ask for the change in behaviour, from the people who are doing something wrong.

    I think touching/breaking the windows of someone(‘s house) without prior consent is wrong. I don’t think responding positively to wrongful action is wrong. There might be all sorts of reasons for apparently positive responses, some of them mentioned by tkbtm above. Some positive responses may be genuine.

    As said, I don’t think so responding is wrong. Physically intimate touching without prior consent is.

    You’re right, I do have better things to do, so I’m going to leave this thread now. Bye!

  18. “I shall never understand the weird process by which a body with a voice suddenly fancies itself as a mind.” Lloyd Richards to Margo Channing in “All About Eve” courtesy of Joseph Mankiewicz

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