Today in ‘celebrities showing their metaphorical arses on the topic of sexual harassment and assault in Hollywood’, Sir Ian McKellen became the latest person to stick his foot in his mouth as he appeared in a talk at the Oxford Union earlier this month. Referring to experiences he had in the early years of his career, he told the audience:
‘I hope we’re going through a period that will help to eradicate it [sexual harassment and assault] altogether. But from my own experience, when I was starting acting in the early Sixties, the director of the theatre I was working at showed me some photographs he got from women who were wanting jobs … some of them had at the bottom of their photograph ‘DRR’ — directors’ rights respected. In other words, if you give me a job, you can have sex with me.’
Look, I’m sure this did happen, but we can’t conflate systemic abuse and its subsequent industry-wide cover up with this near mythic notion of the casting couch. It’s one of the things that kept Harvey Weinstein safe for decades, as people turned a blind eye from the rumours and assumed he just had sex with women for work, as if that’s not an egregious misuse of power. McKellen later went on to elaborate, ‘That was commonplace from people who proposed that they should be a victim. Madness. People have taken advantage of that and encouraged it and it absolutely will not do.’ And that’s the problem here: That kind of massive unbalance in the dynamics of industry power cannot be dismissed as a few desperate chicks taking advantage of poor, helpless studio heads. The myth of the casting couch has been poisoned beyond recognition of anything it may have been in reality, and instead is seen as another way to shame women. It makes those young actresses further targets of slut-shaming. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had in the past few months with family, friends, and strangers alike where so many of them quickly said some variation of ‘Yeah, but what about the casting couch? Surely some of these women asked for it? It goes both ways.’ That’s not how it works.
Despite his support for victims coming forward, McKellen also expressed worry that there would be wrongful accusations made during this exodus, saying, ‘I assume nothing but good will come out of these revelations, even though some people get wrongly accused — there’s that side of it as well.’
I’m not even that surprised, to be honest. That’s the sad part. Well, one of many sad parts.