Leah Vincent wrote recently in the Forward about ex-Orthodox women who must learn to say no. She understood that the dance of dealing with sexual advances from men was complex, and has to be learned in the real world. I learned about this dance early on in my life, and so I am not shocked by Harvey Weinstein. Or any of the taxi drivers, professors, colleagues, relatives, friends or strangers that propositioned me, masturbated in front of me, tried to rape me, ogled me, fondled me or honked at me. What surprises me is that people are shocked when it happens. Their desire for retribution surprises me. The energy it mobilises in the Twittersphere and the ensuing virtue-signalling, hand-wringing and demonizing surprises me.
I don’t think I’m the only woman who had an uncle who hugged her too closely. Or went to the beach as a teenager and saw a man masturbating behind her. Or who bathed in the beautiful hot springs in Pamukkale, and saw another wanker in action, his eyes fixed on me and my friends. I’ve had a relative that wanted to be touched, a client that tried to force me to have sex, a friend that fondled my arse and a licenced English cab driver in London ask me for a blow-job.
I have hundreds of these stories and I bet most women do. I don’t know if Orthodox women in thick, black stockings and long sleeves get honked at in the street by men in cars, but I know that I get honked at, whistled at and told to smile, whatever I wear. The men that do these things are not monsters. They are often kind, interesting, generous and talented human beings, and I try not to limit my world to people who never offend me. I don’t see myself as a victim.
There’s a beautiful Rabbinic concept describing two worlds of Halacha, the b’diavad world meaning after the event or what happens in the real world, and the hatchilla world meaning every that happens beforehand in the ideal world. In the ideal world, no woman would have to deal with sexism, and men and women would live and work together in mutual respect. But in the mixed b’diavad world I live in, women have to learn to punch, duck and dive, pick their battles, and to believe they have the right to say no. There’s another thing about the b’diavad world; I only have so much time and energy to focus on the issues that truly bother me. The problems of white, privileged, educated women who want to become actresses are not top of my list. Sue me and look around you.
The real crime is that there are millions of girls in Sub-Saharan Africa who will never see the inside of a classroom. The real victims are poor women. Two thirds of the girls in Niger are married before they are adults. Half of the women living in Haiti’s capital city slums have been raped. Four and a half million destitute and powerless women around the world are trafficked for sexual use. In Trump’s America, women’s reproductive rights are under assault, with particular impact on poorer women. These are the issues that enrage me. I care deeply about a woman’s right to choose, to be educated and to be free. I’m too busy to care about Harvey Weinstein.