Friday, 17 June 2011

Men behaving badly

 Photographer: David John  Green

An article by Marlo Thomas in the Huffington Post* comments on some recent instances of men behaving badly - Schwarzenegger, Strauss-Kahn, Edwards, Weiner.
What emerges, says Thomas, is that women STILL find it hard to complain when men sexually harass them. It takes guts.  There is a power imbalance and it is difficult for women to counter that. Sometimes women do want to speak out but they find that men are able to manipulate the law in their favour, so all they can do is bow their heads and move away in silence, as the men laugh and dismiss them as being liars or worse, of unstable mind. Hence we must applaud the chambermaid who had the courage to report a man as powerful as Strauss-Kahn for attempted rape.

Photographer: DG
We have seen a number of 'Slut Walks', everywhere, the latest one in London on 11th June. Apparently, if women get raped it is because they dress like sluts, said a Canadian police officer, so they are asking for it. In an overwhelming  response, women from all over the world have staged the walks, to protest. Even in New Delhi there will be one of such walks in July, the first ever in an Indian city,where rape is apparently the norm and women cannot walk around without a trusted male escort.
Rape is an extreme form of sexual harassment and it is good to see it is finally being understood to be  a serious crime.  But it is not the only manifestation of sexual harassment. There are other ways which are more difficult to prove as being harassment, more insidious, from mind games to persistent suggestions, groping and so on.
Photographer: DG
I remember when I was a student, in the days when colleges did not have any sexual harassment policy, a tutor of mine regularly groped female students during one to one tutorials. We did not know what to do, it did not even cross our mind we could complain, we were all worried that protesting might have repercussions on our results. Or worse, that we could be accused of soliciting his attentions. The groping always seemed to be accidental and the first time it happened each one of us thought we were dreaming it, seeing too much into something quite casual. Then we compared notes and realised these were no accidents. So we started  going up to his office in pairs and use all sorts of ruses to keep the door open, making sure the friend we had taken with us was outside waiting. We used to laugh it off, but it was a real ordeal, not at all pleasant. He is harmless, we used to tell each other. Still, we did not like it. The man WAS harassing us.
Photographer: DG
The modelling world is full of such stories and here I am thinking in particular of the art nude 'milieu'. Modelling nude is never easy, there are boundaries which should not be crossed. The issue here is one of professionalism, choice and trust. Almost every model has had a negative experience or another. Very few models are actually raped, that is an extreme occurrence. But many are 'accidentally' groped or  'helped' to undress. There's plenty of suggestions, double entendres, mind games, you name it. Every modelling site forum will have 'negative experiences' as a topic of discussion among models. I don't even look at those threads anymore, it is enough to put one off modelling, except that nude modelling is not just about that and it should not be reduced to that. I continue to  believe it is a form of artistic expression. Luckily, I am too old and wise to be manipulated by any man, I can see through it immediately so I am not in danger. But younger models, younger women are.
Sometimes  I come across stories that really make me see red. A few days ago  I received a note from a lovely, bubbly young model, whom I interviewed for a forthcoming piece I am writing.  I read it as I was having my morning 'cuppa' and I nearly choked.  She was writing  about her first modelling shoot, answering some of my interview questions. When she began modelling she was just about to turn eighteen and keen to start, having been a deviantArt member for nearly four years. She contacted a well known photographer whose work she admired.  "I wanted to be an art model and be part of the artistic process, I was delighted to be booked by someone with such a wonderful reputation", she wrote in her note.  They did two shoots together and on the second shoot he was physically abusive to her. "I could smell him on my skin for days after.  A few days after we shot together, he asked me by text if I wanted to do another shoot featuring him ejaculating on my face". 


Photographer: DG
Did you go to the police? I asked her. No, there would not have been any point, he did not actually rape her.  She could not prove he had molested her, because she had been alone with him and had been modelling nude.  She felt violated but there was nothing she could do except walk away. 
Who is this creep who thinks that young models are meat? He is a famous photographer, she said and sent me a link to his website. I recognised him. Indeed he has won accolades, has thousands of fans and travels regularly between continents. The kind of man who knows exactly how far he can go before actually breaking the law and who is able to get away with 'things' because he is an artist. His work is good, he has talent, he has won awards. It would have been a case of her word against his and she felt her word would not have had much weight.
Still, the experience did not put her off modelling as such. She is now enjoying her modelling work and has learnt to say no. But what a terrible way to start. Someone less level headed would have been totally broken by the experience. Not her.  She is wonderfully resilient, intelligent, pragmatic. The hassle of having to prove the harassment, of having her whole life scrutinised was just too much for her to take on at that point in time, she was too vulnerable. She decided to get on with her life and not dwell on the experience. Except that such experiences leave scars.
As I said, if you ask most models they will all have a story or two to tell. Model Bitch blog a while ago had posts and comments  about negative experiences. Models are often too scared to leave bad references for photographers on model sites where they have accounts. Only a handful of them will have a list of photographers they have worked with with the note "please contact me for a reference if you wish to work with this person", a neutral phrase which is however a code for 'bad reference'. But most do not bother. 

What enrages me is that such men, because they have talent and are successful, can get away with murder.  Because eighteen year old women who want to do nude modelling can't possibly complain. Why should they? They are not children, they are consenting adults, so everything is perfectly, perfectly legal...Just a misunderstanding or two and  pushing a couple of boundaries, that's all. Boys will be boys. But as Marlo Thomas writes, the new mantra is "Boys may be boys, but it's time for men to start acting like men."


*have begun reading it thanks to Anne Enke's  AOC
(All photos modelled by Alex B)

4 comments:

  1. "Boys will be boys." Pfui! I speak as a man (not a particularly powerful one, but still a man): I do not engage in this kind of abuse, never have, and never will. There are many men like me, who don't abuse, who keep their personal and professional lives separate, who never call prostitutes, and whose women friends never have to give bad references. And if we were all honest about such things, I would match my sex drive against any man my age. So don't give ME that line!

    Perhaps what we need is something like The Pledge, the promise developed by the (US) Women's Christian Temperance Union, pledging that the pledgee would never use alcoholic beverages nor promote their use. I'd sign such a pledge against mistreating a woman, in a heartbeat!

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  2. A distressing Article Alex, but sadly all too true..

    when I was just starting out , I shot a very promising young lady just short of her 18th.. we didn't do any nude, in fact the idea wasn't raised at all.. and got some(for the time) pretty good shots. Over the course of the session, we got talking about her experiences to date...what shocked me was the number of times she had been pressured to shoot nude... even tho she was not 18!.. over the years, especially since making photography my living, I have tried NOT to ever come across as sleazy in any way.. how successful I have been in this endeavor .. who knows...

    One thing that has distressed me over the years is the perception of models, especially nude models... While most of the models I have worked with are the most honest, forthright, dedicated people with the highest morals I have ever met, there is a perception that (nude) models are basically wanton women .. how often do you see on various forums statements like "she only gets works cos she gets her tits out" or "at least I dont have to flash my bits to get work".. it is pathetic, but sadly reflective of society.. despite 40 years of the so called sexual revolution, and even longer for the feminist movement, women who are a) prepared to expose their bodies, or b) are sexually assertive/active, are still seen as social pariah's. Coupled with this there has been no attempt to change the attitude of males in the media or otherwise.. boys are still bombarded with images and editorial that presents women in a derogatory light..instead of lauding and appreciating female sexuality, boys are still taught to snigger, belittle and generally view female sexuality in a derogatory light...( not sure what the lads mags are like in the UK, but here they make all their models sound like total tarts!)

    As to why this is, there are many reasons.. firstly, IMOH, as in many revolutions, we are seeing a sexual counter revolution.. as religious/conservative groups fight to put sex back into the bedroom with the lights off, and make women's bodies something to be ashamed of! Even as early as the '80s The feminist movement had fragmented into those that that wanted equality on all levels with males ( but still loved them) , and those that wished to suppress males the way that females had for millenia... ( which means NOT allowing men to appreciate the female form as after all, they are only getting their rocks off) ..

    As a result, unlike with the homosexual acceptance movement, there has been no change in language regarding females , a promiscuous women is still a "slut", "tart", "hooker", "whore" etc.. ( derogatory terms)while the male equivalent is still a "stud", "Casanova" etc (complimentary terms..). The most offensive word in the English language is still a 4 letter word starting with c that refers to a certain part of the female anatomy.. and there has been little serious attempt to change this ..

    which leads us back to the original dilemma...where does a nude model stand? (s)he is not a slut.. even though society tends to view her that way and, as a result, some photographers tend to think of her that way.. yet she is more.. she is divine, angelic, confident, empowered and leading the way for her kind.. and at the end of the session leaves to return to her boyfriend/husband/girlfriend/parents/teddy bear or whatever, and should leave us with the best damn images we can create

    we shouldn't have to have "slut" walks, we shouldn't have to make pledges .. we should just love, accept and appreciate women, and that glorious thing that is their body, their sexuality, and their being..

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  3. You know what? I'm not even going to try after what Stan said. That was beautifully stated.

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  4. Stan, great comment, a blog post in itself which I will 'reblog'.
    Jochanaan and Phydeau, thanks for commenting too. It is a most distressing episode but unfortunately not the only one. Attitudes need to change

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