When, Don Burke, former celebrity horticulturist, told press yesterday, “I’m no Harvey Weinstein,” I thought, for an agreeable moment, only of my late grandmother, Grace. Grace, a good and meticulous grower, had often said of this avowed lazy gardener, “He’s no Peter Cundall”, especially when he tossed good plants in the bin. I missed Grace, as I often do. Then, briefly mourned a time in which the only negative opinion I held of Burke was that he was so wasteful and so cruel to so very many cultivars.
This week, we have all been urged by local media to measure Burke against “Harvey Weinstein”, a term that no longer evokes a man, but a scale of workplace abuse. The public allegations against Weinstein, a (former) US film producer, have been several, often sickening and sustained in Western media for almost two months.
Weinstein was described by many prominent Hollywood workers as an abuser, a louse and a person permitted by others in the culture industry — including those news outlets who now decry him, but not themselves for staying quiet — to allegedly perform menacing acts, often in locked rooms. Soon after these early allegations, US actor Alyssa Milano publicly promoted the slogan, one not immediately attributed to its activist author, “Me Too”. She urged women (not men) to use this phrase on social media to indicate, “the magnitude of the problem”.
As you are perhaps aware, the slogan “went viral”, as use of social media platforms shot profitably up. Many users told their traumatic stories, many news outlets immediately reprinted this no-cost trauma, and an ailing news industry enjoyed a much-needed boost. More famous US perpetrators were named, more famous feminist names assured us that all this pain was “worth it”.
Too right “it’s worth it” for an industry in a very advanced state of shit. Diminished revenues, the near-obsolescence of paper and ingestion of the masthead — or homepage — by ravenous corporations Google and Facebook have wounded news. The sector must now do to survive what it had long done to prosper: describe the sexual abuse of women. Outlets can tell themselves all they want that two months of old-fashioned news pornography is “feminist” and “empowering”. Still, this stuff is in the tradition of that “curious rape mania” described in 1967 as riding “on the shoulder of American journalism like some jeering, masturbating raven”.
I am certain that local journalist Tracey Spicer retains noble feminist intentions in replicating the Weinstein investigations. I am certain Kate McClymont does, too. I could even be convinced that particular editors feel they are doing more for the public interest in publishing claim after celebrity claim than they are for their own. I know. I’ve taken jobs so appalling and exploitative, I had to delude myself that my work was vital, too.
This is not vital work. It’s not to be counted as a long-overdue jeremiad on the behalf of victims of abuse. It’s lurid journalism in the “rape mania” convention, with an added celebrity twist. If what we were largely reading was everyday workplace accounts, like those of my grandmother who laboured as a seamstress for a brutal boss or those of my talented sibling who once prepared main dishes on apprentice wages as Chef winked and told her to be careful in the car park after service, it’d be a bit different.
Instead, what we have is a culture industry so utterly fixated on its own declining labour conditions, when it does bother to report on anybody else’s, it can muster only a fleeting and relative unenthusiasm. Job cuts to the ABC or Fairfax are reported often and in detail. Cuts to industry that once, unlike media, employed a mass of workers are largely eclipsed, unless a politician happens to pose outside a derelict factory. Sexism in media is a matter deserving of much greater investigation than in retail or in the care professions.
This “story” of media sexism has been gorging on its own self-interest so long, the nation’s most storied newspaper today sees fit to publish the account of journalist Caroline Wilson, who claims that Don Burke once asked to lick her back at The Logies. The alleged behaviour is not pleasant, sure. But, hey. No Harvey Weinstein, right?
What are these empowered reporters thinking in their pursuit of solidarity for their colleagues alone? Do they actually say at their glamorous Women In Media dinners: we must not report on the places in which women, the most likely targets of sexualised workplace abuse, actually work. Goodness no. And, let us pay no heed to the large and growing percentage of women, and men, who work in contract or “self-employed” positions. That a fast diminishing number of people who are not us are unable to claim the protections of Fair Work is a matter of no concern. Let’s talk only of ourselves.
Let’s never talk of workplace protection for all. We will protect women, with the force of empowering clickbait.