I get it, Emma, but the MeToo vigilante thing is out of control
Emma Thompson has lambasted a film studio for hiring a disgraced executive. Was she right?
Emma Thompson is one of my heroines for her abundant talent, wit and manifest desire to maintain a keen moral compass. So I was intrigued by last week’s news that she had withdrawn from a film on learning she would be working under a creative head who’d been reported for sexual harassment.
In her letter of resignation, which was published in the Los Angeles Times, she questioned Skydance Animation for its appointment: “If a man has been touching women inappropriately for decades, why would a woman want to work for him if the only reason he’s not touching them inappropriately now is that it says in his contract he must behave ‘professionally’?”
It’s easy to understand her frustration. MeToo was a cultural tsunami that swept away some of the landscape, while other elements stood firm or were quietly resurrected. Which in many people’s eyes appears to be the case with John Lasseter, the former chief creative officer of Disney’s Pixar Animation Studios who departed Pixar in mid-2018 after a six-month sabbatical following allegations of sexual misconduct. What Lasseter termed “missteps”.
At the start of 2019 Lasseter was announced as the new head of the animation branch of Skydance, another powerful Hollywood studio, to the disgruntlement of many female animators.
I can see Thompson’s point of view. Having said that, it seems to me her letter raises as serious an issue as it addresses.
If you believe it’s vital that people admit to their misdemeanours, address the consequences and apologise to those affected, then you must surely believe in the possibility of redemption. Can a man like Lasseter never return to his profession in a senior role, or is the logic here he hasn’t done enough penance? And if penance is to be done, must it be public (which could be a cynical exercise) or should it be private and an attempt at proper hair-shirted atonement? And who gets to decide?
Of course, to some degree the extent of redemption will depend on the severity of the offences. If ever there was a case for spending the rest of your life looking after orphans in Calcutta, Harvey Weinstein’s the man to volunteer for it. Lasseter, however, is a slightly different case, unless there are testimonies against him that haven’t yet come to light. He’s admitted his sins, apologised and some female former colleagues say they’d be prepared to work with him again.
Reading through the reports, Lasseter was the deluded boss who believed his persistent lechery would be taken as bonhomie and didn’t realise – or take the time and decency to consider – how much his female colleagues’ skin crawled at his unwanted approaches. His worst behaviour seems to have happened when drunk: clasps, attempts to kiss women on the mouth, and crass suggestive comments. I’m not defending any of it, but it should be placed in context of the pre-MeToo age when many women found it hard to voice their true feelings about this kind of infringement.
I’ve certainly been guilty of smiling through gritted teeth when a male colleague made a lascivious come-on, or touched my knee, while he clearly regarded it as a compliment. At 51 years of age I can say with certainty there’s a difference between a ham-fisted would-be Romeo and a predator. But I also know it’s harder to decode such differences and far more intimidating to endure unwanted attention when you’re young. Few women I know regret the new codes of conduct, but quite a few in my age group feel the vigilante aspect may be spiralling out of control.
A friend of mine recently started a podcast that features inspirational women leaders from around the world. She was on the brink of hiring a male producer who’d been let go from his last job for misconduct along very much the same lines as Lasseter’s. This man had admitted and regretted his transgressions, had carried out charity work and undergone therapy, but was told the sponsors wouldn’t accept the appointment. She showed me the candid letter he’d written to her accepting the decision, but also asking how a man in his position could ever redeem himself.
What worries me is that by focusing on identifying MeToo offenders and keeping them in the court of public opinion, we’re overlooking a more prevalent class of miscreant. I’m far from being the only woman to feel the worst injustices I’ve suffered in my professional life have come courtesy of the kind of workplace bullies who make you research the full clinical definition of psychopath. Worse still, the way many creative companies are structured actively rewards this kind of “maverick” behaviour, which sees employees crushed like walnuts, while one mega-ego takes all the glory.
TV and film companies are rife with monster bosses, breakdowns are common, and it’s galling to reflect that Weinstein’s day-to-day oppression of his cowering staff would never have brought about his downfall without the sexual element. Nor is the bullying only by men. I know several men in the arts who’ve been reduced to tears by their female execs’ unreasonable demands. It would be truly revolutionary to see all deeply unsavoury workplace behaviour treated with rigour.
My guess is some of the sexual harassers can and will be rehabilitated, because they didn’t realise they were filthy bores; and their wives and daughters and female friends will make sure they change. But the psychos will just look for a new group of people to terrorise.
– © The Daily Telegraph