It’s hard to find anything about women’s rights in a fable from the 17th century. For starters, women were still considered property, objects and a currency for trade. Remember the milkmaid whose husband was going to beat her over a jug of spilt milk? The fable certainly wasn’t concerned about domestic abuse. So I had a bit of a challenge finding something that speaks to the Hollywood fat cat who is on a lot of people’s minds.
But here ‘tis:
A cat, named Rodilardus, was wreaking such havoc with the rats that you barely ever saw a rat anymore: he had put so many in their graves. The few rats who were left, didn’t dare leave their holes, and found only a quarter as much as they needed to eat. For their miserable race, Rodilardus was more devil than cat.
Then one day the gallant set off far and wide in search of a wife. During the festivities with his new lady, the surviving rats held a meeting in a little corner to address their pressing problem. No sooner had the meeting started than their leader, a very thoughtful individual, opined that what they must do, and sooner rather than later, was attach a bell around Rodilardus’ neck. That way, when he came to wage war on them, they would be warned and could get below ground. This was the only solution, their leader said. Everyone was in agreement. Nothing seemed more efficacious.
The difficulty arose around attaching the bell.
One said: I’m not doing it. I’m not that dumb.
Another: I wouldn’t know how.
And around in circles they went. So much so, that they all left the meeting without deciding on any action.
I have seen numberless such meetings whose outcome was nothing. Meetings, not of rats mind you, but of monks, or let’s say meetings of priests.
If it’s only deliberations, everyone has an opinion about what to do.
Comes the time to take action; no one is to be found.
There’s a new term in currency, The Pigs of Liberalism; deployed to describe men like Harvey Weinstein. Men who talk liberalism and act like pigs (though I think that’s a bit insulting to pigs). And, as a cat lover, it pains me to dress Rodilardus up in Weinstein wear, and yet … the fable serves our purpose.
Weinstein’s behaviour is disgusting. We don’t need a side story to illuminate his misogyny, his abuse of power and his hypocrisy.
No. This fable speaks to another aspect of the picture. A society that creates a climate in which the rampant abuse of women proliferates, a culture that prizes celebrity and silences women. Women are eaten alive in the entertainment industry. For many, running the gauntlet of men’s advances to find their place on our screens is the norm. Why didn’t Gwyneth Paltrow or Angelina Jolie or any one of the other now-huge-stars speak up about Weinstein before? Why didn’t they attach a bell around his penis? I know the answer and it’s painful. Would I have dared? Would I have been willing to sacrifice my career?
LaFontaine was right. Often there’s a lot of talk and not much gets done. We could all talk less and act more, to be sure. But notice too, that in this fable, the rats have very little power. At least one of them, if not several, is going to have to die to get that damn bell on the cat. So too the young women in Weinstein’s clutches.
But unlike the rats, we can change the rules. We aren’t as powerless as we seem. We shouldn’t be leaving our young women to go it alone. We are consumers. We have power; as Travis Kalanick knows all too well. What if, upon hearing about the plight of an aspiring actress, we all boycotted Weinstein’s films? What if no women were willing to work with him or with any men whose behavior was inappropriate? What if we stopped letting men pass?
My partner was telling me just the other night about a businessman attending a cocktail party that my partner’s company had sponsored. The man first mistook the President of my partner’s company for a junior employee, and then upon finding out that she had gone to a elite academic high school in the first term it admitted women, remarked on how she must have been the hottest freshman that year. Yes, these are minor and utterly commonplace male behaviors. But why do we need to tolerate them anymore? After much discussion, we decided that the man should not be invited to any future events sponsored by my partner’s company. Why should the company pay for his drinks? This could be tricky and certainly might make for some awkward conversations, but why not? Women have been putting up with tricky and awkward for a long time. Sure, it’s a minor action. We don’t have to start big. We just have to start!
We need to be willing to stand up for what we believe in with our actions, not just with our words. I want to make sure that the money I spend doesn’t go into men like Weinstein’s pockets. So that women know they aren’t alone, when they need to stand up to abuse.