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Actor Brendan Fraser’s account of going through trauma because he was sexually harassed shows it is important to include male voices in the #MeToo movement.
Some of us know actor Brendan Fraser by name, others know him as ‘that actor from The Mummy’. One way or the other, he was part of my teenage years through his movies. Yet, I never noticed how and when he disappeared from the screen. GQ finally asked What Ever Happened To Brendan Fraser? and the answer is important.
In this interview with GQ, Brendan Fraser revealed that among many other life events such as a bad divorce, one huge factor that contributed to his withdrawal from the movies, is that he had been sexually assaulted. The account reads a lot like the nightmare that many women experience.
The person Fraser has accused is Philip Berk, a former president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), which hosts the Golden Globes. The incident, Fraser narrates, occurred in 2003, at a luncheon. “His left hand reaches around, grabs my ass cheek, and one of his fingers touches me in the taint. And he starts moving it around,” Fraser has said while describing the moment which he says caused him to feel panic and “like a little kid.”
Berk has written about this incident in his memoir but presents it as a harmless joke. When Fraser’s representatives asked Berk for an apology, the response he received looks disgustingly like the ‘non-apology’ apology that many women get when they accuse someone of sexually harassing them (if they even get one!). “My apology admitted no wrongdoing, the usual ‘If I’ve done anything that upset Mr. Fraser, it was not intended and I apologize.’”
Fraser’s reactions and unwillingness to speak up till now, also mirrors the experience of many female survivors. “I didn’t want to contend with how that made me feel, or it becoming part of my narrative,” Fraser relates, before continuing that the experience made him depressed, guilty and led to a lot of self-blame. The experience made him “retreat,” and made him “feel reclusive.”
His narration of how he watched the #MeToo movement unfold, made me feel for him. “I know Rose [McGowan], I know Ashley [Judd], I know Mira [Sorvino] — I’ve worked with them. I call them friends in my mind. I haven’t spoken to them in years, but they’re my friends. I watched this wonderful movement, these people with the courage to say what I didn’t have the courage to say.” He watched the actresses wear black and TimesUp pins for the recent Golden Globes, and saw Berk there, attending this event, while he himself wasn’t there, the article mentions.
And heartrendingly, he still doubts if he is “over-reacting”, even as he asserts, “I just know what my truth is. And it’s what I just spoke to you.”
I have been watching the comments sections to this and other articles about Fraser on social media, and they are filled with the usual victim blaming rubbish that is directed at other survivors. “But why did he take so much time to speak up?” “He is doing it for the publicity,” and even “This happened to another person also. They never got depressed and left cinema. He is weak for letting himself get depressed.”
Fraser’s opening up is a timely reminder that the same social and cultural systems that allow women to be attacked, also allow men to be taken advantage of.
Sexual harassment and rape are not and have never been about sex. They are about power. Fraser is certainly not the only male survivor of sexual assault.
We need to include men, include people of other gender identities, include people of all races and social classes in the whole narrative around the #MeToo movement.
There are those who will say that feminism is for women. That including the voices of male survivors like Fraser will dilute the movement. To them, I say, Feminism is not women versus men. It is people versus the systems that keep sections of the population powerless.
Feminism, in its purest sense, is about equality and inclusiveness.
Rose McGowan, one of the first people to speak out against Harvey Weinstein, has publicly registered her support for Fraser, and she puts this beautifully, “We were hurt by predators protected by the bad machine. Shoot that arrow for all of us who hurt.”
We must break that “bad machine.” All of us, together.
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