As grubby detail after grubby detail emerges of Harvey Weinstein’s appalling abuse of power and women in Hollywood, the question inevitably turns to how wide-scale the problem is - and how far it extends beyond the world of entertainment, which seems not only to have turned a blind eye to it but been complicit and even enabled it at times.
Like many other professions, the property industry needs to take a long hard look at itself. I picture many of you who are reading this stopping right now and muttering: “spare us the lecture”. If that’s you, bye bye… enjoy your day with the other ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ old-schoolers in denial that this industry has a problem. If you are still with me, the good news is that I do not have a head for heights so I am not about to get on my high horse, gallop to the moral high ground and start preaching from on high.
However, the stark fact is that pretty much every woman I know in property and journalism has a horror story to tell and some of them may well take a different view in light of the momentum gathering behind the movement to name and shame offenders. In some cases, they would be well within their rights. While there is plenty of behaviour from the past that seems bad now but no-one batted an eyelid at back then, there is plenty of horrendous behaviour that was no more acceptable then than it is now.
Obviously, there are the incidents that are so serious that they become the subject of criminal proceedings and therefore public knowledge, but there are many more that never come to light - some because they were not deemed to be as serious, ‘deemed to be’ being the operative phrase. It is so tricky to distinguish wrong from very wrong.
I think of the women (yes, plural) who have been propositioned by their married bosses in the back of cars. I think of a former colleague who tweeted last week: “Property chief exec whose name I’ve forgotten - but who had massive hands - tried to manhandle me into a taxi and get me home. Was 22 he 50.”
I think of the two colleagues who were propositioned last year at Mipim in Cannes. One was asked how much she charged for six hours. The other was standing at a hotel bar - and if you were sniggering at the last one, you won’t be for much longer - when a bloke with a hard-on rubbed himself up against her and asked her to buy him a drink. She threatened to glass him but was so shocked she didn’t ask his name. All she knew was that he was from the UK.
Not funny, is it? In today’s social media mainlining ‘look at me’, ‘me-too’ culture, it is perhaps no surprise that for every woman who has found the courage to speak out about genuine abuse she has experienced, there are 10 others who think that, viewed through the lens of 2017, a flirty remark made a decade ago constitutes sexual harassment. Before the Weinstein scandal, I would have said ‘don’t be daft’. Now I genuinely don’t know; there seem to be so many shades of grey. What I do know is that all of us - women as well as men - owe it to ourselves and each other to call out unacceptable behaviour.
Times have changed and so must we.