Yes, Abuse Is Your Business

This video (sorry, embedding is disabled) is of Ewan McGregor on Good Morning America. The part of the video that I’m going to talk about (beginning at :38), discussing McGregor’s recent film made with Roman Polanski, is transcribed below:

George Stephanopoulos: [Roman Polanski]’s also of course going through his troubles right now, being held in Switzerland for, uh … because he’s been extradited for that sex charge [from] many, many years ago. Do think he’s getting what he deserved?

Ewan McGregor: I don’t know, I don’t comment on his case, because it has nothing to do with me. I, I, worked with him as actor, with a director for … I’ve known him for less than I year and … uh, so I don’t make any comment on the case, because it’s, it’s none of my business.

It has nothing to do with me. It’s none of my business.

Now, I don’t know Ewan McGregor from anyone else. I’ve only ever seen one or two of his films, and didn’t walk away with much of an impression in either direction. With regards to Ewan McGregor, I have neither any prior disdain nor affection. He’s just a guy. And, indeed, what McGregor said here is quite arguably not as bad as what Johnny Depp said on the same subject. But people have talked a lot about the kind of thing that Depp said (rationalizations for why Polanski’s rape wasn’t “really” rape, or isn’t worthy of punishment). We’ve talked a lot less about McGregor’s assertion that the subject doesn’t concern him.

I fully understand not wanting to get involved in situations that you were not already a part of, especially when they’re labeled “controversial.” And I also understand not wanting to trash talk your boss — though I don’t understand actively choosing to work for a rapist boss, when there are probably a whole lot of bosses looking to hire you.

But the fact is that “It’s none of my business” is a big problem. Not only because McGregor is essentially saying that rape is not important to him, but also because he’s not the only one who speaks these words. These words are extremely, extremely common.

And they’re words that allow abuse to continue.

All kinds of abuse, whether they be sexual, physical, or emotional — though most commonly when the victim is a marginalized person — are supported through the assertion that it doesn’t concern me. It’s not my problem. I don’t want to get involved. Why should I have an opinion? That’s a private matter. Abuse is allowed to continue because all kinds of people decide that it has nothing to do with them. Victims go unsupported because outsiders don’t want to take a side. Perpetrators are allowed to continue their violence because it doesn’t matter to those who aren’t being abused.

When you say that abuse has nothing to do with you, what you’re actually saying is that abuse has everything to do with you. By deciding to turn away from abuse, to not comment, to not stand up against it, to say that you want to stay out of it, you are taking a side. The side of silence is the side of the abuser. The side of apathy is the side of abuse.

Abuse is all of our business. It affects all of us, whether directly or indirectly. Because we are all a part of a society that is responsible for it. And when a victim speaks out and makes an allegation — whether it be a formal one or not — it is our business, and it is our job to stand by that victim. It is our job to remind ourselves and those around us that abuse thrives on good people doing nothing, on good people saying nothing, on people deciding that people who are not them, especially those who are marginalized, are not really their concern.

It is Ewan McGregor’s prerogative to not comment on Polanski’s rape. It is all of our prerogative to stay quiet about any and all types of abuse, sometimes for even quite compelling and legitimate personal reasons. But we need to know and acknowledge and take responsibility for the fact that we are not neutral when we do so. And when we say that it is none of our business, we are not only letting victims down and allowing perpetrators to prosper, we are also lying through our teeth.

via Ginmar

0 thoughts on “Yes, Abuse Is Your Business

  1. Renee

    When I read his statement, I kept thinking about the fact that Ewan has an adopted daughter. Men seem to think that when violence happens to someone that they have no connection to that it isn’t their business. By not standing up and saying that this was unequivocally wrong, Ewan is building the ground work for his own little girl to one day be abused because we live in a culture in which violence against women is very much accepted. It cannot and will not end until all men collectively realize that they must take ownership for relegating women to the status of prey and demand that ALL men treat women with dignity and respect.

  2. meloukhia

    I have been mulling over this post all day, Cara.

    I like that you said this: “It is all of our prerogative to stay quiet about any and all types of abuse, sometimes for even quite compelling and legitimate personal reasons.”

    And I totally think that feeds into the cycle of abuse; people turn their heads because they are terrified of becoming targets of the abuser and thus the abuse is perpetuated. But I’m not sure that people who say nothing out of fear are necessarily…bad? for doing it? (I should note that I do not think this is what you are saying here) I think that they are victims too.

    Sometimes I am a good person doing nothing and I know that but the risks of doing something are considerable; speaking up can be dangerous. And I don’t know how to fix that. Because it bothers me. I lie awake thinking about it, but it doesn’t change the fact that I can’t endanger myself by doing what is right. And I know that many other people also have the same experience.

    Standing by victims is absolutely important but I also think it is critical to recognize people who become victims because they step forward.

    1. Cara Post author

      I agree with everything you say, mel, and actually wrote that line after reflecting on my own recent experience with the kind of situation you reference. I don’t have the answers (how I wish I did!), other than to say that I think this may be where community/coalition-building comes into play. While there will always be individuals for whom speaking up is a greater risk than others, and for whom it will be too much of a risk, I think that people tend to also feel safer (and actually be safer) when they are not standing alone, when it is not an individual denouncing an abuser but a community, because abusers need the tacit approval of their communities to survive.

  3. meloukhia

    “I think that people tend to also feel safer (and actually be safer) when they are not standing alone, when it is not an individual denouncing an abuser but a community, because abusers need the tacit approval of their communities to survive.”

    Yes. So much this. I would really like to live in a world where I know I can speak up because other people will speak up with me, instead of feeling like I am jumping off a plane without a parachute when I dare to stand with someone. And one of the things I like about some online social justice communities is they have that potential; every time people write in support of a victim and that writing is linked or discussed, the circle of people expressing solidarity that victim widens.

    I am absolutely 100% firmly convinced that abuse thrives because it is left unmentioned, and even a small effort (a private note of support, for example) matters tremendously.

  4. Pingu

    “Abuse is all of our business. It affects all of us, whether directly or indirectly. Because we are all a part of a society that is responsible for it.”

    This is like saying that racism affects all of us, whether directly or indirectly. Because we are all…etc, etc.

    Now, is that actually the case?

    Of course it is! But if my boss was publicly accused of being a racist for whatever reason and I’d never noticed any racist tendencies up until that point, what would I say if I were asked about that issue? Sure, racism = bad, but do *I* believe she’s a racist? Well, regardless of whether the accusation is true or not, it is sure a sign that I don’t really know the woman as well as I could.

  5. Bill Emrey

    The other dishonorable and illegal act that Polanski committed was to flee the country to avoid punishment. He should be doubly punished.

    But I am really writing to comment on Renee’s statment that we should demand that ALL men treat women with dignity and respect. Yes we should.

    And should we not also demand that ALL women treat men with dignity and respect? It goes both ways. That is what feminism is about, equality and respect for others.

    1. Cara Post author

      No, Bill, feminism is about righting social inequalities and creating justice for all people. Not about making sure that everyone is super nice to everyone else. As great as that would be.

      And, Pingu, in that event, I imagine you would have to hear the allegation. If a(nother?) person of color tells you that your boss did a racist thing, I would suggest that you believe them. And if we’re actually making a parallel to the Polanski case, in the event that your boss confesses you she did the racist thing, I would suggest not just ignore it, or say, “but, but she’s really a good person!”

  6. kaninchenzero

    Yes. I learned very young that speaking up about my abuse not only didn’t get the abuse to stop, it often made things worse for me. My relatives’ idea of how to deal with bullies at one school was to remove me from it and put me in a school with more bullies (but I’d learned, see?) and the authorities at school never believed me. I was alone; they had friends to back up their version of events.

    For those of us who were abused it’s hard to unlearn that–and we all seem to learn it. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t. The rest… too many would rather identify with abusers. How often are we told that being a victim is a bad thing, a character defect, a moral failing? We’re victims because of what other people did to us, but we all know how much we’re blamed for that. Identifying with the abuser is a much stronger position, socially.

    Which leads–as so many paths do–back to that thing about individual action and structural problems.

    1. Cara Post author

      Ugh, yes, I wrote a post sometime back about the use of the word “victim” as some sort of insult, and how damaging it is. I think it likely also keeps many from identifying what was done to them as abuse — because if they were abused, then that makes them victims, and no one wants to think of themselves as a pathetic, helpless, worthless human being, so people think they can’t be victims, and therefore it wasn’t abuse.

      It’s yet another silencing tactic. One to use against those to speak out (stop being such a victim!) and one to preemptively prevent others from speaking out in the first place.

  7. flynngrrl

    I would concur with some of the other folks above. This wasn’t just off the cuff interview with the man on the street. This was Ewan’s job. He was being asked to comment on his boss while on the clock so to speak.

    I think Polanski should go to jail, because he raped someone and fled the country. And I wish everyone, public and private, would say so on camera until the shame become so overwhelming that he returns to the US to face a prison sentence. But even I understand when someone who’s just been working on a project with millions and millions of dollars at stake decides not to comment to protect their own livelyhood.

    Now the people who just randomly say “he’s awesome” out of context? Those folks can go screw themselves.

  8. Bill Emrey

    Cara, I’m pretty sure feminism really does advocate for total equality between all people. And respect for others has to be a key part of that, so say the likes of Gandhi, King, Lincoln, Mandela. This is what distinguishes a true social equality movement from a special interest group.

    Being civil and respectful to others is not a luxury or byproduct of social equality, it is the very heart and soul of freedom, equality and justice; both the beginning and the end of everything we seek.

  9. kaninchenzero

    All the people you named are men and not noted for being highly respectful of women. You’re a man telling women on a feminist blog what feminism is and that the movements–did you know there are multiple women’s movements?–we started to free ourselves from the oppressions that benefit people like you should work to your benefit. Because it’s only fair!

    A world that is no longer unfair in your favor is not inherently unfair. Many privileged people fail to understand that.

    Your privilege seems to have convinced you that you are entitled to demand respect while behaving in a highly disrespectful manner. Which makes you not at all unusual, actually. It’s pretty typical for misogynists who like to think of themselves as progressive.

  10. Politicalguineapig

    I’ll be respectful of men (at large) when they stop raping, murdering and making life unsafe for women around the world. ‘Til then, they merit nothing but contempt, fear and pity. Why do men always have to prove their masculinity by putting women down?
    Good thing Ewan Macgregor never made any memorable movies. Too bad I can’t say the same thing about Depp, who also stood up for Polanski. (Darn it, I was looking forward to his latest.)

  11. kaninchenzero

    Cara, that piece on ‘victim’ was excellent, thanks for the recommendation! It might have been said in there somewhere and I just missed it, but I do have one reason for identifying as victim that is for me very strong.

    By claiming ‘victim’ as one of my identities I place myself in solidarity with all the victims who did not survive. That alone would be enough, but I also get to snarl at the people who tell me I should be calling myself a survivor. Sure I survived but people survive storms and earthquakes and stuff too. I’m a victim because people did (do) these things to me. I want it to be clear that there were perpetrators.

  12. OuyangDan

    Cara, this is such a great post! It also makes me think of the post you wrote about how he’s “not the man I know”, because IME it went hand in hand. But I digress…

    Pretending that someone’s abusive behavior isn’t our business is enabling in a way. I agree with what mel said about needing to be safe and I know that some people put themselves in danger by speaking up. But if you have a platform and you are able to speak up safely and call someone out for their abusive behavior then you really do have a responsibility to do so. Too many times I have seen people turn the other way, because ‘it’s not the person I know’ (ya know, he’s a good person, or maybe even a director with a lot of talent) and what they do isn’t my business.

    1. Cara Post author

      Okay, let’s consider the derail squashed right now. I know that dudes can find it highly uncomfortable when a conversation doesn’t center them, and upon seeing a thread about feminism, the urge for some to say “but can we please talk about men and how we have it rough, too?” is an impulse as strong as breathing. But it can be indulged elsewhere, not here. I was very explicit in the post what the conversation is about — abuse, and the silence surrounding it. Not what feminism does and does not mean, and not whether or not every woman on the planet is nice enough to every man.

      (But thank you to those who provided insightful responses to that topic, as well.)

      flynngrrl, as I said, he chose to work with Polanski. McGregor is not an unknown. I’m sure that he has lots of work available to him. He chose to work with a rapist. To me, that is a statement strong enough on its own. So, in the end, he’s responsible for supporting a rapist by choosing to work with him, and also for choosing work that would require him to remain silent in the face of violence. In other words, the points you raise don’t mitigate what McGregor did, they just show how bad it really was.

      hey, we’re not going to play semantics games. We all know what “it’s none of my business” means. Further, I don’t care what is in Ewan McGregor’s heart, or anyone else’s heart for that matter, if their actual response to abuse is still “it’s none of my business.”

      I do, however, find it incredibly interesting that many folks are more concerned with defending what exactly is in Ewan McGregor’s heart than talking about the wider phenomenon, the impact it has on the extent to which abuse is committed, and the impact these kinds of statements have on victims. Clearly, a movie star’s intent is more important than actual impact on real people.

  13. Bill

    Ok, Cara. Thanks for the comments, you are correct in that the theme of this was specific to standing up to abuse and I diverged. I will bow out. Take care everyone.

  14. Level Best

    “He chose to work with a rapist.”

    Absolutely correct–a rapist, moreover, with huge amounts of recent publicity focused on his crime. It’s not like any current or future actors who work with him can claim ignorance of what he’s done.

  15. SarahSimone

    Cara – a thoughtful and thought provoking post, as always.

    I’ve been disappointed by the way Ewan McGregor has been dodging the questions about Polanski. He’s said some interesting things in the past about the disparity in the way women are treated in Hollywood and I always thought of him as pro-feminist. Plus he has three daughters, and it boggles my mind how anyone raising little girls could defend Polanski at all.

    I think you’re really one the mark when you say that it doesn’t matter what is “in someone’s heart” if their actions don’t match up with that. I completely agree that it isn’t what we say or even what we think – it’s what we DO that matters.

  16. ginmar

    Thank you.

    I wish I could gather my thoughts and jump off from this post: You know what? Sexism is ugly. It is vile. It will make you shrink back from people you love, it will make you realize how ugly the world really is. You will not be popular, even though you are fighting a fight the angels would back away from. Feminism will make you unpopular. We have this idea, culturally speaking, that sexism is something charming—men opening doors, women wearing lace petticoats, kissing hands, parasols, silk stockings. When bad things happen, they happen to helpless virgins in dark alleys after bad men—who bear no resemblance to the men who earlier kissed hands—-lured or trapped them there. In reality, the ugliness is daily, intimate, and most of all, most deadly, it’s soul-deadening and disappointing. It’s a hawt guy like Ewan McGregor, who gets the 101 stuff right, airily dismissing the rape of another man’s property as ‘none of his business’. Because what’s his business are his belongings, and other women and girls out there? Well, you’ve just been served notice that while he might very well care about his daughters, he cares nothing about nobody’s daughter, who of course is nobody, nothing. It’s all possession to him. The only heroes you have might very well be unglamorous middle-aged women who are too angry and who hate men. After a life time of guys like Ewan McGregor, dismissing the rape of a thirteen-year-old girl, do you blame anybody, really? It wouldn’t be so bad if these guys got roundly denounced, but….they don’t. Johnny Depp didn’t. He got defended. After all, he and this guy can hire bodyguards for their duaghters, but the rest of us, we’re Nobody, the daughter of Nothing. In their own way, they’ve indicated they see the world in terms of predator and prey, and they just want to escape all the implications of that.

  17. Prudence

    You’ve hit on my recent thoughts here, but I was most recently thinking about human rights abuses. It all points the same way though doesn’t it, that we should try to do something to show that we don’t approve of abuse of others, even if we don’t do anything active because we don’t have it in our power. Ewan Mcgregor wouldn’t have felt comfortable saying anything categorically if he hadn’t read all the evidence, but he could have said in general terms that he didn’t condone such actions if they were true.
    I heard a quote recently, and it might have been Malcolm X or Nelson Mandela, that a threat to freedom anywhere is a threat to freedom everywhere. This is a good motto to live by and where we are sure that we have our facts right we should stand up for those who need it.


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