When will men like the STC's Patrick McIntyre learn that it is not for them to steal women's voices and expose what they have chosen to keep private? Asks Dr Jennifer Wilson.
THE ACTIONS of the Sydney Theatre Company (STC) executive director, Patrick McIntyre, in the matter of the alleged sexual harassment of actor Eryn Jean Norvill by actor Geoffrey Rush, have not featured in the many analyses of this situation.
Why this is the case is far from clear. What is abhorrently clear, however, is that yet again a woman has been publicly dehumanised and abused by men, as a means to an end.
Geoffrey Rush is suing the Daily Telegraph for defamation after the media outlet published articles claiming he had sexually harassed Ms Norvill whilst the two were performing in the STC production of King Lear, in 2015 and 2016.
Ms Norvill did not make a formal complaint to the STC alleging that Rush had behaved inappropriately towards her. Ms Norvill did, however, have an “off-the-record” conversation with two people in a bar, in which she referred to difficulties she was allegedly experiencing with Mr Rush.
Patrick McIntyre was approached and questioned about the alleged harassment by Telegraph reporter Jonathon Moran, 18 months later. McIntyre had received no formal complaint from Norvill and had taken no action on the allegations mentioned in the conversation in the bar.
Despite this lack of action and despite the fact that Ms Norvill had never made a formal complaint, McIntyre made an "off-the-record, not-to-be-attributed" comment to Moran on the matter in November 2017. He also told Moran he could publish it.
When the story broke, Ms Norvill refused the Telegraph’s requests for interviews.
The question is why did Patrick McIntyre, after 18 months of inaction, give this information to the Daily Telegraph? He had received no complaints from Ms Norvill. He had not been asked to take any action against Mr Rush. And yet McIntyre gave this untested information to the media — information that could only inflict the most serious damage on both Ms Norvill and Mr Rush.
Leaving aside the question of what Mr Rush did or didn’t do – which has, in any case, not yet been ascertained – McIntyre apparently did not ask Ms Norvill’s permission to tell her story to Jonathon Moran. McIntyre took it upon himself to disclose Ms Norvill’s alleged experiences to the media.
The fact Norvill made no formal complaint against Rush indicates her desire to keep the matter private. She no doubt had good reasons for arriving at this decision — not least of which might have been the power imbalance between herself and Mr Rush and concern for her future in the very small world of Australian theatre.
Ms Norvill got through the season of King Lear, apparently finding ways to deal with the distress she felt at what she determined to be Mr Rush’s inappropriate attentions. In common with very many women in similar situations, she made the choice to keep her counsel and avoid the damage to her reputation and her prospects that would almost certainly ensue from a formal complaint of sexual harassment against an internationally famous and highly respected actor. This was Ms Norvill’s choice to make — and only Ms Norvill’s.
Ms Norvill has now been placed in a most invidious position. A veritable army of film and stage luminaries has paraded before Justice Michael Wigney, who is presiding over the defamation proceedings. Every one of them has vehemently denied the possibility Rush sexually harassed her. In other words, these luminaries are implying that Norvill is lying and that such action by Rush is entirely unthinkable.
As a witness for the Daily Telegraph, Norvill is being asked to stand her ground against a battalion of intimidatingly successful colleagues, all bent on supporting Rush. It is her only opportunity to defend herself, something she should not have to do and, indeed, had chosen not to do, until McIntyre exposed her.
That a woman’s experience should be co-opted by a man for purposes that are, at this stage, unclear is, sadly, nothing new. We can safely assume that Jonathon Moran’s goal was to score a #MeToo scoop — an Australian equivalent to Hollywood revelations of sexually offensive behaviours by high profile male actors and producers. However, what on earth McIntyre thought he was doing, flogging Norvill’s story to the Telegraph without so much as asking her first, is not as easily explained.
It was not McIntyre’s story to tell. He must have known that Norvill did not want it told. And who could blame her? Her career is likely over. She has been discredited by some of the most famous names in Australian arts and entertainment, and will, in the next few days, be rigorously cross-examined by Rush’s counsel on a matter she never formally complained about in the first place.
What does it mean for women when their workplace “outs” them, despite them never having made a formal complaint of sexual harassment?
If a woman cannot speak informally to colleagues about experiences of harassment without risking exposure that will ruin her career, where does this leave us?
And when will men like Patrick McIntyre learn that it is not for them to tell our stories? It is not for them to steal our voices. It is not for them to expose what we have chosen to keep private.
When will men like Patrick McIntyre learn that it is a woman’s right to speak out – using her own voice – and it is equally a woman’s right to choose when to remain silent.
To deny a woman these rights is to dehumanise her and to use her as a means to an end.
The Sydney Theatre Company and Patrick McIntyre have a lot of questions to answer.
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