In the war against Weinsteins and Burkes, there's bound to be casualties

I suspect this column will be impossible to write and I'll have to abandon it and find something else to pontificate about.

Like pretty much everyone else on the planet, I have looked on in wonder and joy as an extraordinary moment of social change sweeps across the world, riding on the mighty back of the simple little hashtag, #metoo.

The pendulum swings

I have swung between incredulity, exultation and gloating as the Burke-Weinstein pustule is finally lanced. I wrote, right here, about how men need to call out their sexist mates and make them non-mates if they continue. I am at the tail-end of a book on being a better man (out next year, by the way!) and years of writing about men's issues have left me way out on the far left, as I've educated myself and became more and more horrified at the effects of sexism, gender stereotypes, sexual assault and domestic violence – all the terrible shit men do to women.

I don't think leading feminist writer Clementine Ford is a man hater but a fierce warrior, swinging a big sword in a very real war. Tracey Spicer is Boudicca.

Ask yourself...

As the Don Burke story broke last week, I was in the car with my partner.

The radio announced there was a list of 60 plus Australian media and entertainment executives with complaints against them. There's barely 60 in the country.

"Oh my god it's going to be a blood-bath!" I shouted, delightedly.

She looked at me quickly and said "But you're okay, yeah?"

I almost crashed off the Mooney Mooney Bridge.


Self-reflection can sting

Because I was once a media executive. At one stage I was boss to a few hundred people, mainly women. One of the weird jobs I had was editor of NW magazine. (We all move on, okay?).

I was a young man. It was more than 20 years ago. They were different times. See how I'm sounding like Kevin Spacey already?

At a 20-year reunion a couple of years ago, some fellow magazine crew gathered to drink heavily and talk about the mad old days.

There was much hilarious discussion about all the terrible things we'd say to each other, things that happened that would have had the whole office in HR if it were today.

My, how we laughed.

The list it grows

Now, Geoffrey Rush is accused of inappropriate behaviour during a production of King Lear at the Sydney Theatre Company. There has been one allegation against him. There are hundreds against Burke. But Rush was still on the front page of a paper and all over social media.

Whether or not he's guilty, he's already joined the world's worst club, simply through association. His denials sound exactly like those of the clearly guilty.

Burke, Woody Allen and others have whined about a "witch hunt." It has to be acknowledged, as much as we don't want it to be true, that this is the perfect environment for false allegations. It's simply an objective truth.

Mediated truth

But, and this is critical, this is not to question the victims, it's to question media. It's more important than ever before that allegations are verified and corroborated as much as possible, so the mud actually sticks and the real abusers finally get to feel Boudicca's cold sword at their throat.

Because if it turns out Rush, and anyone else who can prove they were falsely accused, is clean, it will make future claims, which are already incredibly tough to substantiate, all the more difficult in the future.

See the problem here? I have outraged myself. Wah-wah. Poor men. Someone might say something mean about me! I didn't do it! Boo-hoo.

Let the witches hunt

In a war there's always friendly fire, collateral damage. You have to break eggs to make an omelette. I believe in utilitarianism, the greatest good for the latest number.

The last word is Clementine Ford's. "The season of the witch is upon us and she's coming for all of them."

Let's hope we aim for the right people. No-one burned at the stake for being a witch was actually a witch.

This story has been edited from its original version.

With more than 25 years in Australian media, Phil Barker has edited NW and Woman's Day magazines, and published such titles as Vogue, GQ, Delicious, InsideOut and Donna Hay. He is a consultant creative director and communications specialist, currently writing a book on "man stuff" for publisher New Holland. He is a regular commentator on the lives and style of Australian men.

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