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‘Kevin Spacey Unmasked’: Why Feminists Must Use their Campaigning Experience to Fight Discrimination Against #MenToo

The executive producer of a new compelling documentary into the disgraced actor reveals why being a man should not make a difference when it comes to being a victim of unwanted sexual advances

American actor Kevin Spacey arrives at Westminster Magistrates Court in London facing five charges of sexual misconduct in June 2022. Photo: UPI / Alamy
Kevin Spacey, seen above arriving at Westminster Magistrates Court in June 2022 to face charges of sexual misconduct, has denied any wrongdoing. Photo: UPI / Alamy

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This week, ten brave men went onto UK television to reveal their experiences of Kevin Spacey. Their stories spanned two continents and nearly fifty years. In the coming days, their accounts of the sexually inappropriate behaviour they suffered at the hands of the double Oscar winner will be heard across the world. Spacey Unmasked, first broadcast on Channel Four, will air in the US, Australia, in most of Europe and in Latin America. Men who felt silenced for decades will be listened to by millions. At last, they will be validated. But the question we must all ask ourselves is; why did it take so long for the world to hear them?

I’m a feminist investigative journalist and I’ve been making television programmes for more than forty years. Usually, when I’m writing about gender discrimination, I’m talking about discrimination against women. I feel so strongly on that subject that at the age of nearly 70, I took on the role of leader of a college for women, Murray Edwards College at Cambridge University. I believe there is still a need for organisations and institutions which champion women because of the continuing misogyny in our society. But the research for these programmes about Spacey, of which I was an executive producer, revealed to me appalling gender discrimination against men. And I need to champion them too.

It is decades since it has been socially acceptable to ignore sexually inappropriate behaviour against women. But again and again, in making these programmes, we heard accounts of men being touched sexually by Spacey in full view of others and nobody objecting. Men were worried they would be mocked and laughed at if they told people about the contacts they suffered, some involving Spacey putting his hands inside their trousers without warning and touching them intimately while they were working. Again, it is a very long time since it was acceptable to laugh about a woman being ‘touched up’.

Channel Four’s Spacey Unmasked takes a “forensic look” at the actor’s “rise and fall from grace” as several men speak about their experiences with the actor. Photo: Channel Four

I have talked openly in the media about disgusting sexual behaviour by men I experienced because I feel no shame. It is the men who should feel shame. I express rage at their vile behaviour. But a number of the men interviewed for these films, made by the production company Roast Beef, said how ashamed they felt. One man said he felt guilty, as if he was at fault, and disgusted with himself. Those are the emotions I might have felt when I was a teenager. Not now. Today, I would report it.

Of course, many women still feel too embarrassed and distressed to speak about their experiences. But many others speak out. I have publicly warned men in television that if they behave in sexually inappropriate ways, we women in the industry will expose them. Now, working together with a great team of women and men, we have exposed Spacey.

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Of course, there is one significant difference between a woman as victim and a man as victim. Men are bigger. We women have had to campaign against the idea that a woman can’t be deemed a real victim unless she has ‘fought back’. We have rightly pointed out that men are bigger than women so fighting back isn’t a real option. But women often say they were so shocked and felt so vulnerable that fighting back didn’t even occur to them.

Now I discover being a bloke doesn’t necessarily make a difference. One of the men said, “I was frozen with shock”. Another,  a former marine, said some of his male friends said they would have punched Spacey or kicked him. But he said that was not how he felt. He felt shame, not a desire for violence. He, like another interviewee, had gone to Spacey’s hotel bedroom thinking they would be meeting up with others. How familiar that scenario is to women in television; the director who invites you to his bedroom under some excuse.

So often in the research for these films, I found myself thinking how extraordinary the similarities were between the experiences of myself and my women friends and of these men. They said they felt that speaking out would damage their careers. One of my friends, when away filming, answered a knock on the hotel room door to find her boss standing there naked. She shut the door on him but do you think for a moment she felt she could report him? To whom? On my first day in television, one of the top bosses tried to get into a taxi to come home with me. Another grabbed my breast in open view of other colleagues who did nothing. I never knew that young men who worked alongside me might be experiencing the same.

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But for the admirable men who appeared in these films, there was an element we didn’t experience. As one man put it, “Men aren’t supposed to let this get under your skin”. In being involved in these films, I discovered that men feel just the same sense of degradation women feel. Just the same sense, as one victim put it, of being “small”. Oh, how I know that feeling that you are just nothing compared with some top bloke who puts his hand down your dress or up your skirt. But these men are not nothing. They are truly something! They are the trailblazers for men. I believe these men have created a #MeTooforMen moment.

I’ve never thought that supporting the rights of women meant putting men down. Now I think that we old feminists should use our campaigning experience to help young men. For example, good employers have whistleblowing policies to help women speak out – they should make clear those policies apply equally to men.

I was particularly moved by two of the accounts from men in Spacey Unmasked. The first person they rang after their ghastly experiences was their mother. Young men believe older women care about them. And they do. We do. I do.

In response to the allegations in the films, Spacey said that he had been provided with insufficient time and detail to respond to the testimonies.

He said: “I have consistently denied – and now successfully defended – numerous allegations made both in the US and UK, both criminal and civil, and each time have been able to source evidence undermining the allegations and have been believed by a jury of my peers.”

Dorothy Byrne was a former Head of News and Current Affairs at Channel 4 for 15 years. She is the President of the all-female Murray Edwards College at Cambridge University

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