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When ‘Not Tonight Josephine’ is inappropriate

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The Weinstein effect last week saw another high profile male actor – Geoffrey Rush – accused of inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. Our story on Friday about the Sydney Theatre Company’s handling of the claim has prompted many responses – and not all of them about Rush.
Commenter Archie Lever first posted:
If Mr Rush is guilty of what could be objectively determined as a sexual assault under the law; he should be dealt with in the courts. If he gave offence to someone by lesser ‘inappropriate’ behaviour; the alleged victim should have told him to bugger off in a loud voice; and let those around at the time know in a very loud voice as well.
In response Richard Stremski wrote: 
Archie Lever clearly has no understanding of social stratification. It is exceptionally difficult to complain about abuse from those who are above you in the pecking order. Not many students ever complain about sexual harassment from a teacher or professor.
To which Archie Lever responded:

When I was a 19 year old student some 30+ years ago attending what is now called a G8 University doing a STEM course, there were a few females (4 or 5) with 150 males in second year maths class.

The Lecturer was a 70 year old male PhD (Dr G), with an enthusiastic Julius Sumner Miller type of delivery. He would fire off questions to anyone in the class, and give pithy and amusing feedback on the answers received.

One of the female students was asked a question and after some delay gave a wrong answer, to which Dr G replied “no, not tonight Josephine”.

Having grown up with a few family WW1 veterans of the venerable Dr G’s age, I had heard plenty of that sort of humorous banter and slang.

Laughter rippled through the class, and on it went. We heard later that the female student in question had made a complaint to the University authorities about Dr G’s ‘inappropriate’ remark, and the old boy was in some sort of hot water.

So the female in this case was complaining about an authority figure in a 1970’s University setting where there were 150 witnesses to a harmless remark from another era. She must have just read ‘The Female Eunuch’ which was hot at the time.

Come to thing of it, I was most offended by Germaine Greer on Q&A a couple of years ago commenting on Julia Gillard’s big bum and her lack of fashion sense in dealing with it. I think a complaint of ‘historical inappropriate behaviour’ on the part of Germaine should be made to the HRC, and invite ‘Meeto’s’ to the webpage:

23 responses to “When ‘Not Tonight Josephine’ is inappropriate

  1. Interesting story that. I’m a 70 yr old male, but very intolerant of any kind of harassment or taking advantage of…however, in my view, in the quoted case, the good professor really had no case to answer, and the complaint inappropriate, if anything was. Why? Because as pointed out, it is such a well-known saying, the origins of which are largely forgotten, it is, in effect, is just a bit of a colourful way of saying a gentle NO. No offence meant – no sexual connotation attached. It was in common use that way since when I was a kid, and I didn’t then, and still don’t, actually know its derivation.

    However, yes, so often the ‘victim’ lost the moral high ground by not objecting at the time. If they did so, they would have been doing themselves, countless others, and the perpetrator, a favour. Because often initially it is just a try on, with no real malice or intent to intimidate. If checked right then, the behaviour would probably be modified. If not, and allowed to pass, boldness grows and with it premeditated intent. This is just a fact of human nature. It’s how our children learn is it not?

    1. Well observed Peter Bradley, having been at the hands of a would be perpetrator, when I was of a tender age & quite naive, I had a boss try it on with me, he started asking me to stay back & do OT, & he would “drop me home” as I didn’t drive at that time. I knew what was going on. He was married to the boss’s daughter, she came in one day (not an overly attractive woman, but) I pulled her to the side & mentioned her husband’s new requests, and that he seemed to be spending way too much time “helping me”. You can imagine how that went down in his office with only glass partitions & no sound proofing to speak the rest of the factory overhearing their personal business. So I believe we need to use our judgement & not be afraid to hit the nail on the head before things get to clouded & far to complicated. Having said this I do believe this is a very different kettle of fish to the Weinstein, Burke & Rolf Harris, Robert Hughes type of scenarios that have gone before this.

  2. Seriously?? Archie Lever clearly you have no understanding or compassion surrounding the sexual harrassment/assault women (and some men) have to endure in today’s society (and during the 1970’s). Your attitude stinks and you clearly have never been singled out because of your sex and made to be a laughing stock in front of a huge group of people because of it.

    Germaine Greer was herself the tool of patriarchy when she objectified Julia Gillard publicly on Q & A and it can be very hard not to be. Women have been pitted against one another since modernity in order to help keep the status quo. There is a difference between offence & sexual harassment.

    Woman have been telling men to “Bugger off!”, very loudly for decades. Men don’t listen!! That is why there were laws made to address sexual harrassment. A lot of men are still not listening (including you, it would seem) and clearly a punitive consequence is necessary to make them.

    1. Greer a tool of the patriarchy when she made the comments about Gillard?? Give me a break. Greer jas been around long enough, and fought enough battles. She is no-body’s tool, and it is patronising in the extreme to suggest she is. Just accept that she made a facile and bitchy remark, as she often does.

    2. Hmmm, Germaine a tool of the patriarchy? Unlikely. She’s smart enough to know exactly who she is and what she was doing. And she probably wouldn’t appreciate being labeled the victim. BTW, I’m still unclear about the ‘patriarchy’. I’ve never seen any tangible evidence. More likely it’s a lingering echo from a time before physical strength was a determinant of power. But I also think it’s a convenient label.

    3. Dear Angeline Brown – you are clearly a big part of the current problem – bugger off – Jesus we live in a shitty world now

    4. Angeline, as a woman I understand where you’re coming from. But you have to remember he is of a generation where this sort of behaviour was not unusual. Rather than getting on your high horse you need to remember that as people age their sensitivity towards others can becomes less, all I can describe it as is like a tin ear for say music. We need to include everyone in this discussion not just those who feel affronted & upset about their treatment, or the argument is like a 3 legged dog trying to chase it’s tail, it either falls over. or goes nowhere. Older & younger males need to be included in the conversation, your high dudgeon is noted but not very constructive or really helpful to the argument.

  3. I have an opinion on sexual harassment and it’s based on the law of nature, simply put males like to have contact with females, men will do mostly anything they can to touch ,feel caress and have personal contact with women especially attractive young women,it’s the boundaries and protocols that men will try to break down to achieve what they want at any given time for their own gratification, hopefully resulting into sexual intercourse . I had a mate who had this phrase he used to quote “some men think a smile means SEX”, so it goes ! The pompous peacocks syndrome ,but basically what women have to realise is men love their bodies and want to do stuff to it because it’s human nature and not only in humans , I had pet rabbits years ago and I had separated the male from the females by putting a wire netting barrier across the cage, the next day I discovered the male had torn down the barrier literally with his claws and later on I had a litter of baby rabbits to sell , the crux of this matter is ,it will always be a problem, no matter how civilised we become!!

  4. As a union rep I always advised a complaint to speak to the offender first. But some people like to escalate issues, possibly because they hated their father or some such. All these issues should be dealt with in the least costly and most direct way, however aI do suspect that some complainants are having their 15 minutes of fame. Of course there is another issue stated eloquently by lord Acton: “Absolute power corrupts absolutely. I have myself been victimised, not sexually, by women in a situation where mainly women were in power. IN fact my male boss was replaced by a women so there would be no obwstruction to the process.

    1. As a female, this is reverse sexism & it sucks. It also seems to be a uniquely Australian way of stuffing the whole situation up. I applied for a job with the law courts years ago, while working in a lesser position, having all the quals & experience needed for my intended position. Because they had a huge list of females applying for the available positions, that were well paid, because they were a typical government department, they decided to throw in the added curve ball, that if applicants were of indigenous extraction, they immediately would be handed a position. Which to me at the time was another a way of losing really good talented, experienced people, that’s what you get when you stack or skew the odds against a certain group of people…

    1. Now that is a very strange starting point, to proceed from quasimodo. But if you insist. Though it doesn’t help the political feminist argument one bit. It reminds me of the 70-80’s song Joe Jackson released “wondering who the real men are,” “If there’s war between the sexes then there will be no more you & I.” So how do we get the balance right between the male need for control/competition/female sensitivity? (these aren’t observations that are set in stone) keeping in mind these are just traits that are observable in most beings. They exist in varying degrees in our lives & varying levels, for some they don’t exist at all. This is where we need to determine the difference between a real complaint, a vexatious issue, or someone just having a bad day. Looking from this point quasimodo, men don’t do their case much good when they go out & don’t consider that their behaviour towards women is nothing but a bit of ladism, also those men who come from family structures that refuse to accept that this type of attitude can lead their offspring to at the very least ostracism, or a long term jail sentence. I do believe as a society we need to acknowledge that both the feminine & male balance needs to be struck not just for modern males & females, but also for the sake of future generations.

      1. “All men are rapists and that’s all they are,” charges author Marilyn French, 48. “They rape us with their eyes, their laws and their codes.” This damning view of the male/female relationship is examined in 471 excoriating pages in French’s first novel, The Women’s Room. (sold 20 million copies)

  5. I am surprised and amused by the response to my story. The origin of the remark I believe has something to do with Napoleon & Josephine, viz Wiki:

    “Napoleon did not care for Josephine’s given name, Rose, so he renamed her Josephine, which she kept for the rest of her life. He proposed in January 1796 and sent her intensely romantic love letters from numerous posts around the world with the French army. Despite rumours of her infidelity and his jealous temperament, Napoleon and Josephine were crowned Emperor and Empress of the French in 1804. The couple divorced in 1810 after her infertility was confirmed, freeing Napoleon to take a wife who could provide an heir. The couple remained on good terms, with Napoleon once saying that the only thing to come between them was her debts.”

    It seems to be some sort of (perhaps) myth that Josephine had more libido than the romantic French Emperor and he more than once had to decline her charms.

    This might be confirmed by the mistresses of Napoleon who compared him unfavourably with the Iron Duke who visited them for fun times after occupying France.

    It was of course a ‘figure of speech’ of the WW1 generation, who had a rich vocabulary slang and phrases which would these days have Frank Hardy in hot water for many of Billy Borker’s yarns.

    It also seems that the whole genre of Technicolor Westerns are in for re-formatting too….I was watching a bit of ‘Big River’ or something like that not long ago, and the lead female actress was fighting off drunken cowboys and lead actors all the time. The standard 50’s Western scene was a grab and attempted kiss by the male, fought off by a slap across the face and verbal ‘bugger off’ by the female. So we have physical assault, touching and groping by the males and physical assault (in self defence) and offensive language by the females.

    Maybe after Grimm’s fairy tales have been sanitised by the ex-GG’s daughter, she could make a start on American westerns, Barry Mackenzie and that closet conservative; the legendary Barry Humphries himself, and that despicable Sir Les Patterson.

  6. Archie pointing out an instance doesn’t make it so! He’s talking like “no one has a gun to your head”. The individual he spoke of was especially tough. Good on her! Doesn’t make Richard’s point any less true! Maybe Weinstein should make a movie about the tough girl in the STEM class! That will show ’em all you can do anything if only you work hard enough!

    1. Exactly, so really this is a sign of the student’s ignorance rather than any sort of inappropriate behaviour on the part of the professor. It’s odd no one took the time to point this out to her.

  7. So Archie (I’ll assume Archie’s a male) wanted the young woman to accept that an off-the-cuff remark was OK because it was culturally appropriate in a traditionally male-dominated environment sometime between 1977 and 1987 (he seems to be confusing “30+ years ago” with the 1970s) when we were all still talking like diggers in the trenches. Yeah, right, Archie. And by Archie’s standards the young student was somehow in the wrong and behaved inappropriately herself because she didn’t understand or acknowledge the rules of engagement in a second year maths class of “4 or 5 [females] with 150 males”. So what is this, Archie? The “just suck it up” approach to life? Or the let’s-target-the-weakest-in-the-room approach to living amongst your fellow human beings? Or just another way to use the “argument” that if women want equality then they’ve got to put up with the male bullshit, too. Male “STEM” under-grads were Neanderthals back in the 1980s and it sounds like Archie hasn’t moved on since then.
    And quasimodo wants to play the victim – what a lazy intellect he/she must have.
    And Robert says it’s all about the male’s sex drive and uses the example of his rabbits – well, Robert I don’t think a single court of law in this country would accept that as a defence.
    And Ross Stagg tells Angeline Brown to “bugger off” and just because women no longer want to be the butt of sexist comments or snide remarks, then the world is “shitty”. It’s also easy for a male to tell the woman in the room to “bugger off” or “stop being hysterical”, isn’t it, Ross?
    And Peter Bradley calls up “the fact of human nature” defence and also ignores the context of the situation which Archie thinks is an example of a woman overreacting.
    Just five lone voices calling out courageously from the wilderness of the male Aussie id — not really enough to come to any definitive conclusions about the state of mind of the middle-aged male in this country, but what a pathetic little gathering of whinging intellectual laziness. And where’s the empathy and the self-reflection? At least one of you is approaching the autumn of your years but without the wisdom and empathy which a man who has lived well and lived long should possess
    You’re right on one thing, Ross. We do live in a shitty world — but it’s people like you who have made it this way.

  8. Hmm. This was 30 years ago and Dr G was 70 so obviously of a very different generation. No, that in itself does not excuse inappropriate behaviour but social context is relevant – at that time I think the ABC was still showing Benny Hill whose stock in trade was sexual innuendo. Dr G’s attempt at humour was clearly pretty feeble but I doubt he was intentionally malicious. It was however rude and tactless to embarrass a woman student in a class that was 95% male and if he couldn’t see that for himself someone should have told him sooner.

  9. Interesting comments…from the Triggs-like prickle of John P to the common sense of Peter Bradley. Our good Dr G was a very popular lecturer and students appreciated his engaging style. The females in the class were very few, and yes the STEM male students were just coming to terms with ‘free love’ and the serious problem of being very unfashionable in the era of hairy Arts/Law faculties where most of the females resided.

    In the case of our offended female; getting the answer wrong in front of the class was probably more embarrassing than Dr G’s remark, and the ‘appropriate’ response to the hurt, real or imagined would be to complain to DR G straight after the lecture and end the matter there. Or just ‘suck it up’ with many less than perfect things in life and think of a smart reply if it ever happened again.

  10. Think its important to remember in regard of the current STC story :
    • we have no idea what the complaint was about .
    • we have know idea re the quality of the evidence.
    • we dont know who tipped off the Press about all of this.
    •and we dont know what motivated who ever it was that tipped off the press.

  11. For goodness sake, “Not tonight Josephine” just means NO.
    The poor intimidated girl who got the answer wrong did complain.
    So what is the problem now? it is the past and was taken care of.
    My own feeling is that she lacked a sense of humour but half of you won’t agree and the other half will. I don’t care either way.
    And yes I have been at the butt end of male dominance when in senior positions but I developed strategies for dealing with the men, their remarks and jibes. No big deal. I always thought of it as their problem and that they were arrogant and rude and rather inadequate. Some were just A1 bastards. But the rest were very nice colleagues and made up for the others.
    Not every person- male or female is able to cope with what they consider inappropriate behaviour but there are mechanisms for them in law.
    Storm in a teacup stuff ladies (including men). Move on.

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