Jeremy Irons’ hypocritical defense of sexual harassment

The British actor believes real women don't mind an affectionate grab, but blames them for the temptation anyway

Topics: Celebrity, Gender, Television,

Jeremy Irons' hypocritical defense of sexual harassmentActor Jeremy Irons takes part in a panel discussion for the show "The Borgias" at the CBS and Showtime portion of the 2011 Winter Press Tour for the Television Critics Association in Pasadena, California, January 14, 2011. REUTERS/Gus Ruelas (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT) (Credit: © Gus Ruelas / Reuters)

I always used to think that Jeremy Irons would be fun to hang out with. I don’t know where I got this idea — probably after watching “Dead Ringers” one too many times — but as it turns out, I’m probably lucky I never tried to buy the English actor a cup of tea.

Sometimes in our celebrity psycho-world of Mel Gibson and Charlie Sheen, men like Jeremy Irons fall through the insanity cracks. Maybe it’s because he’s British and a lot of his comments — like how smokers should be protected “like handicapped people or children,” or how we don’t need to “whip ourselves too much” over issues of pedophilia — can be interpreted as an Englishman just being droll. But no, Jeremy Irons has some legitimately terrible views when it comes to women. Speaking to the Radio Times recently, the 62-year-old Oscar winner aired his views on the recent number of cases involving women taking their employers to court over sexual harassment claims. Said the actor:

“It’s gone too far … There are too many people in power with too little to do, so they churn out laws to justify their jobs. I hope it’s a rash that will wear itself out.”

Sure, there are cases where women take advantage of the legal system to come up with frivolous lawsuits in order to extort money from employers. (I have seen many episodes of “Law & Order,” after all.) And that’s a really vile thing, because it undercuts the cases of actual workplace harassment.

But Irons is talking about something totally different here:

“Most people are robust. If a man puts his hand on a woman’s bottom, any woman worth her salt can deal with it. It’s communication. Can’t we be friendly?” he asked.

Very clever; see what the “Borgias” star did there? If you don’t like having your ass grabbed by a boss or a stranger, well then you are just whiny weak, and not worth your weight in salt. (A term that goes back to the days when a lady’s dowry was entirely paid out in sodium chloride, in accordance to how much she weighed.) It’s entirely on us, ladies, if we can’t take some hands-on affection.

But the man who voiced Scar from “The Lion King” does think that there needs to be more oversight protecting celebrities like him from young women at bars:

“There are newspaper gossip girls who chat you up at parties when you’re in your cups and should be at home. And there it is (the) next day on the breakfast table.”

(Maybe they just weren’t robust enough to handle Irons’ game of slap and tickle.)

It’s a disturbing, if not entirely new trend: men who dress up their chauvinism using the terminology of victimhood. Multimillionaire lawyer Nick Freeman also used the Scott Adams “male nature” defense recently, in response to the case of a British man who faces cane lashing as punishment for grabbing a woman’s behind in Singapore this April:

“Show me a man whose hands haven’t hovered in temptation over a pert female derriére and I’ll show you a man without a pulse … It’s part of the red-blooded male DNA to want to touch what we like to see, but social cues and the laws of civilized behaviour stop us from doing so.”

This was in a Telegraph article that began with Freeman lamenting about being sexually harassed himself by a woman paralegal at his law firm, who would routinely pinch his bottom. So when men have to restrain themselves from touching a woman’s ass, it’s because of societal constraints. When the tables are turned and men find that they don’t like being inappropriately groped by strangers, they blame the same social system for being too lenient on women? You’d think that men who have been sexually harassed would have more empathy for women who suffer from the same plight, not less.

Drew Grant is a staff writer for Salon. Follow her on Twitter at @videodrew.

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