I’ve been a fan of Placido Domingo for 40 years or more. His role alongside Teresa Stratas in Zeffirelli’s La Traviata (if its emotion you want – one of the greatest movies ever made) can still bring tears to my eyes. I always liked his voice more than Pavarotti’s, Carreras, or others – and he looked much better as Alfredo. Pretty well everyone else suffered when I heard them in roles I’d previously heard done by him. Then there was his concert tour raising funds after a Mexican earthquake.
So, it came as a shock when news emerged recently of women claiming to have been sexually harassed by him. There are now 20 women in the frame. The claims centre on inappropriate touching or kissing and concerns about a climate in which women might fear their careers would be derailed if they rejected his advances.
Domingo’s response has been that “I strongly dispute recent allegations made about me, and I am concerned about a climate in which people are condemned without due process”. The overall response from his “team” has not been that nothing happened but that any events are being misrepresented or misinterpreted.
Domingo has already stepped down from or been dropped from a number of American positions but European opera houses have not yet followed suit.
The link to drugs came when a BBC interviewer quizzed one of the American journalists linked to the ongoing stories. Chasing the ongoingness, she put it to her print colleague – shouldn’t we presume innocence and wait till we know the facts before he is hounded off stage completely. She didn’t quite say what we have at the moment are anecdotes, don’t we need evidence.
Her interviewee took this point head on. (The following is a paraphrase). Look, she said, we didn’t run these stories without a lot of investigation and checking with lawyers. This isn’t hearsay. Women have put their names forward. They can be sued if what they are saying is false. Given the numbers of women who have come forward, something has unquestionably happened – enough to warrant opera houses and Domingo and everyone reviewing their position.
The key element here as noted in a RxISK post two years ago Stigma and Recovery soon after the Me Too movement began was women stepping into the light of day, overcoming their fear of being seen as a loser and the guilt or shame that lands on victims rather than perpetrators.
The “methodological” question is this. If one woman, putting her name in the frame, makes a claim about a Domingo, Weinstein or Leonard Cohen, is she to be believed? The lawyers and journalists will have done a lot of background work to assess the plausibility of the case. The more they uncover convincing stories of other women put in the same position, the more plausible the original claim becomes – except in circumstances where its well known “he” likes women and comes on to them – like Leonard Cohen.
When it’s one woman, the man can claim there is a motive or dismiss the claim in some other way. Quite aside from Brexit, the British establishment totally shot themselves in the foot some years back entertaining claims of a pedophile and murder ring within Westminster. Saint Tom Watson stood up in Parliament, and under cover of parliamentary privilege, claimed the police and others found the allegations credible. None of the powerful people in the frame were particularly sympathetic – not like Cohen or Domingo, more like Weinstein. But to someone who deals with claims like this regularly, it looked obviously fantastic, and should never have gotten anywhere at least not in the public domain.
In the case of one woman, whether we believe her or not likely depends on whether we have been in the same position or we like the “myth” of him we have been sold. Is there a way to get to a point beyond reflex sympathies, where we are justified in figuring the events likely happened so that rather than a group splitting down the middle in terms of their support for him or her, they will mostly side with her or him (there will always be some hold-outs).
Do we get there if two women put their name in the frame having been checked out thoroughly by the media? Or three? When does the weight of numbers become significant? What do we do with the hundreds of women who claim they never had anything but wonderful interactions with Domingo or Cohen?
What do we do when the climate changes so that child abuse is established as happening but we are then faced with women claiming abuse in childhood that could never have happened and it seems likely the claims are based on memories recovered in therapy? The recovered memory debacle may have become an epidemic primarily because it took place in private settings, rather than in the media spotlight or legal domain (although in some weird legal cases men did end up in jail on the basis of evidence later viewed as incredible). But it brings out a point that an acceptance that abuse happens, can lay the basis for even quite outlandish claims being entertained.
All of this mobilizes a deep misogyny, bringing into play stereotypes about women being manipulative and deceitful. So where, if anywhere, is the solid ground in all this?
This is exactly the issue at stake with the adverse effects of drugs. One of us comes forward with stories about PSSD or PGAD and we are dismissed. See PSSD and Patient Experiences for the most comprehensive and chilling account of what can happen. Patients can be manipulative and deceitful you know.
Its difficult to get our names in the frame. Unlike the women who were always free to put their name in the frame, and have recently appreciated the power of doing so, if we report the problem on a drug to regulators they remove our name. We can’t get into a position able through cross-examination to demonstrate there is no other way to explain what is happening us other than the effect of some drug. We aren’t able to let others know – have anyone say Me Too.
But even if we could, a group of us together would remain a collection of anecdotes rather than a force to be reckoned with. The drug will be innocent until proven guilty. In this case, the court system is run by the companies producing the drug who claim that the only way to produce significant evidence is through controlled trials which only they have the resources to run – and whaddya know none of the trials done have shown this problem.
This is the case even though, if one thing is more certain than men thinking about sex with women (or men) its the fact that drugs are poisons.
There is a risk benefit overlap between men and drugs. Men seem set up to make advances and women to desire advances that they will choose between. Even if this system mostly works as planned, it is almost certain to produce problems at the margins. These problems can be managed by women speaking out, especially when they do so collectively.
In the same way, there is a potential benefit from the poisons we call drugs. Handled with some discrimination, bringing good out of the use of a poison can be magical but with a system like this its inevitable things will go wrong.
In contrast to Me Too, we used to be able to manage these problems but now we can’t. We’ve switched into Not Me Guv mode. While women look like they are getting somewhere handling men, both women and men are going backwards when it comes to handling drugs.
And the main reason for this is we have lost the ability to link our names to an event in the public domain – to stand up and say – fine I’m willing to be cross-examined and live with the verdict of a jury of average people (especially if I have a Portia to be my advocate).
The corporatocracy/androcacy has found ways to make it impossible for anyone to stand up and say “Here I stand I can do no other”. Impossible to nail theses to a cathedral door without being laughed at. Oh how the Pope could have done with controlled trials back in 1517.
Finding a way to make our individual experience count again is the central problem of the age – a way to ensure that if we report something happening on treatment we are not regarded as guilty until proven innocent. We are not victimized.
But people can be manipulative. Once the possibility a drug has caused a homicide or a crime comes on the radar, all sorts of people do claim the drug made them do it when it didn’t.
So in addition to being able to report an experience, judgement calls need to be made. We need to take a stand on our judgement calls about the best way to explain this event – he crossed a boundary or he didn’t and this drug wiped out a sex life or it didn’t. When we are unable to say he crossed a boundary or the drug has caused a serious problem we are living a lie imposed on us by someone else.