Ian McKellen said actresses used to proposition directors for sex, and the backlash was swift

In a recent Q&A at the Oxford Union, Sir Ian McKellen spoke up about sexual misconduct in the entertainment industry and in the world at large. The British actor was largely supportive of the recent flood of women — and men — who have come forward to share stories of abuse and harassment.

“People taking advantage of their power is reprehensible. Wherever it happens," he said. "[...] People must be called out. It’s sometimes very difficult for victims to do that. I hope we’re going through a period that will help to eradicate it (sexual misconduct) altogether.

He also went on to note that the trauma of sexual abuse can stick with a victim for years — if not a lifetime.

However, while McKellen generally had an empathetic and supportive perspective on these issues, some have noted a particularly problematic comment he made during his talk.

The moment came when he recounted working in the theater as a young actor in the early 1960s.

“The director of the theater I was working at showed me some photographs he got from women who were wanting jobs," he said. "They were actors. And some of them had ― I think these were the initials ― at the bottom of their photograph ‘DRR’ — directors’ rights respected. In other words, ‘If you give me a job, you can have sex with me.’ That was commonplace for people who proposed that they should be a victim. Madness.

The discussion came at about 41:45 in the below video.


The above comment fails to recognize the power dynamic implicit within rape culture. If these women did, in fact, imply they would have sexual relations with a director in order to gain employment, it does not mean that they were making themselves victims (which, we might add, is impossible). It means that — in the larger context of the industry — they were victims. Male directors took advantage of their power and established a system in which women believed — likely correctly so — that they could better secure employment by offering their bodies. When such is the case, little “choice” is actually involved.

We’re glad that McKellen was initially so supportive of victims and the current cultural reckoning taking place, but we hope he takes a moment to revisit the particular line of thinking in which he suggests women can make themselves sexual abuse victims for professional advancement. Because words have the power to shape hearts and minds, and it’s critical that those with public platforms choose their words wisely at this juncture.