Letter: Mamet's crazed woman

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The Independent Online
Sir: David Mamet's Oleanna caused controversy in New York because it took the sexual harassment debate out of its proper context. It was not because of any 'ambiguity' over whether the male professor was indeed guilty of sexually harassing his female student accuser, or whether the student's accusation was '100 per cent legitimate', as you report the actress Lia Williams as saying (1 July).

Mamet's play, focusing on an innocent man and a politically correct, crazed woman, incorrectly suggests that this scenario is one worth concerning ourselves about. All a woman need do is make up a lie, snap her fingers and her victim's life is ruined. As anyone who has dealt with sexual harassment and abuse claims knows, the far greater problem is getting a female accuser's account believed and having her allegations heard without her own sexual history brought out and used against her.

The interesting part of he said/she said situations is not where one person is clearly wrong, as in Oleanna, but where differences in perspective genuinely lead to disagreement. Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas - was one of them lying? Or did they really disagree over what was appropriate office banter? Do men and women live in such different worlds?

Instead, Mamet constructs a tale crying out for the audience to applaud when the irritating, unstable woman (finally) gets hit in the face. In so doing, he takes the problem out of context and encourages an audience response that many have found deeply disturbing. The real issue is how few women dare come forward with these accusations, not that some woman may make one up.

Yours faithfully,

NATALIA SCHIFFRIN

London, NW5

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