No, we can't ignore Adam Sandler’s ‘knee touching’ incident – this is the everyday sexism women put up with

Long gone are the days when women will accept the kind of old school 'gentleman' that holds open the door for you with one hand and slaps your bum with the other

Rachael Revesz
Monday 30 October 2017 12:21 GMT
Adam Sandler repeatedly touches Claire Foy's knee on The Graham Norton Show

Apparently Adam Sandler didn’t get the memo: touching people without their consent is not ok, even if you mean it as a “friendly gesture”.

The actor has come under fire for placing a hand on Claire Foy’s knee – twice – while telling an anecdote on the Graham Norton Show, despite her making a clear sign for him to remove it. Claire Foy’s spokesperson revealed that she had not been offended by the event.

Nonetheless, Sandler’s actions are a telling indicator of a casual indifference to another woman’s personal space (whether or not, as some point out, he also touched Dustin Hoffman’s knee on another television show).

There is also a danger that, during this watershed news cycle where famous men are falling like flies as they are accused of rape, sexual abuse and harassment, we overlook the persistent undercurrent of insidious sexism. This type of sexism is less overt, but no less damaging. A man might not assault you, but he will put you in your place in public. He might not prance around in a bathrobe during a meeting, but he will interrupt or talk over you. He might not physically attack you, but he will post a picture of a smiling Hillary Clinton next to the perpetrator of the day.

We should not dismiss the incident because it is not the first time a male guest has made a cringeworthy remark or displayed inappropriate behaviour on the Graham Norton Show. I will always remember the host bringing out a game for the guests to play, and Olga Kurylenko asked if she should get on her knees to get closer to the table.

“Please do,” quipped Gerard Butler.

Everyone laughed, including Kurylenko. But I can’t help wondering what it would feel like to be so belittled and sexualised on television, when the guests are supposed to be sitting together on that sofa as professionals and equals in the same industry.

Jane Fonda says people pay attention to Harvey Weinstein abusers because they are famous and white

Maybe I could have brushed off the Sandler incident a little easier, if I had not already been so immersed in revelations of the endemic sliminess of Hollywood culture. Maybe I could have also laughed it off, had I not spent the previous evening watching Sandler’s new film, The Meyerowitz Stories, which he had been plugging on the show.

In the film, we watch Sandler (the dad) and Dustin Hoffman (the granddad) watching Grace Van Patten (Eliza), the young daughter and aspiring actor at college, in a home-made movie on their laptop. The 20-year-old is naked from the waist up and simulating sex. The daughter’s “movie”, watched by the sour-faced family, is supposed to be funny. Who could question that, since the film was directed by so-called legend Noah Baumbach? But after weeks of my Twitter feed being inundated with revelations about sexism in Hollywood, I find it hard to see the funny side. It’s only once the director in question, or any artist, is accused of abuse or misconduct that we will look at his work through a new lens, such as the case with photographer Terry Richardson or Woody Allen.

Some men have done a lot of wrong, while others have only done very little of it. But I don’t feel sorry for Sandler. I don’t feel sorry for Ben Affleck, who was accused of pulling female journalists onto his lap, and I don’t feel sorry for Matt Damon coming under fire for saying that having four daughters woke him up to misogyny. These men are adults, walking in the same world as us. They should know. We’ve spent so long looking at the world through the male lens, whether in film or out of it, that they haven’t tried hard enough to look at life through ours.

Jeremy Corbyn urges end to "warped and degrading" Westminster culture of abuse

I’m fed up of excuses. It was just a “friendly gesture”. Well, former President “cop-a-feel” George Bush may have stroked women’s butts, but he’s been in a wheelchair for ages. Mark Halperin may have sabotaged women’s careers at ABC, but he insisted he was good as gold at the other networks. Kevin Spacey may have conflated homosexuality with paedophilia, but my goodness, he was drunk and it was 30 years ago. And Bill O’Reilly? He’s mad at God.

Sandler, to be very clear, has not been accused of anything improper other than invading a woman’s personal space on a chat show, and the woman in question was reportedly not too bothered. But he should get with the programme. It’s not OK to touch someone, to move too closely to anyone, to presume you have the right to dominate someone’s personal space. Long gone are the days when women will accept the kind of old school “gentleman” that holds open the door for you with one hand and slaps your bum with the other.

Adam Sandler and his cohort should read this memo, whatever they’ve been accused of, and spend some time digesting it. Take a coffee, and a walk around the block. You might come back a better man.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in