The slew of actresses who have come forward with stories of sexual harassment and assault from a single perpetrator, Harvey Weinstein, have brought to light the seedy world of Hollywood we all suspected to exist.
Hollywood turns against him only now, after years of rumours and allegations. He was expelled from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. No individual has ever been expelled for “personal misconduct” before. The Academy hopes to “send a message that the era of willful ignorance and shameful complicity in sexually predatory behavior and workplace harassment in our industry is over”.
This message comes far too late for the decades of victims. The culture in Hollywood is only part of the problem – the revelations have prompted female journalists across the world to write about universal experiences of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace and outside. Our society’s structure and operation permits sexual predators like Weinstein to act unchecked.
Is it really surprising to anyone that this went on? It doesn’t even seem to surprise Harvey Weinstein himself. He writes in his statement in response to the New York Times original article about his behavior that: “[he] came of age in the ‘60s and ‘70s (sic), when all the rules about behaviour and workplaces were different. That was the culture then.”
“Except it’s the culture now. Those who think that we have moved into a new culture where powerful men do not dictate how women are seen and the rules of how women should behave are delusional. “
Except it’s the culture now. Those who think that we have moved into a new culture where powerful men do not dictate how women are seen and the rules of how women should behave are delusional. Allegations against Weinstein run right up to 2015.
I read the articles and statements made by actresses dispassionately. It is wearying to read yet another story of fear and shame being instilled in a victim of sexual abuse to the extent that they do not come forward for years. This story makes headlines because of the famous names involved, but it’s a story most women are familiar with.
Less than a month ago Hugh Hefner’s death prompted hosts of publications, celebrities and companies to post obituaries honouring the man. One such company was Missguided, a clothing brand for women, whose marketing is aimed entirely at young women or teenagers and their ambitions. “Girl boss” is a common term they use in their social media marketing.
The company posted an Instagram featuring a Playboy bunny and Hugh Hefner with a caption honouring Hefner’s death. The photo was deleted within hours of posting. Given the nature of Playboy’s content, and the allegations against Hefner, it’s an understatement to say that this was a poor marketing decision.
The problem is rich and powerful men like Hefner are honoured and remembered regardless of the weaker, yet numerous voices that may have spoken out against them. Woody Allen still enjoys prestige despite rape allegations, and Donald Trump is the president despite his comments about grabbing women by the pussy.
“The remarks are reflective of the portion of society who believes that it is their right to wield their power in this way. “
Woody Allen has even come forward to express his sympathy for Weinstein. In an interview with the BBC, he stated that “The whole Harvey Weinstein thing is very sad for everybody involved,” He also hopes that we do not end up with a “witch hunt atmosphere […] where every guy in an office who winks at a woman is suddenly having to call a lawyer to defend himself.”
Of course someone who has faced allegations of sexual abuse would say that. The remarks are reflective of the portion of society who believes that it is their right to wield their power in this way. Shifting the blame from the predators to the prey is an effort to minimise the experience of victims.
When Corey Friedman and others began to expose the scale of pedophilia and the rings operating in Hollywood, they were shunned for their efforts, or declared lunatics. Barbara Walters, a host on the popular American daytime television show “The View”, said to Friedman in an interview about his experience of pedophilia in Hollywood that he was “damaging an entire industry”.
This type of victim-blaming, and the accusation that the motives behind coming forward are selfish ones, allow predators like Weinstein to operate. It is of our society’s culture of victim-blaming and dismissal that gives people like Weinstein their power.
Rose McGowan is one of the first and most prominent actresses to accuse Weinstein. She also alleges that she told the CEO of Amazon studios numerous times that Harvey Weinstein had raped her. She was not believed, and her show was dropped from Amazon after her allegations. In a tweet she says of the CEO: “He said it hadn’t been proven. I said I was the proof.”
“The Weinstein case has opened up a can of worms in Hollywood, in which producers, agents, CEOs and even other actors are complicit in the sexual violence that occurs.”
The power that rich and talented men possess, as well as how we socialise our young men, mean that numerous versions of Weinstein are enabled. Leya Sedoux, another famous actress to accuse Weinstein, comments in her own piece for The Guardian that it is not simply a problem with one man. “In this industry, there are directors who abuse their position. They are very influential, that’s how they can do that. With Harvey, it was physical. With others, it’s just words.”
The list of women who have recently gone public with stories of Weinstein include Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Cara Delevigne. The list continues to grow. The New York Times has an article which includes stories from 13 other women about their experiences with Weinstein. The stories include groping, forced sex and sexual comments.
The managers of these women also enabled situations like this to occur. French actress Florence Darel says in an interview with Le Parisien :“Why do agents send actresses to predators? Why are we supposed to meet producers in hotel rooms?” The Weinstein case has opened up a can of worms in Hollywood, in which producers, agents, CEOs and even other actors are complicit in the sexual violence that occurs.
Weinstein Studios produced many successful films. “Pulp Fiction”, “Good Will Hunting” and “The King’s Speech” were all produced by Weinstein’s company. Actors such as George Clooney, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck have condemned Weinstein publicly, but deny that they knew about his conduct. Tarantino said that he is “stunned and heartbroken” at the revelations.
“For many women, working in an environment where there are Weinstein-like characters is simply a part of life.”
Given the scandal has been described as an “open secret” by many journalists, some of whom detail the rumours and information about Weinstein that had been around for years, it is curious that no witnesses who were not victims did not come forward before this. It is hard to believe that no other actors or agents knew of his misconduct.
For victims of sexual violence, it is very difficult to come forward because of the trauma of going through an investigation. For the women involved in the Weinstein case, to do so would have brought them negative media attention and damaged their careers. The women that did come forward were paid off or not believed.
Weinstein’s clout in the media and entertainment industry prevented information from making it to publication. He paid off a number of actresses with stories against him. Crucially, he was enabled by people working in these industries to do so. The truth was not allowed to come out. Only now are New York Police Department and the London Met launching investigations.
Many ask how we can know the warning signs and protect women in the future. For many women, working in an environment where there are Weinstein-like characters is simply a part of life. Changing that will require a seismic shift in how we construct masculinity and connect it to power and sexual dominance. Heralding men who conduct themselves in this manner is no longer acceptable, especially because, after all, Weinstein is only the tip of the iceberg.