Revolution or witch hunt?

Swathes of victims have come forward with allegations of sexual harassment and assault against big stars. Is this merely a frenzy, or are we seeing positive change?

A stormy revolution began to unfold as victims came forward to share their stories of sexual harassment at the hands of Harvey Weinstein.  A safe harbour was built where victims felt supported and believed which lead to more accusations of Weinstein and other powerful men in the entertainment industry such as Kevin Spacey and Dustin Hoffman. In the wake of the media frenzy the question has been raised, is this a witch hunt?


I feel it is more the case that there is safety in numbers. And in this bubble of safety, more women and men feel they have the opportunity to vocalise the sexual misconduct they have endured. As more and more stars are accused, and more and more stories come forward, I think the question should be, is a witch hunt really that bad a thing?


In early October, The New York Times broke a piece that detailed three decades of sexual harassment and assault perpetrated by Harvey Weinstein. Once the story broke, women such as Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, Rose McGowan as well as many of his employees came forward with similar accounts. A rumble of a revolution began as other stars started to be shamed for their behaviour as well.


As I read through the accounts, what astounded me the most was the lengthy period of time it had gone on for. Weinstein’s attacks alone went back nearly three decades and it became clear influential people in the industry were well aware, with Quentin Tarantino saying, “I knew enough to do more than I did.”


The media highlighted how in 2013 Seth MacFarlane, who was presenting the Oscar nominees, made the joke, “Congratulations, you five ladies no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein.”


You don’t need a lot of empathy to understand why very few of his victims came forward. Imagine the terror that many of them must have faced, worrying not just for their safety but also for their careers. Gwyneth Paltrow rejected Weinstein’s advances and thought “he was going to fire me.”


Many women who have experienced sexual harassment, myself included, experience an initial reaction to simply get out of the situation. There is no dramatic showdown where you denounce them for their actions, it’s very much flight over fight.


Then you are left with this uncomfortable, awkward feeling in the pit of your stomach and as many of these men are skilled manipulators, you might feel even a little bit of guilt, that maybe this is your fault, maybe you got yourself into this situation. Katherine Kendall gave an insight to the complexity of the situation when saying, “If I’m not bleeding then does it really matter?”


Emma Thompson pointed out that men like Weinstein aren’t sex addicts, they’re “predators”. They know to attack the most vulnerable whether it’s women, who feel their entire careers and futures are on the line, or children.


Everything about this issue is horrible but one aspect that truly saddens me is the large role women played in these manipulative games. Julianna Marguiles recounted her own run in with Weinstein and another Hollywood producer and actor, Steven Seagal, and she asserted that the meetings were set up by women and that these women knew what was going on.


On 19 November, Weinstein company employees asked in an open letter that they be could be released from a non-disclosure agreement. It is highly unlikely that these men’s antics went unnoticed or without the help of assistants or directors turning a blind eye.


These past few weeks has not just raised the issue of mistreatment of women in Hollywood or women in general society but with Kevin Spacey, it has brought up the abuse of the most vulnerable group of all; children. When news surfaced of Anthony Rapp’s claim that Spacey sexually harassed him when he was only 14, Spacey’s response was to admit he was gay.


This attracted attention because of the troubling parallel he drew between paedophilia and homosexuality. If Spacey feels his sexual orientation excuses his behaviour, then he is mistaken. Many members of the LGBTQ community condemned his statement online.


There has been outcry about all that has happened but the fact remains that we have a revolution as a result of a ‘witch hunt.’ Weinstein, Spacey and Hoffman amongst others, have all come out and apologised because they were caught. Not as a result of long harbouring guilt.


This is not the first time we have been faced with the abuses of men in power. Only a few years ago, news broke of Bill Cosby drugging and raping women.  Even more recently, Donald Trump was elected as President of the United States. A man who was accused of rape, is on tape alluding to sexual assault, and has spoken of women in a derogatory manner on many occasions.


So, where does it stop? Is this the final nail in the coffin? I hope so, I hope the respect and admiration of the victims coming forward has fostered an environment where women and men feel they can speak out and be heard.


In our society, there is a lack of respect for women and the most vulnerable. As Fintan O’Toole addressed in his article in The Irish Times, it starts at a young age and isn’t necessarily malicious. Weinstein and Spacey’s behaviour illustrate not just a deep problem in the entertainment industry but also the archaic relationship made between masculinity and power, sex and women.


Our society has changed hugely in recent decades and seen vast improvements to LGBT rights, women’s rights and more recently trans rights but have we seemed to have failed to evolve when it comes to the socialisation of men and boys. There is still immense pressure on boys to fulfil that ‘masculine’ role. As what it is to be a man becomes increasingly unclear do we need to address, as Emma Thompson said, “the crisis in masculinity, the crisis of extreme masculinity”?


We can target two areas to prevent another atrocity like this. The first is to ensure we continue to encourage victims to speak out. The fact that women like Angelina Jolie, women we consider to be social influencers with power, felt they couldn’t come forward illustrates the gross power of these men. It is horrific to think that many of these women might not have had the career they’ve had or would have been quietened had they chosen to speak out at the time.


The second is a re-evaluation in how boys are raised to treat and perceive women, and a reconstruction of what it means to be a man so as not to encourage the testosterone driven, aggressive masculine stereotype which can result in such violent and sexually inappropriate behaviour; the unfortunate norm in our society.


Moving forward we need to establish how we can prevent abuses of power including sexual harassment in the future. A witch hunt and revolution has resulted because of an investigative piece but we cannot continue to rely on picking a celebrity or politician and demanding a change.

Georgina Francis

Georgina Francis is a former Managing Editor, Life Editor and Assistant Life Editor of Trinity News.