By now, just about every media organisation in the western world has covered the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Whether condemning or defending him, everyone seems equally shocked that a prominent Hollywood producer – who seems so outwardly charismatic – can be accused of such improprieties.
But just why is it so shocking to us? Is it because we are too naive to expect this in the film industry? Or is it because we wouldn’t expect this from Harvey Weinstein, specifically? And if the latter, this suggests that since a Hollywood idol can allegedly be responsible for dozens of sexual assault claims, so can everyone else.
Harvey Weinstein has been a household name for decades. He is responsible for producing award-winning films like Pulp Fiction, Good Will Hunting and Shakespeare in Love. He has won an Academy Award, while being nominated for countless other awards. He has advocated himself as a humanitarian and women’s rights activist. His films have countless of inspiring women as their lead characters. In 2015, Weinstein’s company distributed The Hunting Ground documentary. A film which covers college campus sexual assaults. He hired Malia Obama, daughter of Barack Obama, to intern at The Weinstein Company. He even hosted a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton’s electoral campaign at his Manhattan home last year.
It is for these reasons and more that the public can’t seem to grasp how this very same man has at least eight settlements with women, each ranging from $80,000 to $150,000 USD.
The news of Weinstein paying off sexual harassment accusers was broken by the New York Times, and in its aftermath dozens of women have come forward sharing similar encounters with the producer. While some have made sexual harassment claims, there have also been numerous rape allegations. From low-level assistants to A-list celebrities, a staggering number of women have come forward condemning Weinstein. Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, Rose McGowan, Rosanna Arquette, Mira Sorvino, Asia Argento, Cara Delevinge, and Ashley Judd are just several of the actors who have come forward. Yet be it through settlements, seething in silence, or simply refusing to work with Weinstein again – all these women had commonality in their stories. Weinstein would invite these women to his hotel suites under the pretence of a business meeting, and would appear either nude or in a bathrobe, requesting a massage or making other sexual advances.
At its heart, there are more of the same countless tales. A straight, white, male in a positon of power, who uses his authority for his own benefit while continuing to exacerbate sexism.
Voices on the opposing side have conjured several arguments in Weinstein’s defence. Many of these women who have come forward are labelled as ‘asking for it.’ Even prominent women like fashion designer, Donna Karan, have fallen into preaching with this proposed portrayal. Others have labelled this as the norm within the filmmaking industry – what one needs to do in order to be successful. Many say Weinstein is not to blame, since so many other Hollywood men were known for doing the exact same thing. Poor Harvey, he was just the one who happened to be called out on it.
Yet the Harvey Weinstein scandal is not unique to the film industry. Sexual harassment and sexism subsists in almost every industry, in almost every country, and in almost every place where its prominence is overlooked.
Sexual assault occurs and is ignored daily, so why does it take a famous Hollywood producer for us to finally draw our attention to the problem? And when this all blows over (be it in a month or a year), will we just continue turning a blind eye? After all, other women harassed in the workplace aren’t Gwyneth Paltrow or Angelina Jolie. But does mean their bodies or consent are any less valid? Or that they are any more entitled to be considered a voiceless sex object? Definitely not.
Too often, regardless of the industry sect, women are asked ‘what did they do to bring about this sexual harassment or assault?’ It is time to evolve the narrative. To stop asking women what they did or didn’t do and instead hold men in positions of authority accountable for their actions.
In Australia, a study conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission in 2012 found that one in four women have been sexually harassed in the workplace in the past five years. The last reporting period from the Human Rights Commission discovered there has been a 13 percent increase in complaints of sexual harassment. In the U.S., the Federal Bureau of Statistics reported that between 2006-2010 65% of sexual assault cases go unreported. Despite the prominence of sexual harassment in the work environment, women are still too afraid to report it. This is largely due to an imbalance of power and a culture of victim blaming.
Weinstein’s spokesperson claims that “there were never any acts of retaliation against any women for refusing his advances.” Whether this is true or not, this is a man in a position of power. A position of power which he used to corner and manipulate women. There seems to be no one with more influence than a straight, white male. And Weinstein, along with many others, used that knowledge in his sexual conquests.
Director Woody Allen, has plead with the public during his BBC interview not to turn this into a ‘witch hunt.’ Yet this is exactly what it should be. Individuals who abuse their power and manipulate those vulnerable in the workplace, are exactly the kind of people who should be culled from prominent positions. This will in turn lead to a safer and more equitable working environment for all.
Conversely, actors like Amber Tamblyn and Heather Graham have published opinion pieces of their own experiences with sexual harassment in the film industry. Graham, in her Variety article, disclosed her interaction with Weinstein. Tamblyn’s piece, published in the New York Times, chronicles her confrontation with James Woods. Another prominent white, straight, male who abused his power when Tamblyn was 16 years old.
In her article, Tamblyn asserts “the more we open our mouths, the more we become a choir.” To ensure the Weinstein scandal is cemented as more than merely a scandal, it is imperative to treat this as an eye-opener and way to move forward. Workplaces must encourage an open discourse surrounding sexual harassment. No industry is exempt.