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The Harvey Weinstein Story

The sordid details of Harvey Weinstein’s illegal behaviour, and sexual harassment of women is about power, not sex. It’s a power that most women are familiar with. You don’t have to be a CEO of a billion-dollar entertainment company to wield it (although it clearly helps). This form of power which stifles and silences women operates at every walk of life. It could be your school teacher, a work colleague, or the man that has cornered you in a club. Will you suddenly lose your job? Will anyone believe you? Will the man in the club physically dominate you? The latter was expressed when Lucia Evans described her horrific encounter with Weinstein, “he’s a big guy, he overpowered me.”

The historic ‘casting couch’ of show-business is no echo of the past, and the cliche, ’you will never work in this town again’, still lingers. Emma Thompson recently stated that there are many more like Weinstein in Hollywood, “does it only count if you have done it to loads and loads of women, or does it count if you have done it to one woman, once? I think the latter.” 

 

 

 

The Oscars released a woefully misguided statement, stating that ‘shameful complicity in sexually predatory behaviour and workplace harassment in our industry is over.’ Isn’t ‘shameful complicity’ allowing the convicted rapist, Roman Polanski to be an Oscar member, alongside Woody Allen, Mel Gibson and Bill Cosby? Hollywood has a case of selective amnesia, forgetting that last year Casey Affleck was awarded the ‘Best Actor’ for Manchester by the Sea, amid sexual harassment claims. Hollywood is riddled with exposed and unexposed perpetrators – expelling Weinstein takes out one. This is not the crimes of just one man, it is the crimes of an old boy’s club.

Where there is power, you will find abuse of it. While this case is distinguished by the sheer scale of Weinstein’s power and crime, it is a harsh reminder of the unsafe conditions women face in all employment. The offices of Google have been described as facilitating a ‘culture that is hostile to women’, and recently an UBER manager dismissively told a female engineer that ‘sexism is systemic in tech’. Amazon, knew for 27 months that its former head, Roy Price, had sexually harassed a female producer before they took action. When my friends and I were discussing Weinstein, we recounted multiple stories of harassment at work, ranging from bars to corporate internships. One thing our experiences had in common was that we never said anything, due to the systemic power dynamics in place, and fear of repercussion. We also felt de-sensitised, that this was the behaviour we had come to expect.

An atmosphere of accountability needs to be created. Men need to be our allies and call out inappropriate behaviour in situations where victims feel powerless, not just after the fact. Actors such as Colin Firth expressed their alliance to victims privately, but failed to act. Jackson Katz, a social activist, argues that it is not that men do not know how to act, they ”don’t have or feel [they have] permission to act, based on their reading of social norms in male peer cultures.” The culture of enabling has to end, we should not say, ’he’s just like that when he drinks’ and ‘that’s just Harvey’. As Katz argues, ‘men standing up and speaking out about sexism’ is as important as ‘whites speaking out about racism.’ 

A crucial factor is maximising the presence of women, and women of colour in positions of power. We need female directors, writers and leaders to dilute the white male infrastructure of Hollywood. It is also important that women of colour are not erased from this dialogue, and our outrage is not just reserved for white women. As black activist Ashley C. Ford rightly questioned, “Where was the boycott when actress and comedian Leslie Jones was harassed by trolls to the point of deleting her account for months?”.  

We have a long way to go before workplace harassment is a thing of the past, but it is clear these are not the actions of just one man. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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