Content Warning: This article contains discussion about sexual assault.
Hollywood is often seen as the center of culture and modernity in America, if not the world. Yet, if there’s one thing that Hollywood faulters in tremendously, it is speaking about issues that are systemic to its culture – Issues like gender pay disparity, representation of minorities as leading characters, and the silence surrounding sexual assault in the community. Earlier this month, news broke that Harvey Weinstein, famed Hollywood producer and co-founder of Miramax and The Weinstein Company, was accused of many accounts of sexual assault by various actresses and Hollywood elites. The New York Times and The New Yorker both released scathing accounts of his sexual misconduct and revealed the stories of dozens of women who had been attacked by Weinstein during various stages in their careers.
The New Yorker’s “From Aggressive Overtures to Sexual Assault: Harvey Weinstein’s Accusers Tell Their Stories” revealed the systemic and often predictable non-consensual encounters he had with many women he worked with and attempted to cast in his movies. The article revealed that former executives and assistants in his company knew of his illicit behavior and chose to willfully ignore it or even aid in covering it up. His lawyers were familiar with the standard practice of paying off women who made claims against Weinstein, and sometimes Harvey went so far as to destroy their acting careers and names in Hollywood. Director and Actress Asia Argento described her multiple encounters with Weinstein in great detail, revealing her shame and vulnerability that kept her in silence for years in great detail in the article.
Among Weinstein’s victims are famous Hollywood elites like Ashley Judd, Rose McGowan, Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cara Delevingne, and others. Weinstein’s actions and non-consensual relations with many women were a running secret in Hollywood, to the point where actors and awards presenters even used the known actions of Weinstein as a running joke in shows and Hollywood culture. His behavior was so well known to those in and outside of his company that the NYPD even secretly captured audio of him admitting to groping women, yet this evidence was conveniently never pursued by the Manhattan District Attorney after speaking with Weinstein’s lawyers.
His abuse of power in Hollywood established a blanket of silence among his victims as he was known to exert extreme power over casting and social life in Hollywood. His method of sexual assault, usually in a hotel room under the guise of meeting actresses for casting roles, left the women he attacked feeling shamed and disempowered, which often led to his protection through silence. Refinery29’s article about Weinstein’s methodical approach to assaulting women and ensuring their silence starts off with the Margaret Atwood quote: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” And nothing could be truer for Weinstein’s victims. In the NYPD audio, Weinstein is heard saying “Don’t embarrass me in the hotel, I’m here all the time,” meanwhile his victim is more preoccupied with the fact that he could cause her lifelong trauma and perhaps worse. This open secret in Hollywood was cultivated because women feared Weinstein’s erratic and violent behavior, the power he exerted over Hollywood and their careers, and being ostracized and rejected by society as “dramatic or crazy” women.
Since this news broke, more and more women have been coming forward with stories of their assaults, not only from Weinstein, but other Hollywood execs and producers. The culture of silence is slowly starting to be broken in Hollywood, but what does this mean for regular women? Women who don’t have millions of dollars for lawyers, who still have to work, live, and function near their attackers, women who don’t have a community of survivors banning together to create change? Simply put, society has to do better for these women. The stigmas surrounding sexual assault and victimhood need to be destroyed. Attackers should be the people being ostracized and outed, not their victims, as is shown with the #MeToo movement. The burden should not be on the survivor to out themselves and plead for justice, but for men, for society, and for rape culture to do better.
When sexual assault scandals like this emerge, men often articulate sentiments of their disgust with Harvey Weinstein’s, Bill Cosby’s, Bill O’Reilly’s, and Donald Trump’s actions and transgressions by saying that “those men’s actions are disgusting because I have a daughter, a wife, a mother…etc…” Sorry to break it to you men and society, but you should not be disgusted with sexual assault because you have a vested interest in the topic because you love a woman in your life. You should care about sexual assault and its survivors because they are human.
Society has to completely overhaul the way we look at raising children, viewing women, and view consent. Children should be taught that boys will be boys is not an excuse, that women are not asking for it because of what they wear, and that consent and the context of sexual situations is the most integral part of any kind of physical contact. We also have to make sure that cases like that of Brock Turner, the student athlete at Stanford who raped a collegiete on campus and got off with 3 months served in jail, do not happen anymore. Survivors who choose to take legal action against their attackers should not have to worry about the justice system passively taking the side of their attacker because of his/her privilege, money, and “story”. Yes, it is important for Hollywood’s femme and female actresses and elites to unite against the sexism and assault in Hollywood, but we have to remain diligent and focused as a collective people to do more for ALL victims of sexual assault through systematic overhaul and cultural change. Let us not stay satisfied with the status quo.
If you want to read more on this topic, you can check out:
Herman, Lily, et al. www.refinery29.com/2017/10/176042/harvey-weinstein-sexual-assault-audio-response.
Maria, Meghan De, et al. www.refinery29.com/2017/10/176061/harvey-weinstein-sexual-harassment-jokes-references.