“That’s kind of the way things were.” That’s the quote – from Sallie Hodges, a former Weinstein Company employee – that, for me, sums up the whole story about film magnate Harvey Weinstein, exposed yesterday in The New York Times as a serial sexual harasser of women he’s employed over the past three decades. That this is just the way things are is what young women have come to understand in all kinds of workplaces for many years, but especially in cutthroat media industries, where powerful men can make all of the difference to your career – for better or for worse.
Weinstein’s guilt seems irrefutable – along with many complaints, the New York Times investigation turned up evidence of multiple settlements paid by Weinstein to women who accused him of harassment in order to get them to agree not to sue him. In the most recent case, Lauren O’Connor, a literary scout and production executive, wrote a memo in 2015 detailing numerous occasions when she had experienced or witnessed harassment. Speaking to The New York Times, many women confirmed the stories: of Weinstein requiring young women to meet him in his hotel rooms, to provide him with massages or to watch him shower. “I am just starting out in my career, and have been and remain fearful about speaking up,” O’Connor wrote in her memo, according to The New York Times. “But remaining silent is causing me great distress.”
“When did you meet YOUR Harvey Weinstein?” the writer Anne T Donahue asked on Twitter, shortly after the exposé was published online. The sigh of recognition could be heard around the world. For me, it’s been about 10 years since I was doing work experience and shifts as a junior editor on a number of British national publications. At each, a male editor took a special interest in me; naively, I thought this recognition of my talent would mean that they’d help me progress in my career. Naively, I thought what they recognised was my talent.
The first time one took me out for a champagne lunch and told me that he was in an open relationship, I felt uncomfortable and turned down an offer for more work. When the second one hit me with a riding crop in the middle of the office and advised me – over drinks, of course – to do a nude photoshoot, I felt suspicious. I didn’t follow up with him, despite his assurances that he could help my career to go far. When the third invited me to dinner at a private members’ club to discuss a piece I’d written, and then told me after an hour of chat about himself (and several glasses of wine) that he hadn’t actually read the piece – I’d sent it two weeks earlier – I gave up.
When young women don’t complain and don’t leave jobs after sexual harassment, it’s not because they’re not unhappy – it’s because they have no power relative to their harassers
I mean, I really gave up. A staff job at one of those publications was my dream in my mid-twenties. On each of these occasions, I felt like I was very close, I was literally in the door and, on each of these occasions, I felt like I couldn’t clear the hurdle of having a sexual relationship with one of these men who had positioned themselves as my mentors. So I didn’t, and I stopped trying, and I went to work in marketing, and I spent many days at the job that I’d hated, wondering if I’d made a mistake to not have just slept with one of them, if in choosing not to I had irrevocably fucked up my career. In the meantime, I’d follow the careers of women around my age who had the jobs that I thought I wanted and I’d wonder: what did you do? I didn’t feel judgmental – I felt envious that they were made of tougher stuff than me. When young women don’t complain and don’t leave jobs after sexual harassment, it’s not because they’re not unhappy – it’s because they have no power relative to their harassers and because they want to keep their jobs, to learn, to grow, to build relationships. Not to spend their time making complaints to HR and being blacklisted for being difficult. As O’Connor wrote in her memo: “The balance of power is me: 0, Harvey Weinstein: 10.”
Harvey Weinstein is sorry! He says that he really is – after all, he grew up during a different time. “All of the rules about behavior and workplaces were different,” he wrote in a statement, issued in response to the Times article. In the 60s and 70s, I guess, it was cool to get women who worked for you to watch you take a shower? I wouldn’t know, I guess, I wasn’t alive then (although, as the writer Maria Dahvana Headley pointed out, attention to history shows that hasn’t been a thing since Roman times). Harvey Weinstein’s on a journey now, you see – he said that in his statement as well: “My journey now will be to learn about myself and conquer my demons.” His journey will include therapists – because, apparently, there are therapists you can hire to to help you stop being an asshole? – and he wants everyone to know that he’s been working on this “for ten years”. Just not well or hard, judging from the recency of O’Connor’s settlement. And it’s hard to imagine that the journey will continue to have his full attention, moving forward, not when his lawyers say he’s also suing The New York Times for $50m for running the article in the first place. That’s just kind of the way that things are. At least when you’re Harvey Weinstein.