“Movie big shot sexually harassed women for years” was, if we’re really honest, not the most surprising headline of last week, at least to some of us. “Inappropriate” behaviour in the film industry is nothing new. Charlie Chaplin, a founding father of Hollywood, had an unhealthy obsession with teen girls – he even married one. Powerful men have objectified, manipulated and harassed women for eternity, or at least roughly as many years as Clint Eastwood has been alive.
And it’s not just the film industry, either. Lest we forget – or should that be how could we forget – we’ve just marked the first anniversary of when we learnt that the president of the United States grabbed women by the pussy. Sexual assault, however, isn’t the preserve of Americans, as we all know after the Savile allegations and the many men involved in Operation Yewtree. Most recently, allegations against former British prime minister Ted Heath of the unsolicited touching and rape of young boys made headlines last week. So, just to recap: sexual assault is an expression of those who believe they have untouchable power; a violating, cruel and heinous crime to reassure the perpetrator of his own invincibility. I know this, you know this, yet here we still are – Trump is still president, Bill Cosby got a mistrial and Bill O’Reilly was fired with a handshake worth millions.
However, contrary to our culture of wrist slapping sex offenders and pretending the whole thing never happened, today Weinstein has been sacked from The Weinstein Company. It is a victory for the women (and men) he continued to terrorise and may have gone on to terrorise.
Rebecca Traister recently wrote powerfully in The Cut of her experience of Weinstein. She followed him for a story as a junior reporter: “I remembered what it was like to have the full force of Harvey Weinstein screaming vulgarities at me, his spit hitting my face... That kind of force, that kind of power? I could not have won against that.” She goes on to suggest that no one could have: “For decades, the reporters who tried to tell the story of Harvey Weinstein butted up against the same wall of sheer force and immovable power.”
Today, that immovable power just moved a little.
Which is great but, as Traister makes clear, everyone knew. The brilliant Anne Helen Petersen from BuzzFeed writes: “Weinstein’s alleged abuses of power were a joke on 30 Rock and a thinly veiled storyline on Entourage. It was everywhere and nowhere. Nobody officially knew about these alleged abuses of power, at least not enough to do anything about it, and yet everyone did.”
Weinstein himself released a car crash of a statement – in our world of marching women and actresses speaking out, Weinstein’s admission sounds less like guilt and more like lack of alternative
While Traister points out that Weinstein had an economic, social and cultural power that bought off and demanded – mostly through fear – silence, Petersen makes the astute point that women knew and simply had to deal with it, compared with men who could look the other way. The waitresses, the make-up artists, the journalists, the actresses, the women all knew. But because male privilege didn’t have to know it, didn’t have to see it, didn’t have to be warned against it, Weinstein’s behaviour can still be treated as revelation – shock, horror, surprise – as so brilliantly articulated in The Onion’s How Could Harvey Weinstein Get Away With This?’ Asks Man Currently Ignoring Sexual Misconduct Of 17 Separate Coworkers, Friends, Acquaintance. In numerous ways, from financial to gendered, Weinstein’s actions supported and reaffirmed an existing power hierarchy that everyone recognised – even if they saw it from completely different angles. So, on with the show.
But what about a class of people who had as much power as Weinstein – what about Hillary Clinton and Gwyneth Paltrow and Barack Obama, all of whom had a relationship with him? Obama sent his teen daughter to do work experience at his company earlier this year. Can they really claim ignorance? Of course, many in the press are using pictures of Weinstein and Hillary together as yet another rock to throw at her. (My personal favourite is the headline from the Washington Examiner: “Harvey Weinstein should force the media to admit Hillary Clinton is not a Feminist Icon”). Perhaps I’m blinded by HRC idealism here, but I’m exhausted by the extensive and endless attempts to blame a woman for a man's actions.
And what do we do now? The Daily Beast noted that John Oliver was the first late-night-show host to mention Weinstein at all. When asked about the allegations, Trump said he “wasn’t surprised” *eye roll x 1,000*. Weinstein himself released a car crash of a statement – in our world of marching women and actresses speaking out, Weinstein’s admission sounds less like guilt and more like lack of alternative.
But, other than more victims, it really it doesn’t matter who speaks up now – now the investigation has been published and Weinstein has been fired, now that he has been found out, now that he is not invincible any more. The problem is there are so many more who think they still are. We must learn from the power structures that kept Weinstein so firmly in place. For many, silence was not a choice. But, going forward, those who were silent must know their complicity was wrong. Power structures are dismantled by either a grassroots movement – like the 50 or so women who came forward with allegations against Bill Cosby and the eight women who spoke out against Weinstein – or the powerful using their privilege. Women are coming forward – from now on, power must truly hear them.