Harvey Weinstein’s Downfall Needs To Be A Watershed Moment

It takes a lot of people to keep an open secret this big....no more excuses, no more cover ups, no more second chances, no matter who you are.


by Vicky Spratt |
Published on

The sheer scale of the story of how Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein abused his power is becoming increasingly more apparent with almost every hour that passes this week. Following a New York Times investigationwhich detailed accounts of harassment and assault from multiple women as well as how Weinstein had been paying off his victims for decades, actresses including Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow have also spoken out about how he harassed them and more women have come forward with allegations of rape. Yesterday, reporter Ronan Farrow (who is Woody Allen's son and has been a consistent critic of his father's treatment of his sisters) added to the amassing pile of evidence by writing about how his 10-month investigation into Weinstein was spiked by NBC in The New Yorker. Today, Weinstein's wife (who initially said she was standing by him) has said she is leaving him and condemned his actions.

Weinstein has, quite rightly, been fired from his own company and the number of people condemning him is growing (although not as quickly as it should). However, the man himself seems to be pretty much the only person on the planet (bar Lindsay Lohan and Donna Karan) who doesn’t really seem to get it. His spokesperson has said that he is ‘hoping that, if he makes enough progress, he will be given a second chance’.

The details of what Weinstein has been allowed to do over the last two decades in the film industry are disgusting. From rape to assault, to forced oral sex, outright harassment and the use of his power to intimidate his victims into silence, there is seemingly nothing this man wasn’t prepared to do. I say ‘allowed’ because it was a culture of secrecy, silence and sexism which implicitly condoned and enabled him, whether that’s the alleged story that Matt Damon and Russell Crowe deliberately suppressed a story about his behaviour in 2004 (which Damon has now denied), or Rose McGowan’s insinuation that Ben Affleck, who put a statement speaking of his ‘shock’ out on his Facebook page, knew all along and did nothing or the sort of archaic attitudes expressed by Donna Karan who has fallen into the trap of blaming his victims.

Gradually, very gradually, the tide has started to turn in recent years. The fact that women are speaking out, coming forward and refusing to let Weinstein get away with any of this and the speed with which people are severing personal and professional ties with him wouldn’t have happened in the same way 15, 10 or even 5 years ago. Enabling an abuser is unforgivable and reinforces the sexist power structures that have allowed such structural abuse to occur and reinforced the sexist subjugation of women. The fact that celebrities are trying to put oceans of contempt between themselves and Weinstein at least demonstrates that people have finally realised this. If there is anything good about the entire affair, it is that.

However, what this also tells us is that we aren’t there yet. Giants like Colin Firth have admitted that even he finds Weinstein to be ‘a powerful and frightening man to stand up to’, while the likes of Affleck, Damon, and Crowe are alleged to have actively tried to insulate and protect someone who was lining their pockets. Indeed, while it is undeniably important, it’s rather easy for Angelina Jolie or Gwyneth Paltrow(both of whom Weinstein harassed) to take a stand now that they can seek safety in the number of survivors. These are women with serious influence, so why are they only speaking now?

In fact, Jolie’s response was imbued with unwarranted self-righteousness: ‘I had a bad experience with Harvey Weinstein in my youth, and as a result, chose never to work with him again and warn others when they did,’ she said in an email to The New York Times. Similarly, Paltrow, who was invited to Weinstein’s hotel room and inappropriately touched at the age of 22, said ‘we’re at a point in time when women need to send a clear message that this is over this way of treating women ends now.’

That’s all on message. Great. But, it reinforces how bad things still are for women when it comes to men abusing their power in the workplace. The real story here, when all is said and done, is the fact that even Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow – multimillionaire Hollywood giants with more influence than the majority of us will ever have in our lives - are only just talking publically about this now. What does that say about how harassment, rape, abuse and bullying by male abusers of power affect normal women everywhere?

It says that they are too often caught between a professional rock and a sexually repellent hard place. Last year Everyday Sexism and the TUC conducted a joint research report which found that more than half (52%) of women and nearly two-thirds (63%) of women aged 18-24, had experienced sexual harassment at work. In 88% of cases, the perpetrator was a man. So far so grim, right? Well, the most striking thing about this research was that 28% of these women thought that reporting what had happened to them would negatively affect their relationships at work, 15% thought it would damage their career prospects, 20% were too embarrassed to talk about it and 24% didn’t think they would be taken seriously if they did.

The Italian actor and director Asia Argento - who told the New Yorker that Weinstein forcibly performed oral sex on her at the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in France – has said she did not speak out because she knew Weinstein would ‘crush her’. She went on to rewrite what happened in her 1999 film Scarlet Diva, but in her fictional version of events, the character runs away.

For too long, women have not been able to tell these stories in public and forced to creatively and cathartically find ways to deal with them like Argento. If they did speak out, they would be met with criticism, dismissal, and abuse. Now, the survivors of sexual abuse, assault, and harassment are telling their own stories, on their own terms and refusing to be cowed by the perpetrators, giving them the real-life ending they ought always to have had. However, the fact that the main act of every single one of these stories involves a victim of assault, harassment or abuse feeling that they cannot speak out for fear of the repercussions for their career for any period of time, tells us that megalomaniac men are still, ultimately, writing the script.

This happened because so many people, particularly those with considerable power, actively chose to do nothing. It requires a lot of manpower to keep an open secret like this. Male abusers of power are allowed to exist. That’s what has to change. Weinstein is, undoubtedly, exceptional in that he is one of the most powerful men in Hollywood but his behaviour is, sadly, anything but. No more excuses, no more cover ups, no more second chances, no matter who you are.

You might also be interested in:

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Over Half Of Women Are Sexually Harassed At Work

We Need To Talk About The Dark Side Of Freelancing When You're A Woman

Follow Vicky on Twitter @Victoria_Spratt

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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