Could the Harvey Weinstein Scandal Be the Moment Everything Changed for Women in the Workplace?
Last week a brazen expose of Hollywood producer-mogul Harvey Weinstein detailed his alleged sexual misconduct towards countless women. The New York Times article cites several specific cases, including payoffs and involving non-disclosure agreements. It also and made one thing explicitly clear: a lot of people knew about Weinstein's alleged behavior.
In a world where women are made to feel inferior every single day, sexual assault is a severe issue. Women are belittled in the workplace, made to feel like they have no power, and told to hush when anything bad happens. The Harvey Weinstein allegations open the door not only to what is really happening in the entertainment industry — but also in pretty much every industry. Weinstein may be the one outed by several women's claims here, but many men just like him still prey on innocent women and it's time we open the dialogue on the issue wide open.
Hollywood's “woman problem” and the way women are treated in the entertainment industry
The allegations outlined in the article, and since corroborated by countless Hollywood actresses and industry insiders, has brought to light another, familiar issue. How women are treated in the workplace, specifically in the entertainment industry, is still reminiscent of what could be expected a long ago time. The ability for one man to ruin your career if you reject his advances isn't a storyline from Mad Men — it's a reality. As a famed Hollywood producer, and Oscar hoarder, Weinstein had all the power to make or break a career. He allegedly used the power to his advantage on several occasions on impressionable young females. And the sad truth? He likely isn't an outlier.
Sexual harassment towards women by men is a way for them to wield power over them. It's what Weinstein was likely attempting — according to the women's claims. The fact of the matter is that this is what men in positions of power do every day to flaunt their authority. I'm betting anyone reading this can think of multiple women they know that have been sexually harassed or assaulted. The “Me too” Facebook campaign of this weekend blew that door right open. As you scrolled through your FB feed over the weekend, countless statuses simply stating “me too” declared how widespread this type of gender-based violence really is after people were encouraged to write that if they had ever experienced sexual harassment or assault in their lives. It's a terrifyingly real part of life for every woman, femme and gender-nonconforming and non-binary person — the fear that someday it may be you. Or maybe you… again. In the entertainment business in particular, there is not only power to be wielded, but money to cover it up.
Hollywood, and the entertainment industry as a whole, has always had a “woman problem.” Producers, directors, and studio heads are more often male than female. A female director having a blockbuster hit with this year's Wonder Woman was headline news because it's such a rarity. And while the industry is making strides in putting women into positions of creative power, there are still miles to go. Weinstein's ousting, though, is a large step in bringing women out of the shadows in Hollywood.
Women speaking up against Weinstein and the all too familiar “blame the victim” narrative
— Sky Ferreira (@skyferreira) October 14, 2017
In the aftermath of the article, several women — from actress to interns — have alleged assault at Weinstein's hands. Women like Rose McGowan, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Cara Delevingne have accused the former studio head of sexual misconduct. And that is making all the difference.
We live in a world where women are conditioned to keep quiet about sexual assault. If they come forward the onus is on them to prove it — and there is always the prevalent possibility that they won't be believed because when it comes down to “he said v. she said” cases, it seems he is always the one who is innocent until proven guilty and she is liar until proven honest. The familiar victim blaming narrative is large and in charge in this story. Why didn't the women come forward sooner? Why did they take the money he allegedly offered? And, why hasn't Hillary Clinton said anything yet?! Okay, first things first — alleging that Clinton or any women at all has to respond to this stuff is a part of the problem. What does it have to do with her? Or any one woman? It has to do with this man, his alleged actions and the men who apparently knew about and aided in his actions. Nothing more.
Then there's the issue of the women who waited until now to come forward. Per usual, the peanut gallery is railing at them for taking their sweet time or accusing them of making it all up. Because, you know, women always make everything up. Duh. (Please sense the sarcasm.) But here's the thing if all the allegations were true: there were NDA's involved, money exchanging hands, and a powerful, powerful man at the helm of it, all keeping women quiet. The onus is not on women to expose men — it's on men to, I don't know, NOT DO THESE THINGS.
Rose McGowan, brave woman incarnate
Take Rose McGowan, for example. She's been plenty vocal on Twitter about her disdain for Weinstein. But her diatribes, including one that alleged Ben Affleck knew everything about Weinstein, got her suspended from Twitter. Our president can threaten war on Twitter and nothing happens, white supremecists can call for violence with little-to-no repurcussions, but a woman rails against an alleged sexual predator and gets the boot? Something about that seems off.
Rose got reinstated shortly thereafter. (After receiving backlash, Twitter claimed they only suspended her Twitter because she shared a phone number, which is in violation of the user agreement, deleted that tweet and then reopened her account nearly immediately.) And when she came back, she meant BUSINESS. After years of beating around the bush she said screw it to her NDA and named Harvey Weinstein as her alleged rapist in a tweet to Amazon head Jeff Bezos.
1) @jeffbezos I told the head of your studio that HW raped me. Over & over I said it. He said it hadn’t been proven. I said I was the proof.
— rose mcgowan (@rosemcgowan) October 12, 2017
McGowan is not playing around anymore — and nor should she. The time for silence is over.
People speaking up beyond the Harvey Weinstein allegations
— Hayley Jones (@meetmissjoness) October 11, 2017
People are beginning to speak up in light of these accusations about their own experiences with sexual assault in Hollywood. Former TRL host and One Tree Hill star Hilarie Burton recalled Ben Affleck groping her on camera once. Camera footage backs up the claims, and Burton has expressed the dismay she felt in that moment as a powerful movie star took advantage of a young woman trying to do her job. Burton likely didn't speak up in fear of losing her job, or being retaliated against by a powerful Hollywood actor.
Affleck's response? A tweet:
I acted inappropriately toward Ms. Burton and I sincerely apologize
— Ben Affleck (@BenAffleck) October 11, 2017
Even ignoring the fact that a simple tweet is a bit impersonal, it's important to realize this apology was only sent after the world recognized his actions for what they were. Abusers are only made to apologize when it's convenient, or when it may affect their careers. McGowan and Burton have now opened fire on Affleck for his behaviors, but the question is will anyone do anything about it? Will this even make a difference for a man's career?
Harvey Weinstein is not an outlier, he is the norm
Here's one of the biggest issues here: several people were aware of this behavior. Whether the specifics of the Weinstein allegations are truthful or not the fact remains that NDA's were signed, settlements were given, and his conduct was an unspoken truth around Hollywood. 30 Rock made allusions to it years ago, and Seth MacFarlane worked it into an Oscar's bit after hearing about his repugnant behavior from a female coworker and friend. So the faux, “Oh my god! How could this be?!” reactions from the entertainment industry's elite seem insincere and lazy. Why is the industry still protecting men like this until their behavior reaches a tipping point and they get unmasked?
That's the thing: this isn't a new phenomenon. Powerful men in Hollywood have always been accused of engaging in this kind of behavior and have never been meant to pay for it because often the accusations aren't taken seriously at all. Since Hollywood's heyday, this type of imbalance has existed. Judy Garland once said that the studio executives — men, at the time — gave her “pep pills,” which she was expected to take in order to keep her energy at peak all day. The issue still remains today because these men are pulling tons of money at the box office and sweeping awards season, giving them the financial freedom to make problems go away. These men exist in every nook and cranny of the industry — Weinstein's accusations just finally took a place center stage in the public sphere, where other Hollywood execs simply couldn't ignore it anymore.
The entertainment industry has a reputation for being too forgiving when it comes to men. Mel Gibson somehow still has a career after an anti-semitic tirade. Alec Baldwin is America's darling again after calling his daughter a “thoughtless, little pig” on a voicemail the world heard. Weinstein has been removed from his company, and made public enemy number one in Hollywood — but will it stick?
While Woody Allen (who, BTW, has been accused of sexual misconduct as well) may be terrified of this turning into a “witch hunt atmosphere,” we can only hope it does. Except that while the “witches” were being persecuted for things they never did, the sexual predators of Hollywood are undeniably out there. We can only hope that this is the true tipping point for sexual violence in the entertainment business. That the allegations surrounding Harvey Weinstein allow other injustices in the industry to unravel and remove them forever. Actresses, and actors, have already come forward with their own lurid tales concerning men who aren't Harvey Weinstein. If we're creating an atmosphere where it's becoming safer for these victims to come forward, then maybe we're one step closer to keeping these predators from striking again. Perhaps one day we'll be able to say that this is the moment it all changed. Let's keep working towards a world where women don't have to fight and sacrifice their body autonomy for a career. Where they don't have to be lorded over by power-hungry men who don't often hear “no.” And where they can feel safe coming forward when those men cross the line — knowing that they will be believed.