In an original account to the “New York Times”, actress Ashley Judd accused American film producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment. Following her report, women in the industry began to speak out against Weinstein, with allegations spanning three decades and including more than 40 victims.
Regardless of the shocking number of accusations and the hard evidence, Weinstein was still given the benefit of the doubt on several occasions. Even now, he is able to apologize, make up a petty excuse of rehabilitation, and get away with sexual harassment.
In the past, Weinstein advocated for women’s rights. He held receptions and donated money to all his liberal causes. For the average, misinformed consumer, Weinstein is simply an innocent man who made some mistakes. Even at 65 years old, men are still given a “boys will be boys” excuse, a “get out of jail” free card, and an apologetic shake of the head. Weinstein’s scandal is not the first in the industry – it is a symptom of a corrupt system, and will not be the last.
In the toxic power dynamics that the film and television industry impose, women still have to go the extra mile for their achievements to be deemed worthy. Producers like Harvey Weinstein know where they stand; they know the actress is in an inferior position, both in sex and hierarchal power, and they use that to their advantage. In an almost “you need me, I don’t need you” approach, Weinstein knew that the women he harassed had a lot to lose would they fight him. When Lupita Nyong’o rejected Weinstein’s invitation to his room, Weinstein replied that she had no idea what she was passing up. Even in harassment and obvious coercion, the male ego prevails. To be so confident that his abuse would go unaccounted for, is indicative of a much greater problem.
We hear of sexual harassment in Hollywood regularly, but how often are the perpetrators held accountable? In most cases, such as those of Casey Affleck and Woody Allen, the attacks are reduced to gossip – the victim’s accounts are disregarded, and usually a male colleague will talk about how the perpetrator is actually a “really cool guy” who doesn’t deserve this. With that, the case is closed, and everyone becomes even more desensitized to the violence of sexual harassment.
In the aftermath of the reports against Weinstein, women all over the world participated in the “#MeToo” campaign, a platform to highlight personal accounts of sexual harassment. Women in the industry and beyond it were sharing their experiences in a jarring and eye-opening sequence. Harvey Weinstein is a despicable harasser, but he is only part of the picture. Once we take a step back, we can see that this is an industry, and a world that thrives off these power dialectics. We live in a place where abusers can comfortably continue their jobs, and their abuse, just because they have the money and the authority to do so. Young, impressionable women are forced to keep quiet for fear of losing their jobs or being terrorized after they speak out.
Film director Woody Allen says he fears that Weinstein’s scandal will end up in a “witch hunt” of the film industry. Even in pursuing and punishing sexual predators, the negative image is still attached to the victim. According to Allen – who has been accused of sexual harassment as well – holding perpetrators seems like an inconvenience to him and his colleagues.
Harvey Weinstein made too many headlines for this to be ignored or overlooked. After the public statements made by the victims, Weinstein cannot go unpunished for his actions. This is something he consciously chose to do, and an abuse he did repeatedly with no remorse. However, Weinstein is representative of a larger picture of sexual harassers, most of whom get away with their abuse. Sexual harassment is not only a crime if you are powerful and famous; sexual harassment is a crime for all, and the epidemic must be stopped, starting with us. It’s time to start speaking up.