Although it’s sickening to learn of the horrible abuses that powerful film producer Harvey Weinstein levied against women who were beholden to him for jobs, recommendations, and career assistance, it is not surprising. There are Harvey Weinsteins everywhere, in every industry, and at every level of society.
Over the past 20 years, rumors of Weinstein’s proclivities were well-known in Hollywood. Floods of recent reports claim that multiple entities publicly named or accused him, only to be later paid off or swept under the proverbial rug. As a powerful man, the producer’s easy recourse was to counter-attack, labeling his accusers “gold diggers” and pretending it was all about money.
What this tactic conceals is that the victims put themselves at enormous risk in order to come forward. Unfortunately, the system is designed to keep women silent, so those who do accept such a risk often run into terrible trouble with convincing anyone – much less the police or a court system – that what they’re saying is true.
Any report of sexual assault or misconduct is disturbing, but what is particularly nauseating about the Weinstein case is just how many people aided him in either procuring women for him to assault or covering it up after the fact. This is not uncommon; serial abusers of Weinstein’s caliber often employ clandestine measures to keep their vices from the public purview. Actresses, desperate not to ruin the careers they worked so hard to establish, accepted his hush money and signed his non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) because of two factors: fear and self-preservation.
If you are so lucky as to never once have been abused, then you may have no idea just how hard it is to come forward and name your accuser, suffer intrusive examinations, and undergo scrutiny that puts the onus back on you, like “What were you wearing?” It’s even worse when you’re accusing someone who could easily destroy your career or reputation.
According to Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker, “Virtually all of the people I spoke with told me that they were frightened of retaliation.” In fact, high-profile actresses like Mira Sorvino and Rosanna Arquette have speculated that they were removed from film projects through Weinstein’s company because they came forward about him. A fear of retaliation might have stopped many from speaking up, but at least 30 have decided to do so in the past week.
Two days ago, TMZ released a clip from 2005 in which Courtney Love warned women about him on camera, saying, “I’ll get libeled if I say it… If Harvey Weinstein invites you to a private party in the Four Seasons, don’t go.” As she predicted, she was swiftly blacklisted by her talent agency, CAA. Another report that has surfaced claims Brad Pitt physically threatened Weinstein for assaulting Gwyneth Paltrow.
Furthermore, when The New York Times broke this astonishing story on October 5th, Weinstein did not deny these allegations, apologizing for them instead. When a notorious internet prankster e-mailed Weinstein pretending to be former White House Communications Director Anita Dunn, he replied, admitting, “I’m sick, I need your advice.” In the aftermath of The New York Times story, Weinstein has also been ousted from the Motion Picture Academy and The Weinstein Company, which he helped build.
[Weinstein has since gone back and issued a retraction through his lawyers that stated, “Any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein.”]
When someone is accused of a crime in America, the U.S. Constitution protects their reputation until the court of law decides their fate, declaring them “innocent until proven guilty”. Weinstein has, for good reason, been crucified by the press and found guilty by the court of public opinion, but technically, his crimes are still “alleged”. While the sheer volume of cases and witnesses will surely aid in his future conviction, if any of the matters even make it to trial, this is not always the outcome.
Statistically speaking, the majority of perpetrators in the United States don’t go to prison, which means the majority of sexual-assault victims do not get the justice they deserve. Furthermore, that statistic is derived from reported cases, and many women do not report their assaults because of the same reasons that Weinstein’s victims signed NDAs: fear and self-preservation. Why do we have so much trouble believing women when they say, “I have been sexually assaulted”?
In fact, even the terminology is constructed so as to shift the focus from men onto women. As educator and filmmaker Jackson Katz astutely pointed out, “Even the term ‘violence against women’ is problematic. It’s a passive construction; there’s no active agent in the sentence. It’s a bad thing that happens to women, but when you look at the term ‘violence against women,’ nobody is doing it to them. It just happens to them… men aren’t even a part of it!”
The silver lining to this heinous week of gut-punching headlines is that women worldwide are now bravely coming forward about their experiences. Remember when I said there are Harvey Weinsteins everywhere? Well, the initial backlash against Weinstein has led to even more high-profile men being accused – see Oliver Stone and Woody Allen, whose disgusting defense of Weinstein helped remind people of the pedophiliac abuse he has been accused of by his own daughter, Dylan O’Sullivan Farrow.
Rose McGowan’s #WomenBoycottTwitter movement has led to Twitter changing its harassment policies. Alyssa Milano’s simple but powerful #MeToo movement – which asked women who have been abused to simply put #MeToo as their status – has revealed hundreds of thousands of instances of assault. Weinstein’s unmasking also led to a movement of incredible importance within the fashion industry.
While the fashion industry’s number one consumer target is females, it also has a disgustingly hypocritical way of objectifying women for its end gains. Over a 48-hour period, model Cameron Russell used her Instagram platform and the hashtag #MyJobShouldNotIncludeAbuse to give a voice to the dozens and dozens of women who have been assaulted while working on fashion shoots as models and by scouts, photographers, and the bookers of agencies.
It’s good to see women coming forward and telling their stories, but it’s great that names are getting named.
One model recalled that even after she had made the photographer well aware that she was only 14, he insisted on shooting her in just her underwear, saying things like, “You make me want to go to jail.” Another recounted how a photographer jumped on her after a shoot and forcibly kissed her. Yet another tells of when she was touched inappropriately by a photographer when she was only 14. Their horrifying stories go on ad infinitum.
Now that a safe space is being carved out in society for women to feel comfortable coming forward and naming their abusers, change could be on the way. What is needed to make change happen, however, is women’s voices – and lots of them. By unifying together and supporting one another, women can help turn the Weinstein story from one about the status quo to a terrible anomaly of unconscionable behavior.
It’s good to see women coming forward and telling their stories, but it’s great that names are getting named. Keep telling your stories, everyone, and you will assuredly find a strong advocate in the women of Savoir Flair. We stand with you. #MeToo