Culture

We Live In A World Of Harvey Weinsteins, Now How Do We Fix it?

Something's got to give.

An astounding number of people have responded to the obscene and extensive allegations against Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein in much the same way. To quote Liza Campbell, one of the scores of women accusing Weinstein of sexual misconduct: “That train has taken way too long to pull into the station”.

As more and more allegations, settlements and even damning audio recordings come out, it’s becoming increasingly evident that Weinstein’s alleged sexual misbehaviour was one of Hollywood’s biggest “open secrets“. The extent to which it appears most of Hollywood was aware of Weinstein’s alleged misconduct, and yet still chose to — for want of a better phrase — jump into bed with him, is staggering.

Woman after woman — from powerful Hollywood actresses to vulnerable young assistants — has accused Weinstein of predatory behaviour, and yet the man has one of the most illustrious careers in all of Hollywood. Weinstein co-founded two respected film and television production companies; he is an Oscar-winning producer, for goodness sake.

For nearly three decades he has allegedly harassed, assaulted and raped women indiscriminately, all while climbing up the Hollywood ladder unchecked.

Of course, this isn’t even close to being the first story of alleged sexual misconduct or violence against women that fails to mar a powerful man’s career. However, the Weinstein scandal is perhaps the most extensive and egregious instance of a powerful man getting away with extreme behaviour that is quite clearly well known to many of his colleagues and contemporaries.

The extent to which men (and it’s always, always men) are able to behave horrifically toward women — and, as Terry Crew’s tragic revelations prove, other men — without ramifications is one of our contemporary world’s deepest and most endemic cancers.

The Unravelling Weinstein Scandal

At the time of writing, there are 32 women who have come forward to level allegations of sexual harassment, assault or rape against Weinstein. Thirty-two women, all of whom have heroically shared their story of Weinstein’s alleged sexual misconduct since the scandal officially broke last Thursday.

That is astounding. That’s huge. It’s so many women — and we can be certain, because of what we know about the difficulties women face when they come forward with sexual assault allegations, that there will be more who have not yet broken their silence, and perhaps some who never will.

The stories differ in how dangerous and disgraceful Weinstein’s alleged behaviour is depicted, how the women responded to the harassment and assault, and whether people were alerted to Weinstein’s behaviour following the incidents. But a disturbing number of details remain the same.

In many cases, women have said Weinstein invited them to his hotel rooms for what he implied would be a business meeting. This is said to have occurred when the women were in fledgling or vulnerable positions in their careers, and would benefit from the assistance of a Hollywood big wig like Weinstein. Once the women arrived, Weinstein would allegedly engineer a scenario where he was alone with them, and could make his unwanted advances without interruption.

This is a culture created and encouraged by all of us, at all levels of society.

One disturbing connection in many of the stories involves how Weinstein wields his various positions of power. He is described not only as an imposing and influential presence in Hollywood, but also as a physically imposing man — one who used his great stature to disempower and trap the women he targeted.

In her op-ed for The Cut, journalist Rebecca Traister wrote, “I remembered what it was like to have the full force of Harvey Weinstein — back then a mountainous man — screaming vulgarities at me, his spit hitting my face.” In her op-ed for The Guardian, French actress Lea Seydoux described Weinstein as “charming, funny, smart — but very domineering”, and explained, “He’s big and fat, so I had to be forceful to resist him”. Several of the women describe him chasing them around the room, “bang[ing] on the door with his fists”.

Aside from being “the most powerful man in Hollywood“, Weinstein allegedly wielded his “mountainous” stature and his “bully” persona as a weapon against countless vulnerable women. And it’s a culture created and encouraged by all of us, at all levels of society, that allows a man like Weinstein to do what he has allegedly done for decades.

It’s Not Just Hollywood

These kinds of revelations are horrific. They’re exhausting. Worst of all, they are thoroughly unsurprising. And it’s not exclusively a Hollywood issue — or even an issue just for powerful and exposed industries like entertainment, media and politics. Insidious predators like Weinstein are embedded in every industry, in every power system in our world — harassing and abusing women unchecked and unencumbered by consequences of any kind.

In fact, the Weinstein scenario reminded me of an incident I encountered in Melbourne’s tight-knit independent theatre scene. After I endured a public altercation with a well-known and powerful young man in the industry, I was contacted by several women who revealed to me their own uncomfortable encounters with this man. The fact that he was, in many women’s words, “a creep”, who was nevertheless offered dozens of opportunities to advance and succeed, was an open secret as insidious and unexamined in this small industry as Weinstein’s was in Hollywood.

When the Weinstein allegations were revealed, one Twitter user began a powerful thread asking other women who “THEIR Harvey Weinstein” was. The thread was flooded with responses from women and men sharing stories of harassment and abuse, commiserating with others who had been marred by the same harrowing and traumatic experiences.

I began to think back to scenarios that had been recounted to me over the years: of university professors offering advancement in return for sexual favours; of school teachers sharing inappropriate stories and physical contact with vulnerable young students; of two teenage girls trapped at their after-school job in a grocery store, being chased around the back office by their older male boss.

Conversations I’ve had with friends and colleagues about the Weinstein allegations all come back around to the same point: how was he allowed to behave this way, unchecked, for so long? But the truth is, in many institutions bound by power — institutions where men are at the top because of entrenched patriarchy — there is a Harvey Weinstein wielding his power for evil.

This is our world; we have built it like this.

So, What Can We Do?

It appears obvious at this point that the Hollywood gossip mill was clogged by stories of Weinstein’s alleged misconduct for years. People knew what was being said, and they did next to nothing. It’s a complicated situation because, really, what do you do when you find out this has happened? Many of us still have no idea, and predators like Weinstein rely on exactly that to get away with their destructive behaviour.

Unfortunately, the situation still bears scrutiny: who knew what, and why was nothing done to help this flood of women? First, there’s the weak sympathies of men who denounce Weinstein’s behaviour because they are “fathers” or “sons” or “husbands”. It’s not good enough to empathise with women just because you think some girl, somewhere, belongs to you. You should empathise with women simply because they are people.

It’s on men to change their behaviour and hold themselves, and each other, accountable.

I’m also becoming shocked and fatigued by the number of Hollywood insiders coming out to say they had heard rumours of his behaviour. Kate Winslet released a statement saying, “I had hoped that these kind of stories were just made-up rumours, maybe we have all been naïve”, and Glenn Close admitted to hearing “vague rumours” about the situation.

Some of that naïveté appears present in statements from people like Meryl Streep, who once referred to Weinstein as “God” in an Oscar acceptance speech, and who said of the allegations, “If everybody knew, I don’t believe that all the investigative reporters in the entertainment and the hard news media would have neglected for decades to write about it.”

Unfortunately, we now know that’s plainly untrue. Several journalists claimed they attempted to file stories about Weinstein’s behaviour, and faced enormous roadblocks along the way. The two major reports that have been published over the past week — the first from The New York Times and the second by journalist (and son of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen) Ronan Farrow for The New Yorker — were produced under the most intense conditions. They required several personal accounts from victims and mountains of corroborating evidence, along with supporting lawyers prepared to battle the inevitable onslaught from Weinstein’s huge legal team. Farrow has already revealed how NBC killed his Weinstein story before he took it to The New Yorker for publication.

So exposing these insidious terrors is next to impossible without a slew of resources; and coming out against powerful figures at great risk to one’s career (and personal wellbeing) is just as difficult. We cannot simply rely on the bravery of victims and bystanders in these scenarios. Instead, we must create a culture where the power of a man like Weinstein is not so easily used to intimidate, harm and manipulate women.

We need to demolish this behaviour, and the rape culture that allows it to germinate, from our social structures without delay, because the time we’ve waited to do this has already harmed so many people. We must revolutionise the way we educate and treat men, who are still conditioned to believe their power and desire is paramount, and can be expressed or satisfied at the expense of all others. We can no longer stand by and allow men like Weinstein — and there are many, many more, and they are everywhere — to exist and flourish without consequence.

It’s on men to change their behaviour and hold themselves, and each other, accountable for how they exert and abuse their power against those who are more vulnerable. Men need to fix themselves; it’s clear now that we cannot do it for them.

This is the 16th story I have written about sexual misconduct, harassment, abuse and assault this year — just on this website. And there are millions more stories out there I have not covered, or about which I am not aware. To be frank, I am sick to death of writing the same story over and over again; but we will keep publishing them until something changes. It’s too tragic. Something’s got to give.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.auIn an emergency, call 000.

Men can access anonymous confidential telephone counselling to help to stop using violent and controlling behaviour through the Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491.

Matilda Dixon-Smith is Junkee’s Staff Writer. She tweets at @mdixonsmith.