See something. Say nothing.
Yes, it’s great that famed producer Harvey Weinstein was outed in a New York Times investigation after decades of alleged inappropriate behavior against women and payouts to silence his accusers. The New Yorker released its own story Tuesday in which several women accuse Weinstein of rape. Weinstein has been fired from The Weinstein Company, which he cofounded with his brother, Bob. Deadline is reporting that the company will scrub Weinstein’s name as executive producer from its upcoming TV shows and film releases.
What can’t be scrubbed is the fact that Weinstein’s transgressions were an open secret, aided by a conspiracy of silence. Now actors who worked with Weinstein are condemning him, but also claiming they were oblivious to rumors about his behavior.
Meryl Streep called Weinstein’s behavior “inexcusable,” but added, “Not everybody knew,” about his misdeeds. George Clooney said the producer’s actions are “indefensible,” but said, “I didn’t hear anything about that and I don’t know anyone that did.” Dame Judi Dench said she was “completely unaware” of Weinstein’s “horrifying” misconduct.
I’d like to believe all of them, but they’re such good actors, these assertions of ignorance might just be their latest award-worthy performances.
Oh, and if you’re using Weinstein’s fall as an opportunity to attack “liberal” Hollywood hypocrisy, but voted for Donald Trump, have a seat. The president of the United States confessed to intimately grabbing women without their consent, and was allowed to brush off his comments as “locker room” talk. This is how rape culture takes root, and why women often opt for uncomfortable silence.
This was the case at Fox News, which has been likened to a fraternity house, until women came forward with accusations leading to the resignations of Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly. Acclaimed journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates and David Carr, the Times’s revered late media critic, admitted to hearing disturbing allegations about Bill Cosby, but neither confronted the comedian in interviews. Coates says he regrets that his failure to do so “puts me in league with people who either looked away, or did not look hard enough.”
People excel at failing to see what they don’t want to see. Yet relegating this problem to Hollywood is reductive. Every workplace has that guy — or guys — who can’t talk to a woman without resting a hand on her shoulder; whose comments about her appearance go too far; who makes inappropriate sexual jokes even after she’s made it clear that she doesn’t care for such remarks. If she mentions it to a supervisor, she risks being labeled as uptight or someone who doesn’t fit on the team. Meanwhile, her co-workers see, but say nothing.
As a young reporter attending job fairs, I quickly learned which recruiters to avoid. Stories about unseemly encounters with male journalists offering more than professional advice were rampant. (Rule #1: Never meet an editor in his hotel room.) Surely, these men’s bosses recognized the problem, I thought; yet every year, they’d show up at another conference in another city hunting for new “talent,” as one editor referred to young female journalists.
Harassers persist because enablers cloak their transgressions. They operate through intimidation and thrive in silence. Weinstein is not an aberration, either in his actions or how they were tolerated. He is the product of an ingrained misogynistic system that treats women as one of the spoils of success, and those who complain as troublemakers. The Weinstein fallout will fade, and there will still be movie moguls, teachers, lawyers, plumbers, and police officers crossing those sexual lines, and interpreting our inaction as permission.
As with Cosby, Ailes, and O’Reilly, it took too long for Weinstein to be brought low; meanwhile, women, whose names we’ll never know, suffered. Perhaps this moment can offer some small solace to them. Let it also remind the rest of us that sexual predators can’t be allowed to harass and abuse with impunity. An offending man’s privilege and power must always be challenged by the stubborn inconvenience of a woman’s truth.