Harvey Weinstein & the silence of men: Why his conduct was accepted

Harvey Weinstein & the silence of men

Harvey Weinstein
Disconcerting doesn’t suffice. The revelations about Harvey Weinstein’s predilection for assaulting young women is one thing. The fact he assaulted so many women, so appallingly, for so long, is another thing altogether.

But the truly abysmal, unfathomable, unforgivable thing is that he was left to do so for so long without consequence, and not because his predatory ways were unknown but because they were ignored. His conduct was overlooked, dismissed and cast to the side.

Why? Because he was powerful? Successful? Too big to fall? Because he was deemed more important than every single person he violated?

It is this that makes the case of Harvey Weinstein tragically universal. Sexual harassment and assault remains rife around the world, not just in Hollywood, and it happens in organisations across the spectrum of industries. And it flourishes when perpetrators are deemed more important than their victims.

Just last month we saw a public example of this dynamic here in Australia when a promising female cadet was fired from Channel 7 after complaining about the unacceptable behaviour of an older colleague. She was forced to walk away while he remains firmly employed.

This pattern just reinforces and entrenches a culture in which harassment is permitted by default.

We now know that Weinstein’s behaviour was widely known: not just to the legions of young actresses who were at the receiving end of his lecherous advances but to many within Hollywood who were – and remain – more powerful than his victims.

It was an “open secret”.

In a fiery op-ed for The New York Times Lena Dunham zeroed in on the “reticence that Hollywood’s powerful men have shown, the collective refusal to take sides in he-said she-said narratives”.

“The reason I am zeroing in on the men is that they have the least to lose and the most power to shift the narrative, and are probably not dealing with the same level of collective and personal trauma around these allegations. But here we are, days later, waiting for Mr. Weinstein’s most powerful collaborators to say something. Anything. It wouldn’t be just a gift to the women he has victimized, but a message to the women who are watching our industry closely. They need a signal that we do not approve of the abuse of power and hatred of women that is the driving force behind this kind of behavior.”

And yet? Crickets.

As Dunham says Weinstein’s behaviour is the culprit but others were complicit too.

“It is the problem of the agents who sent their clients to meet with a man they knew was a predator, who shuffled them onto his sets. It is the problem of producers who turned a blind eye. It is the problem of actors who heard whispers but walked back to their trailers to play fantasy football. It is the problem of industry media that would not report their findings because they feared losing their place in Harvey Weinstein’s good graces. It is not, as some have suggested, the problem of the women who are afraid to come forward with their own stories or who settled financially with Mr. Weinstein.”

Since Weinstein was fired, there are more and more people speaking out against his behaviour.

It was revealed on Wednesday that Weinstein harassed Gwyneth Paltrow when she was 22. Her voice is now among those calling for the end of this conduct.

The bright spot, if there is one, is that this conduct is now being rejected. The fact it wasn’t rejected for so long is the problem that needs examining.

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