Harvey Weinstein being a sexual predator ain’t news. Harvey Weinstein’s predatory ways making the news is news. Let me rephrase: if you are shocked about the story, you haven’t been listening. When I saw the news headline about over 30 years of sexual assault and rape allegations against the powerful film executive coming to light, I was shocked only about the fact that he was being brought to justice; that the media was actually taking his accusers seriously, and that perhaps some powerful blockade to the whole secret getting out had finally somehow been toppled.
Harvey Weinstein is the rule, not the exception. Women in the entertainment industry prepare themselves to interact with the likes of him because he is this industry. Just like women who aren’t in the entertainment industry prepare themselves to interact with men like him, because the entire world is littered with them. As actresses, before business meetings, auditions, post-show pow wows and the like, we calculate our moves in order to kill all possible interpretations of blurred lines. We might tone down the outfit just one more notch, or get suspicious about audition locations. We tell friends or parents where we’re going, or maybe bring a manager. Because if we haven’t had our unwanted-sexual-advance story unfold yet, we are almost always wary of it being around the next corner.
In the days since Harvey Weinstein and his predatory ways have been outed, my Facebook feed has been flooded from fellow women theatre-makers sharing their own stories of sexual harassment. Some aren’t restricted to the entertainment industry, but instead come from the
offices of corporate America. Others are emails, copied and pasted, of correspondence between friends and assistants or supervisors after attempts at sexual harassment have been thwarted. Over the years since graduating college and entering the job market, friends who are waitresses have talked through with me about whether or not they should quit their jobs, or continue to withstand unwanted advances from a manager in order to make rent.
As a female New York City theatre actor still climbing the ranks, I find myself fortunate to never have been confronted with the dilemma of choosing between a dream role (or even just a decent one) and the decision to call someone out for sexual abuse (I also, now that I think about it, have thus far worked with mostly women directors, stage managers, playwrights, etc). But I have been made to feel dirty on my walk from the train to my front door. I have had my arm grabbed in the street only to find myself startled into looking into the desperate, thirsty eyes of a strange male begging for my number in a low, muffled voice. That is simply one end of the rape-culture spectrum, the other end of which sits men like Harvey Weinstein. They are not separate, isolated instances.
Weinstein’s practices are so normal, they’ve been openly satirized for years now in speeches at award shows, in interviews on late night talk shows, and even on an episodes of comedies like “30 Rock.” While you’re reading the accounts Weinstein’s survivors have shared, you might find that you know the story already, because Hollywood has even written films about them. It’s what has always made me skeptical when I hear a man claim a woman has “slept her way to the top.” I’ve always wondered, what if she was raped to the top, and the story has been rewritten? Because America has a habit of rewriting history to suit itself.
So what now? He has been “fired” (we’ll see what how much weight that word still holds in two years), and he’s heading to “rehab” (you know, instead of jail, where predators really should go). His wife has left him, and countless women are still dealing with the complex cocktail of emotions that comes with surviving sexual assault. But how do we do something about it?
It starts with men. Men in the top spots and men out here living regular lives. As a society we have spent centuries instructing women on how to avoid rapists and abusers, rather than making sure we raise men who don’t rape or abuse people. It’s like teaching a person how to avoid murder without criminalizing murderers. I’m not sure if anybody has noticed, but that way hasn’t been working. It doesn’t matter how long a woman’s skirt is, or how high their neckline is, because men, for the most part, still grow up believing they have some kind of ownership over women’s bodies. I watch men egg on their young sons, plant little seedlings of sexual dominance over women in their heads, subtly or not so subtly, encouraging them to “smash” women left and right, and referring to women as objects (literally: a “joint,” a “ting,”). This is why it’s astonishing to women when we find a straight man who isn’t simply a robot programmed to hit a high score.
Then, generally, the dudes who aren’t following that path don’t want to share their wisdom with the homies. They don’t want to check their friends who are closer than they are to Harvey Weinstein on the spectrum, because men respect each other’s right to do whatever they want more than they respect women’s right to do what they want- and that is to the detriment of the whole human race.