Allegations that a very rich,very powerful Hollywood mogul behaved inappropriately with a number of women he worked with and paid some of them to keep quiet about it would have been revelatory ten years ago. Maybe even five.
Unless you’re a woman born before 1995. If that’s the case, the only revelation is that two female reporters were allowed to conduct an investigation into the matter which the New York Times broke yesterday.
Weinstein is a man notorious for his charisma and wildly successful campaigns to gather favour for his films from the Academy and his response to the allegations is typically self aware. Nothing but a full Mea Culpa will do if his legacy of great success is to remain in tact and the relevant script has been released for our perusal:
I came of age in the 60’s and 70’s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then.
I have since learned it’s not an excuse, in the office – or out of it. To anyone.
In this post-Trump moral hinterland, a gesture towards self-awareness should be sufficient.
Even if it isn’t and he finds himself shunned by the glitterati, it won’t really matter. His voice is still louder than that of his victims. His words will still be taken more seriously than theirs. We might like to think we’ve evolved since the heady days of “Cheer up, love, it’s a compliment,” and in a lot of ways we have. But even now, as I write this, subtle exertions of power are drawing an invisible web around vulnerable people that will entrap them when the moment is right. We’re no closer to eliminating that than we were fifty years ago.
I know this because I can’t remember the number of times I’ve been nudged by men towards behaviours that made me uncomfortable. The family ‘friend’ who pulled my top to look down my chest. The builder whose site I had to walk past every day on the way home from school. He began by whistling at me and blowing kisses and ended up pulling up beside me in his car to hand me a bunch of garage roses which I then stuffed in a drawer and tried to forget about. The employer who used to walk past me in corridors and press his pelvis against me, massaged my shoulders and made sexually suggestive remarks whenever we were alone in the office.
None of these things were connected but for the shame that gripped me every time. I can’t explain it, nor can I justify my lack of calling it out, reporting it or fighting it but at least now I understand that as a young woman between the ages of fourteen and seventeen, it was not my responsibility to stop it from happening.
Nor do I have to search my soul any longer to find the part of me they assured me existed; the part of me that wanted it. I never wanted any of it. I might have been fleetingly flattered by the attention of men, but only because I’d been taught that it was the blocks with which I should build my self-worth.
To have my fear taken seriously was something that never even occurred to me. I’m sure there were people in my life I could have told but I was arguably more afraid of their reaction and the fallout than the events themselves. After all, I wasn’t physically abused. Many people were worse off than I was and, after all, maybe I should have been flattered by the attention.
Flattered. I can think of a lot of words to describe how I felt when I tried to pull away from those situations and realised I couldn’t move, but flattered has never been one of them. Terrified, yes. Ashamed? God yes. Paralysed? Yes. To blame? Certainly. After all, that builder would never had noticed me if my skirt hadn’t been skimming my thighs, if I hadn’t worn my hair that way, if I didn’t look the way I did.
I’d love to embrace the sensation of seeing an abuser brought down. To bask in the fact that Jodi Kantor & Megan Twohey’s investigation was taken seriously by the New York Times and the world. But my joy will always be tempered by the fact that millions of people are still being corralled and coerced into situations that are uncomfortable for them, by virtue of the fact that they need their job or have to walk home that way from school.
Until that dynamic is addressed, cultural standards will remain rooted in the prehistoric era, along with Harvey Weinstein and his ilk. Only a meteor strike will shift it.