Movie Mogul Harvey Weinstein has been convicted of rape. But the problem is much bigger and more insidious than a few bad men, writes Victoria University’s Jan Jordan.
In May 2017, New York Times journalist Jodi Kantor had a conversation with Hollywood actress Rose McGowan that began the downfall of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, who was on Monday convicted of sexual assault by a New York jury and faces further charges in Los Angeles.
Following Kantor’s article, the producer of multiple successful films from Kill Bill to The English Patient was under watch for sexual predation against women ranging over three decades.
What McGowan imparted was clearly bigger than her own experience of sexual assault. All the studios paid out money to silence women, she said, and no actress wanting a future dare speak out. In her case, Weinstein’s team quickly moved in with a US$100,000 payout conditional on her silence, money she said she donated to a rape crisis centre.
As more of Weinstein’s history became known, many wondered why women had not spoken out. Even more puzzling, why hadn’t all those around the producer who knew of his exploits exposed him? As well as the lawyers and many studio employees, this included those he used as accessories to bring women to his hotel rooms for business meetings, women he euphemistically called ‘friends of Harvey’. His female assistants were asked to prepare the room, including ensuring the sexual aids he needed to perform were readily available.
Weinstein traded on silence. His power, wealth and control within the industry maintained his mastery in a game where others were simply his pawns. Actresses were persuaded into compliance by promises and veiled threats. One of Weinstein’s lines being to name highly successful women like Gwyneth Paltrow as previous ‘friends’ – “and look where she is now”. Paltrow has since described how re-violating his comments felt, how his using her name made her feel irrationally culpable in relation to subsequent victims.
Weinstein also traded on fear. Actresses feared for their future acting careers, while employees feared losing their jobs and being maligned through the industry. While rumours existed for years, and many men knew of Weinstein’s sexually assaultive behaviour, they too feared for their own futures. A code of masculine solidarity no doubt kept some from speaking out. Weinstein was performing the brand of heterosexual masculinity that views women as potential conquests, and themselves as entitled to conquer.
McGowan pointed to the practice being more widespread than Weinstein. She was right. It is not simply a case of a few bad men, but a systemic issue emanating from our centuries of patriarchal legacy. Since the New York Times story ran in 2017, the ‘Weinstein effect’ has expanded attention to many other work environments where men use their positions of dominance for their personal sexual gratification. Take law firm Russell McVeagh in our own country, for instance, where senior lawyers considered their sexual harassment of aspiring young female interns acceptable.
Nor can we stop there. Within the context of many relationships, in the confines of many homes, there are men who act from positions of their own entitlement to the bodies of the women they know, even love. Research shows women ‘agree’ to sexual practices they do not want, accept levels of pain and injury, and stay silent – this is ‘normal’, they think. Unfortunately, for far too many women, it is.
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