As the stories continued to trickle out about movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment history, many of us were not in the least bit surprised. But as someone who worked as a waitress in a restaurant he frequented, the headlines not only were unsurprising, but echoed the slimy behavior I'd been privy to.
Having just moved to the city from Dublin in September of last year, I was certainly not used to the caliber of celebrities one is deigned to serve in its posher parts, and Weinstein ended up being one of the Hollywood elite I would see on a regular basis.
A lunch/dinner regular, as my former colleague explains, Weinstein was easily the grisliest of the celebrity set, boasting the table manners of a four year-old and a temper the likes of which I hadn’t seen since middle school. It was, however, the well-known producer's evening exploits that really caught my attention.
In a tale as old as time - it’s inevitable that man will abuse the gross power with which he is betrothed. Julius Caesar, Benito Mussolini, King Henry, Bill Cosby, Jimmy Savile, Bill O’Reilly, when you’re at the top - you decide who lives or dies; you’re in charge of people’s successes.
Weinstein was in charge of the Hollywood hopefuls, the dreams of too many, and therein lay his opportunity for miscreance: power. So when he came in and sat at the back of a restaurant at night time, with a girl forty years his junior - bright eyed and bushy tailed, there was only one reason I could safely assume for the interaction.
Harvey Weinstein and Rose McGowan. Photo Courtesy of Jeff Vespa/WireImage
I would witness these girls filter in, I cringed at their youth, knowing the sequence of events that was sure to ruin their evening, knowing the inevitable trip upstairs was about to take place. Were they meant to speak up or was I? If Weinstein and Co. had it their way, everyone would have remained silent, forever.
Naturally though, when a story of this magnitude breaks, with a man of such consequence, history infers that it was the woman’s fault in some way, shape or form.
Much of my final year studying English Literature was dictated by this idea - that when women in history, literature, society are in situations of distress, they are poised as one of two characters: the weak, pathetic, damsel in distress, and the life-sucking vampiric seductress: two of the oldest female tropes in storytelling. In fact as far back as Greek mythology, there are even allusions to rape.
“The seductress and damsel in distress archetypes are as old as greek mythology," comments Cheri Ellefson, Gender Studies expert. "Though the term rape culture was coined in the 1970s, we know that both the rape of women and the justification and normalization of such violence were commons themes of Greek and Roman myths. In the story of Zeus and Leda, Zeus transforms into a swan and rapes Leda; Zeus simply could not help himself.”
“The assumption that men cannot 'help themselves' when faced with 'temptation' is just as harmful as the 'damsel in distress' and 'seductress' stereotype placed on women."
Not only does this labelling place genders in restrictive boxes, but it also perpetuates violence. "Men rape because they 'can't help it' and women either need men's protection - or are blamed for their own rape. This is why girls are told to 'cover themselves up' at school (again, this myth that men are somehow biologically unable to resist sexual urges) and why sexual harassment inquiries still demand to know: 'What were you wearing?'”
Similarly, in perhaps one of the most respected war novels, Erich Remarque’s All Quiet On The Western Front: women mostly fell into two categories - the flailing damsel or the seductress - women innocent of war, free of the burden of death, of savagery - the untouched ones. These portrayals negate the idea that women are actual human beings with feelings and agency; that they have a brain. You can imagine my surprise and horror to find comments under the many articles written about Weinstein - from the New York Times exposé; to the New Yorker audio recording; to the personal victim statements issued in Variety, that feed right back into this archaic notion.
“How do we display ourselves? How do we present ourselves as women? What are we asking? Are we asking for it by presenting all the sensuality and all the sexuality?”
- Donna Karan
What use is it placing women into these thoroughly useless buckets? What does society gain from stripping away our humanity? Why can’t men like Weinstein realize these girls - the Judds, Mcgowans, Argentas - the nameless models and aspiring actresses just be humans, rather than fictional characters conspiring to throw him out of a job?
While it may be easy to say: “well if she hadn’t been in the hotel room,” or "if she hadn't worn such a short skirt," how infuriating the implication that any action a woman makes warrants the assault of another. If a Hollywood producer asks you somewhere - whether it’s the middle of the desert or Azerbajan, you go, not because you desperately want to see his saggy balls and aging body under a robe, but because he’s HARVEY WEINSTEIN and he makes stars.
Why is there the insinuation that these girls wanted this encounter - how naive, how ruthless the assumption. These girls wanted a handshake, a promise. Not a tug and a pat down
What, in all sincerity, is the benefit to calling these women ‘ladder climbers’ or poor infantile, helpless girls?
Gwyneth Paltrow and Harvey Weinstein. Photo Courtesy of PEOPLE
Men, and the Donna Karans of the world place women in the driver's seat of their own abuse, in order to detract from their heinous behavior, but also - because the can. When you have the aid of internet trolls everywhere proclaiming the incorrigible question on all of their lips: why didn't they say something, you have pause to create reasonable doubt and cast a shadow over the accusations and allegations spanning over decades. And people will still ask - through all this - why they didn't come forward sooner.
The reason is simple. No woman wanted to be the woman who cried "Wolf: Weinstein."
No woman wanted to be the promising young actress whose career went up in flames because she had the audacity to call out Hollywood heavyweight Harvey over a cringey session in a hotel room. And can you blame them? As he said, in his own words, "you don't want to make an enemy of me," and who in their right mind wants to find out what that might means?
Woody Allen and Harvey Weinstein. Photo Courtesy of Kevin Winter/Getty Images
What really would have happened if Paltrow or Jolie had came forward at the time - too young to know better - too young for their names to be established? Would they now be a relic of a time when women’s voices were literally just that, a voice? When theirs was merely a pretty face to add to the 'real talent' of Ewan McGregor, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon - would we even know them today?
And is this the very reason 71 per cent of women say they wouldn't come forward if they were sexually harassed? At least according to some experts it is.
"As a woman, if you speak out about an uncomfortable situation with a male, you are putting yourself out there to be judged and attacked." remarks Holly Caplan, author of Surviving the D**k Clique: A Girl's Guide to Surviving the Male Dominated Corporate World. "The vultures are waiting. It is safer and easier to not say anything at all. If you consider Angelina Jolie’s recent remarks on Harvey Weinstein, she says she faced his inappropriate behavior years ago and made the decision not to work with him again and to warn other women. This was safe, and plenty of women probably handled it the very same way. This doesn’t stop the monster though. The downside is if you stand up and talk about it, you are putting yourself on trial to be judged, and your own credibility will come into play. Women are afraid to step into this zone, which is why it has taken so many years for all of this to come out. To do so, you have to be brave and bullet proof.”
If we stop placing women in buckets - enclosing them in these structures, we can finally begin talking about them as humans, as we would any man in their situation.
It happened, these actresses were too afraid to talk about it, and now, finally, they're able to share, thanks to the support welling up around them. As crusader Gretchen Carlson says, "I think that women collectively, especially millennial women, need to take the bull by the horns on this issue." Not only does Carlson advocate for bringing sexual harassment to the forefront of the conversation, she also wants men involved. "Collectively we need to have each other’s backs on this issue."
"Our culture makes it okay to do this the same way at one point in time it was acceptable for children to be hit by parents and teachers," says Heather Monahan, women’s empowerment and business expert. "We are a species that is constantly evolving and growing, therefore hopefully becoming more educated. To lean on the excuse that we come from an age where this was initially tolerated is exactly like lighting up a cigarette on an airplane today. I suggest Harvey Weinstein tries this idea in the spirit of his excuse and sees how that works out for him."
In 2017, power is shown through business, money, connections. Power is who you are, the people you know, and above all else - who knows your name.
Weinstein was a Hollywood hero - countless actors and actresses have attributed their successes to the man - Hillary Clinton has enjoyed many a Harvey-hosted party during election times, Meryl Streep got up in front of the world and called him ‘God’. Everyone in the industry knew Weinstein’s name - even if you didn’t. He was the man.
And as the bells knell on another long day for him in the news, one can’t help but envision a future where Harvey has become a cautionary tale, and he plays both the seductress and the damsel - a warning to all the other sexual miscreants out there wielding any kind of power - that this abuse is a thing of the past, as it has ruthlessly, and unabashedly ruined Weinstein’s future in the film industry.
The question now remains to be seen over the coming months and years: is the Weinstein saga, as disgusting as it was, potentially the harbinger for change?
This post was first published 10/17
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.