Sunday, October 22, 2017

The post-Harvey Weinstein landscape

If you've paid attention to the news in the last two weeks, you've undoubtably seen the name Harvey Weinstein quite a bit. Weinstein, co-founder of juggernaut film studio The Weinstein Company, was recently fired after dozens of women in the industry publicly revealed that they had been sexually assaulted by him. The New York Times did a good job of recapping the story so far. Particularly eye-opening, there were claims of sexual assault from some of Hollywood's biggest leading women like Angeline Jolie and Eva Green. This is not to say famous women are worthier of attention, it's intended merely to highlight the extent of Harvey Weinstein's disregard for women. It takes a particular state of mind for a person to think they can assault some of the world's most high-profile women without consequence. For those interested, Jezebel has a running list of the women who have come out against Harvey Weinstein.

Beyond Harvey Weinstein, this story is significant for other reasons. This scandal has revealed quite a bit about our society, good and bad. Starting with the good, women and men alike took social media by storm with "#metoo" as a means of raising awareness and a show of solidarity in the wake of the Weinstein scandal. The hashtag was used by those who had experienced sexual assault in their own lives. As Facebook and Twitter feeds drowned in #metoo posts, many including myself reflected in horror as friends and family put a face to sexual assault and just how pervasive the problem really is. While this is nothing to feel positive about, it did at least help show the gravity of the situation. The #metoo phenomenon has led to increased conversation about sexual assault and how to remedy it. More specifically, many men responded with detailed "#Iwill" commitments to do better to prevent sexual assault in the future. 

The #metoo campaign was not entirely uncontroversial. For many it is traumatizing to see how pervasive the problem of sexual assault is, leading to a feeling of inescapability. Additionally the #metoo campaign faces the same major challenge that all other social media campaigns do, having a real effect beyond creating conversation. Hashtags, promises, and conversation are meaningless unless they can lead to real concrete action. This does not mean that the conversation is entirely useless. No matter how small a step it might be, it is in fact forward progress. 

Turning the spotlight back to Hollywood, it'll be interested to see how the industry responds. While a superficial look may make it seem like the correct steps have been taken, a deeper look reveals otherwise. The Weinstein Company decided to part ways with Harvey Weinstein but only after he first attempted to distance himself from the company by taking an indefinite leave of absence.  It's hard to keep from assuming that The Weinstein Company decided to fire Harvey Weinstein primarily as a business decision. If it had been more profitable to keep Weinstein in his position or allow him to distance himself for a while before returning, the company would have probably done that. Recent comments from industry insiders suggest that Harvey Weinstein's decades-long pattern of sexual misconduct was no secret. It is difficult to believe that the board of directors of The Weinstein Company were less privy to their co-founder's reputation than the rest of Hollywood yet they took no action until the recent outpouring of confessions. 

Melanie McFarland of Salon shares my concerns, going as far as to say, "But the grim truth is that women will find it difficult, if not impossible, to beat the Hollywood system because men in power do not want them to." It's hard not to be pessimistic, or perhaps simply realistic, about what we can expect from Hollywood in the post-Harvey Weinstein world. One of the only few things for certain in this moment is that there is a golden opportunity to correct course. With all of the recent attention on sexual assault there is no time like the present for both Hollywood and society as a whole to take the next steps towards a more healthy future. These steps will be uncomfortable, they'll require require us to be honest with ourselves about the ugly ways we've allowed people, particularly women, to suffer. The easy way out will  be to continue with business as usual but we cannot allow that to happen. We must strive to make the Harvey Weinstein scandal the watershed moment some believe that is it, not just another blimp on the radar. 

4 comments:

Aoife Mee said...

I too, am interested to see what the response of Hollywood will be to the Harvey Weinstein scandal. It is appalling to think that members of the board of directors of The Weinstein Company and other powerful people in the industry were aware of his behaviour and yet said nothing. However, I am hopeful that the public exposure of this scandal will raise awareness of the problem of sexual assault and harassment that is prevalent in nearly all of our social institutions, be it government, religious organisations, education or the world of celebrity.

I am pleased to see that so many male celebrities are now coming out and publicly condemning the actions of Harvey Weinstein, and sexual assault in general. I recently watched a BBC interview with Tom Hanks (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MHNZkKAuRY) and I was glad to see such a prominent Hollywood star speak out so forcefully against Harvey Weinstein's behaviour. When asked by the interviewer was there any chance for Harvey Weinstein to come back, Hanks answered an categorical "no". Hanks also recognises that the problem of sexual harassment is widespread because it is "built in to the rules of society". He contends that all men have a duty to condemn such behaviour, stating that, "Perhaps all men, myself included, should pipe down and not try to explain it or comment on it or certainly not try to defend it or even prosecute it because every one of those women, those 40 women I was in the room with, 100% of them need to be listened to."

Hopefully, more and more celebrities, both male and female will continue to speak out against and condemn such behaviour so that women (and men) across all institutions will be inspired to speak up about their experiences and that employers will be encouraged to take greater care to protect and support their employees by fostering safe working environments built on values of mutual respect and solidarity.

B. Williams said...

Great post Omar. I personally loved the #metoo campaign. I thought it was more effective than a typical social media campaign, mostly because I think sexual assault/harassment survives and thrives under a culture of silence. Conversation in the public sphere is the only way to make clear how pervasive the problem is. When people, who may be skeptical to how widespread the problem is or think it doesn't happen in their community, see that such a huge contingent of their friends/family have been a victim of such behavior it may make them stop and reflect on their preconceived notions and view those who come forward with more empathy.

On a personal level, I also found it cathartic to say #metoo and see that echoed across social media. It's nice to know you are not alone in your experiences, and if that solidarity gave anyone the courage to speak their truth or recognize that what happened to them was sexual harassment/sexual violence, I will count that as a success.

Suzanne Connell said...

Omar,

Thank you for your thoughtful post. If anything, the Harvey Weinstein debacle has highlighted to me just how pervasive the issue of women being believed when they claim they have been sexually assaulted actually is. If some of the world's most famous and influential women cannot be believed, then what message does this send to the countless victims across the globe who live with the reality of having suffered sexual assault? Of even importance, what message does this send to those who engage in sexual assault? That they can get away with it? While more and more female celebrities were coming forward identifying as victims of Harvey Weinstein's sexual assault, I began to see an alarming increase in comments on social media along the lines of "well why didn't they come forward sooner?", which infuriated me because even if they had spoken out earlier they probably still would have been treated with the usual air of suspicion that greets any women when they finally have the courage to speak about the injustice that has been committed against them.
I only hope that the post-Harvey Weinsten landscape produces a more accepting environment for victims of sexual abuse to come forward so that it may serve as a positive example for the countless sexual abuse victims who for years remain hidden in the wings.

Joterias! said...

Great post! Admittedly, I didn’t know about the #metoo social media campaign prior to reading your post—I think it’s great! I hope the campaign encourages more victims to come out, and to not feel ashamed. I wonder how the entertainment industry will continue to respond given the rising number of allegations against Harvey—and others, besides removing him from the Motion Picture Academy? I hope the industry takes substantive steps to foster sexual harassment-free workplaces, be it by education, internal policy changes, or a combination thereof. Given how public the entertainment industry is, it could set an example for other industries to follow. But I may be too optimistic on this point since it took years for all these allegations to surface.

Relatedly, I was impressed by men who came out as victims of workplace sexual harassment by other men. (see https://tinyurl.com/y7jgyoqa) In particular, I respect that Terry Crews took the time to express on social media why it was difficult for him to come out as a victim, and that he understood “why many women who this happens to let it go.” (see https://tinyurl.com/ybrp7f3n) His story, along with those of the numerous women who’ve spoken up, highlight just how pervasive sexual harassment is industries where powerful men “run the show,” and underscore the intimate relationship between workplace sexual harassment and power. As budding lawyers, I wonder how we, too, will fair within a firm culture mostly dominated by powerful men.