Harvey Weinstein, Sexual Abuse, and “How could we let this happen?”
By now, you’ve probably heard about the Harvey Weinstein scandal; big-name movie producer around whom rumours have swirled for years is finally fired after a series of articles detail his decades-long sexual harassment of various female employees and acquaintances. And honestly, my first reaction to this was, “well, duh.”.
Because this Harvey Weinstein thing, I’ve seen this narrative played out a hundred times or more, both with big names in the media and with men in positions of smaller power in my personal life. Think about it now: there are probably a few people you know of, or have heard people talking about, who there are whispers around, who women tell other women not to go into meetings alone with because you know how he is.
It would be boring if it weren’t so fucking infuriating: a man gets into any position of power, then abuses that power to harass, assault, or rape people with less power. Even as the Weinstein scandal was breaking, Andy Signore, one of the founders of Screen Junkies, was being fired for near-identical charges – harassment, assault, abuse of power. In a few months time, this Weinstein bullshit will be another punchline for a late-night comedian looking for an easy near-the-knuckle laugh, and there will have been another dozen scandals just like this where we shake our heads and fire people and go “but how could this have happened for so long?”.
But how can it happen? Why is is that these stories always seem to involve multiple instances of bad behaviour before anything is done? Well, it’s a double-pronged sword; we both don’t want to believe people we know, like, and respect are capable of this kind of abuse, and we make it horrendously difficult for victims of this abuse of power to report without being villified for it.
That first prong is potent: again, in your personal life, I’m sure there is at least one person who’s been accused of doing something – something like stalking, assault, abuse, or rape – that people dismiss or avoid talking about. Because it’s a hard fucking thing to accept, that maybe this person can be socially acceptable to you or your friends in many ways and have also done this awful thing. The stories we tell about rape and the people who commit similar violations have the perpetrators ghettoised, so obviously evil that there is no place for them in the real, decent, dignified world. But there is, because we carve one out for them, every time we hand-wave away an accusation with “well, he could never do that”. Yes, there are false accusations of this kind of behavior, but they are far less common that examples of it actually happening.
And, of course, when we hand-wave those accusations, we’re calling the people who make them liars. If only it ended there: we incentivise keeping your mouth shut about these kind of abuses, precisely due to the attitude I outlined above. People don’t want to think that their colleagues and friends and family might be the kind of people who could do this, and so you, the accuser, become the one at fault. Because calling you a liar is easier and quicker than acknowledging that the accused and, by extension, the people around them who misjudged them, may not be as clean-cut as they believed. You only have to look at the stories of victims who kept their mouths shut about this kind of abuse for years to see the way we push silence as the only option: yes, this person might have abused you and hurt you in unthinkable ways, but upholding the status quo for them and the people around them is more important. Put up and shut up.
So when we ask “how could this happen?” we only have to look to our own lives to find the answer. We build a perfect world for people like Harvey Weinstein to get away with this kind of shit. Because these kinds of abuses are happening now, and people you know are involved, or have been. But until we start truly supporting victims, from the bottom up, with not just the cases removed from us but the ones all too close to home, this isn’t going to stop.
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