This column may contain strong language, sexual content, adult humor, and other themes that may not be suitable for minors. Parental guidance is strongly advised.
The backlash was inevitable. Not against Harvey Weinstein, because all the vitriol and condemnation and fury directed his way are well-deserved. I’m talking about the backlash against the women who’ve come forward with their own Harvey Weinstein stories, the nausea-inducing memories of which they’ve had to suppress for years, even decades.
Owing to the celebrity status of some of the more famous women—Oscar-winning actresses and Hollywood princesses among them—who’ve spoken out about having to fend off or endure Harvey Weinstein’s grubby, persistent paws on their skin, some have questioned their previous reticence and silence as being equal to complicity, giving sex abusers and rapists a free pass to continue victimizing other women and perpetuating the cycle of non-disclosure as putting ambition or career ahead of dignity.
Quite apart from this being astoundingly cynical and ludicrously unfair, this attitude is also frightening in the way it highlights just how deeply internalized misogyny is in our global culture. Sure, don’t focus on what an absolutely repulsive, entitled and unattractive prick Harvey Weinstein is. Cast doubt instead on the women’s motives, then and now. Even Donna Karan, who built her fashion empire on the premise of female empowerment through fluid, effortless yet sexy clothing, weighed in with an uncharacteristically tone-deaf comment to the Daily Mail. “You look at everything all over the world today and how women are dressing and what they are asking by just presenting themselves the way they do. What are they asking for? Trouble,” she said, only to backtrack hours later with the familiar refrain that her words “were taken out of context.”
As Bridget Foley, writing in WWD, remarked, “Oh, Donna, Donna, Donna, Donna, Donna. Your words were not taken out of context. You spoke them into the camera, the entire gist there for the viewing. People who know you and your career and your four-plus decades of dedication to women’s empowerment find it hard to believe that you meant what you said, but you said it.”
So a serial predator all of Hollywood has known about for so long is finally exposed, and there are grumblings from some quarters that actresses are being opportunistic about coming forward now, and not, say, five, or 10, or 20 years ago when the alleged incidents happened. That in spite of the fear and trauma and disgust they felt, they still agreed to work in his movies, smiled and stood alongside him as they did publicity rounds, and even tearfully thanked him from the stage when they claimed their Oscar. How dare they suddenly act so courageous and self-righteous and talk about their own unpleasant experiences?
As if there were a textbook response to sexual assault. As if women were supposed to be so broken, so caught up in despondency, so unable to function because their lives have been ruined. Yes, sexual assault in all its forms, from unwanted sexual advances to harassment to rape, can and often shatters lives. Yes, it can plunge the woman into despair and shame. Yet, as deeply disempowering and dehumanizing as it is, women can and do find the courage to go on living, working, loving, raising families, staying sane. Some choose to remain silent about their ordeal and continue making movies. Others quietly whisper in the ears of people they trust, who just as quietly spread the word to another young actress so that she may be spared the same ordeal, a kind of Chinese telephone game where the story never gets distorted because Harvey Weinstein is so very consistent in his predatory behavior. So consistent that his company, The Weinstein Company, had included in his employment contract a clause that allowed sexual harassment as long as he shelled out the money to make it go away, according to TMZ. So brother Bob Weinstein’s convenient cop-out, that he had no idea Harvey was so “sick” was total bullshit.
A graduating scale of fines was reportedly set by the company to penalize Weinstein for every judgment or settlement that effectively ended a case of sexual harassment: $250,000 for the first settlement; $500,000 for the next; $750,000 for the third, and $1 million for the fourth and every subsequent settlement.
So, as the comedian Jim Jefferies noted, “As long as he keeps paying, he can keep groping.” No other repercussions, no desire whatsoever to change his behavior, because money can buy non-disclosure agreements.
And some people have the nerve to question why certain actresses are only coming forward now?
That’s the patriarchy for you.
There have been a few men who’ve come forward and acknowledged their complicity. And Jefferies, who concedes that his comedy shtick can veer towards the sexist and crude, admitted sheepishly but sincerely this week on his show that he had been ignorant up to that point about how clueless men really were about “what’s happening right underneath our noses… I was stupid to think that people like Harvey Weinstein were rare… Chances are that every woman you know has experienced harassment or worse.”
He went on to say that he thought of himself as “a pretty good guy with all the not-raping I’ve done. But it turns out, that’s not enough. It’s a start, but it’s not enough.”
He called on men to do more to “create a culture where women feel safe coming forward about their experiences.” And that it was important to hear women when they did speak out.
B. Wiser is the author of Making Love in Spanish, a novel published by Anvil Publishing and available in National Book Store and Powerbooks, as well as online. When not assuming her Sasha Fierce alter-ego, she takes on the role of serious journalist and media consultant.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Preen.ph, or any other entity of the Inquirer Group of Companies.