The Weinstein Debacle: How This Happened in 2017

The Weinstein Debacle:

How This Happened in 2017

Photo Courtesy of Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Samsung

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As the stories continued to trickle out this week 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-know 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.”

-Cheri Ellefson

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, in 2017 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?

Amy Corcoran

The Associate Editor of SWAAY: Amy is an Irish writer, avid foodie and feminist with an insatiable appetite for novels and empowering women's writing. She has enjoyed calling Dublin, Paris and now New York her home.

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