National Column: Weinstein only shunned after public outcry

by Shree Paradkar

Things are looking up for Harvey Weinstein.

You could say the slew of sexual harassment accusations against him reported in the New York Times last week had placed this blindingly high wattage Hollywood producer on the path to qualifying for the United States presidency.

On Tuesday morning, he moved a few notches up on the predato-meter – from Donald Trump to Bill
Cosby, after the New Yorker magazine published its own bombshell 10-month investigation revealing three allegations of rape among the 13 accusations of sexual misconduct, allegations that a representative for Weinstein denied.

Oh, he was better than Cosby, though. Or so he thought. In the New Yorker, Weinstein’s temporary front-desk assistant Emily Nestor says that on her second day at work, after she rejected his advances, Weinstein told her he’d “never had to do anything like Bill Cosby” by which “she assumed that he meant he’d never drugged a woman” to coerce them, setting a strangely low bar for consent.

As the floodgates opened, by Tuesday, Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow were among those who alleged misconduct.

Yet the now growing condemnation of Weinstein has been shamefully slow to arrive. The New York
Times investigation was released Oct. 5. Weinstein was fired from the Weinstein Company Oct. 8. It was only by Oct. 9 – a.k.a. a lifetime in a Hollywood news cycle – that major stars began their condemnation; presumably they had now deemed it safe enough to do so.

The man who, a survey found, was thanked in Oscar acceptance speeches more frequently than God, must be puzzled by the A-listers distancing themselves from him, by the company that sacked him when he was doing exactly what he had always done.

“We’ve normalized this bad behaviour and we rationalize it because ëlook at the great contributions these guys are making,'” author Mark Lipton told the Los Angeles Times. He interviewed several of Weinstein’s employees for his book, Mean Men: The Perversion of America’s Self-Made Man.

So let’s be clear here. Weinstein hasn’t lost out because he did wrong. He is being shunned because he was found out.

Being somewhat discreet gave others licence to fete him as a genius. Exposed, he became a liability.

His alleged behaviour may have flourished in an era when few dared to speak out, but it continued to be endured even as intolerance of sexual misconduct grew. Witness the reaction that followed Trump’s crassness caught on tape, or the outrage that followed sexual misconduct allegations at Fox News that felled CEO Roger Ailes and anchor-in-chief Bill O’Reilly. I shudder to think how many more toxic power dynamics still flourish.

Meryl Streep called Weinstein’s behaviour “inexcusable,” but that “not everybody knew.”

“If everybody knew, I don’t believe that all the investigative reporters in the entertainment and the hard news media would have neglected for decades to write about it,” she told HuffPost.

Yet, French actress Emma de Caunes told the New Yorker, “I know that everybody – I mean everybody – in Hollywood knows that it’s happening.”

And the New Yorker reporter Ronan Farrow wrote, “previous attempts by many publications, including The New Yorker, to investigate and publish the story over the years fell short of the demands of journalistic evidence. Too few women were willing to speak, much less allow a reporter to use their names, and Weinstein and his associates used nondisclosure agreements, monetary payoffs, and legal threats to suppress these myriad stories.”

George Clooney said he had heard rumours but thought they “seemed like a way to smear the actresses and demean them by saying that they didn’t get the jobs based on their talent, so I took those rumours with a grain of salt,” he told the Daily Beast.

Men can have the privilege of distance. They can treat sexual misconduct rumours as gossip, innocuous word play, a sideshow with minimal impact on their lives or careers. For women, particularly those just launching their careers, it’s about the risk of bodily harm, emotional trauma and risk to financial freedom.

Whom can they turn to for support? The Weinstein Company’s human resources? Dear HR boss: I need you to tell off the man whose money pays your mortgage and feeds your family.

Paltrow – raised in a Hollywood family – was lucky to be able to turn to Brad Pitt for support after rejecting Weinstein’s advances. (Pitt asked Weinstein to lay off, the New York Times reported Tuesday.)

If the film industry was truly a family as Hollywood types refer to it, vulnerable young women asked to trade sex for work, too, would be able to lean on established veterans such as, say, a Streep or Clooney.

That doesn’t appear to be happening.

It’s time for Hollywood to support an independent arms-length professional body with specialists in sexual harassment – and journalists. Yes, journalists.

While the agency would offer free counsel for women reporting sexual misbehaviour, their reports would be investigated by the journalists. Those that pass the journalistic sniff test – they are defensible against libel – would be published on the agency’s website.

I first came across this journalistic aspect to justice in an opinion piece in the New York Times last summer about bringing rapists to justice.

In it the writer says, “It is time to accept that the criminal justice system may never be capable of providing justice for the vast majority of sexual assaults.”

Given recent developments, it’s also time to accept that film industry networks are inadequate to the task of protecting women’s workplace rights in Hollywood.

The show must go on, but without systemic supports in place, it can only be a diminished one.

Shree Paradkar writes about discrimination and identity. You can follow her @shreeparadkar
Copyright 2017-Torstar Syndication Services

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