Silence is the sexual abuser’s friend. Those who know, must speak up
The fact that Weinstein backed progressive causes including the Womens’ March, which was aimed mostly at Donald Trump, changes nothing. The Republicans have never had the monopoly on sleazebags I’m afraid…
“It’s unbelievable,” the BBC arts editor told listeners of the BBC’s Today programme. Will Gompertz was discussing sacked Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein’s alleged conduct over decades. Unbelievable is an unfortunate phrase. Gompertz did not mean that he didn’t believe the women who have accused Weinstein of sexual harassment, I guess, he was just expressing shock.
Because a powerful man being accused of abusing women both in and out of the workplace is an entirely believable scenario. In fact, it is utterly familiar. According to the New York Times, Weinstein, a major player in Hollywood for almost 40 years, has reached settlements with at least eight women after allegations of sexual abuse. He says the story is false, defamatory and has threatened to sue the newspaper.
At the weekend, the actor Rose McGowan called him a “monster” and Ashley Judd has also spoken out. Weinstein is 65 and is still a very rich man. Now fired from the Weinstein Company, he will have the time to spend time working out where it all went wrong. The ramblings in his statement to the New York Times, which were perhaps meant to be an apology for past behaviour, included this insight: “I came of age in the 1960s and 70s where all the rules about behaviour and workplaces were different. That was the culture then.” Really? So it was fine during that time to summon a script editor to your room, and, if the allegation cited is true, signal for your assistants to leave, before asking her to get in the bath with you? Have values changed that much? Regardless of what is alleged of Weinstein, has it ever been appropriate to corner a woman and masturbate into a pot plant in front of her?
No. The gloss of the casting couch and its mythology cannot hide what happened in the past. This has nothing at all to do with the desirability of female actors. This is about power.
America surely understands the relationship between pussy-grabbing and power these days? It’s hardly just a Hollywood thing, is it?
In the new media industries there has been a series of recent firings after sexual abuse allegations. The creator of YouTube channel Honest Trailers, Andy Signore, has just been fired after allegations from two women who came forward in the wake of the New York Times allegations..
Hollywood, old or new, is not the issue here. Similar allegations emerge from less glamorous places, though an invite to watch Weinstein shower, if that is what happened, is actually about as unglamorous as it gets.
What Hollywood people do have, though, is access to the media. Helen Mirren, Thandi Newton and Charlize Theron have spoken about sexual harassment, but it is still seen as pretty much a career-terminating move, as it has been, in a way, for Rose McGowan.
But for an actor’s career to end, more than one person has to be complicit in an unspoken agreement that certain behaviour is just part of the deal. The fact that Weinstein backed progressive causes including the Womens’ March, which was aimed mostly at Donald Trump, changes nothing. The Republicans have never had the monopoly on sleazebags I’m afraid.
The misplaced notion that harassment or the other kinds of inappropriate behaviour that Weinstein has admitted in his statement were just dandy in the 60s and 70s, and that now it’s all lovely, disguises a level of collusion that is present in 2017. Sexual assault is still not career-terminating for men but being vocal about being assaulted is.
In true self-congratulatory fashion, some are being praised for speaking out now that Weinstein has actually been fired. Sure, there was a joke on 30 Rock back in 2012, but even Saturday Night Live has steered clear of the subject.
The shut-down around prominent individuals who are accused of sexual assault – Bill Cosby comes to mind – is galling. Where are our screen heroes and heroines when you really need them? Activists in many fields know that for change to come, silence has to be broken. “Your silence will not protect you,” as Audre Lorde said. “Silence = death” as Aids activists used to chant.
I am not being overly dramatic here but if those who are paid to literally voice our culture are not speaking out about the abuse of women, they are part of it. The silence that still hangs around sexual assault within Hollywood will surely break. But for now it speaks volumes. Open secrets can only be maintained by complicity. Who wouldn’t want to play a part in breaking a story about young women being abused? More big names than I can count.
• Suzanne Moore is a Guardian columnist
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