Comment Writer Emily Chapman argues the recent allegations on Hollywood’s Weinstein only highlights an ingrained issue of Sexism
As is becoming uncomfortably familiar to our news feeds, a Hollywood top dog is having to leave his job in disgrace after a barrage of sexual abuse allegations. Twenty years’ worth of claims made against Harvey Weinstein have finally piled up to a level that is just a bit too high for his fellow Hollywood executives to defend.
But what caught my ear on Monday, causing me to shout verbal abuse at my laptop, was what Weinstein said in defence of himself. In a statement published on the news of his ousting from The Weinstein Company, he confesses “I came of age in the 60s and 70s, when all the rules about behaviours and workplaces were different.” The innate stupidity of this statement, alongside the stomach churning concept of this man attempting to defend his hideous actions, I feel quite effectively sums up the 21st century plague that is sexual abuse; we are stuck in a system that has so far progressed in many respects that it seems some people have forgotten that it’s not okay to abuse women.
As we sit in shock, watching the statements roll in from names such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie – amongst many others – we, disturbingly, find ourselves unsurprised. Amid the whirlwind of the Weinstein allegations we have also seen the suspension of Amazon Studios chief, Roy Price, for similar offenses and for ignoring the claims against Weinstein by actress Rose McGowan. We can see how rampant sexism and sexual allegations truly are, in Emma Thompson’s recent words during a BBC interview, “endemic to the system” in Hollywood; but in fact, this disease has taken a hold (stronger than ever) in the political sphere – through the very businessmen who now run one of the most powerful countries in the world.
Less than a year ago we were perplexed by the absurdity of the news that Vice President Mike Pence does not allow himself to be in social situations with single women – or where “people are being loose” (New Yorker March 2017) without his wife with him – something which did not receive nearly as much press as I expected. It is both terrifying and laughable that the very men with the power to launch a nuclear strike cannot control themselves around a pair of breasts. I’m starting to wonder whether North Korea has caught wind of this: when we see the whole of the North Korean army swapped out for a parade of 20-year-old women in miniskirts, we’ll know why.
Every time a new scandalous statement, spouted by Trump or such-like, or allegations like the one’s we’ve seen this week cover the front pages, we take up the arms of our keyboards; we laboriously campaign, retweet, and write angry newspaper articles and for a few sweet days we are filled with pride and hope that the world is changing, feeling we have been victorious in our cause, we have changed the world!
Then our newsfeeds go quiet and, thinking we’ve done enough, expecting the few hateful men who are left to cure themselves of their rampant lack of self-control, we continue to watch films produced by The Weinstein Company. A few weeks later, the cycle begins again: an old face, a new victim. The truth only ever comes in swathes: a group of women coming forward at once, comrades in arms, with the support of each other and an army of lawyers. But it’s not just the big names that sexual abuse happens to in Hollywood; young women trying to make their way in the world are bullied and harassed into doing things they don’t want to do because they feel they have no choice, and considering the power that men who commit these crimes possess, they’re right. And when men like Weinstein and Price exist, teaming up and supporting each other in their hatefulness, it’s impossible to speak out.
This week, with faultless timing, Trump managed to chime in with a condemnation of Weinstein’s actions, claiming he was “not surprised” by the allegations. Equally, I was unsurprised by Trump’s ability to be so blatantly hypocritical – however, what I was disappointed by, was the role the feud between Weinstein and Trump played in the President’s statement – the ex-producer having been an active supporter of Clinton’s campaign last year. A sense of despair overcame me when I realised that it was not Weinstein’s actions that were acting against him, but rather his political allegiances.
Similarly, the immediate and short-term reactions we make when the news breaks are not making long term change; the abuse of women is so ingrained in Hollywood (and, to an extent, in all aspects of our society) that merely chastising the men who get caught is not enough. It’s about prevention, nipping the actions of abusers in the bud before it can spread its roots in a business like The Weinstein Company.
What gives me hope is seeing women and men band together in support of the victims of sexual abuse, both in Hollywood and elsewhere: the fact that people are still getting angry and standing against the big names who abuse their power proves that it is not yet a lost cause; but as with anything, we need to encourage people to speak out and support each other in the face of sexual abuse.