When Powerful Men Enable Powerful Predators
Many of the most powerful men—in Hollywood, the media, and publishing—over many years must have heard the rumors about Weinstein. And they did nothing.
It turns out one of Hollywood’s most public champions of empowering women is a private champion of violating women. But he couldn’t have done it alone. Weinstein’s list of enablers would read like an Oscars Thank You speech.
A New York Times investigation published last week confirmed what many have referred to as an “open secret” in Hollywood: that Harvey Weinstein’s nightmarish behavior had been going on unchecked, save the occasional victim payoff, for years. Weinstein has since been forced from the company he cofounded. Board members say it was due to recently uncovered violations of a code of conduct. All fixed.
Pardon my French, but that’s fucking bullshit.
The fact that Weinstein was able to continue his alleged behavior—Rose McGowan alleges a rape, Ashley Judd alleges severe harassment and intimidation, a former TV reporter alleges he masturbated into a plant in front of her, plus too many more to mention in a single column—for this long is not because he was particularly secretive. It was because people who were in a position to stop him did nothing.
I’m not implying that the women he allegedly victimized should have spoken up sooner. In some cases, they did. Ashley Judd did, in 2015. Rose McGowan did. And those that didn’t were likely acting rationally. Leveling charges this serious against somebody with this much sway is a little like setting off an atomic bomb with yourself at the center. Some women, like Gretchen Carlson, have survived such a move, albeit dinged. Others have found themselves immediately vaporized, untouchable. Most of them have.
Nor am I implying that it was on more powerful actresses like Meryl Streep or Judi Dench to drag Weinstein’s actions into the light. For all their visibility, even the most powerful actresses have a scant amount of power compared to the Harvey Weinsteins of the world.
For all its liberal pontificating, Hollywood isn’t exactly a bastion of equality. Almost all of the positions of power in the entertainment industry are held by men, men like Weinstein, men who have the power to make or destroy somebody’s career. Men like the members of the Weinstein Company board, other film executives, directors. Scores of men who could have done something, but instead did nothing.
The Times’ account notes that a memo detailing the power disparity between Weinstein and the women he allegedly victimized was circulated among his company’s board years ago.
And they did nothing.
Outside of the Weinstein board room, rumors circulated for years. Weinstein’s misdeeds were an “open secret,” and it’s fair to assume that at some point, one or more of the people privy to this secret was a person who could have made a difference would have heard about it.
And the masters of the Hollywood universe did nothing.
Outside of Hollywood, entertainment reporters and executives heard the rumors. Surely the head of a large publishing house, a major newspaper, a news organization could have started pulling levers?
The most powerful men in media did nothing.
Reporting rape or sexual assault anywhere is difficult. The process of pursuing justice in the wake of sexual misconduct can itself be draining and damaging to survivors.
Accusing somebody powerful in one’s own industry—any industry—of sexual misconduct is a moonshot.
And in an industry as stratified and competitive as Hollywood, when the victimizer has almost godlike power over careers, the factors that dissuade women elsewhere from reporting sexual violence are only magnified. It’s not just that people were trying to save their own careers; they were trying to save their families and friends from the fallout that could have come from going after Weinstein.
In circumstances like this, it’s the responsibility of the more powerful to fight on behalf of the weak. And the powerful dropped the ball.