Weinstein allegations show just how deep ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ culture runs

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Harvey Weinstein (main), Meryl Streep and George Clooney. The cost of speaking out became low.


Since The New York Times published their report on the sexual assault allegations against movie mogul, Harvey Weinstein, it’s as if a quiet bomb has gone off in Hollywood. At first only a few, brave actresses were willing to go on the record, among them Ashley Judd, who was allegedly assaulted by Weinstein, then Rose McGowan, who settled with the producer out of court, then Meryl Streep, who called it “disgusting”, and Lena Dunham, who wrote an op-ed for the Times on Tuesday.

With the exception of a precious few, including Seth Rogen, Judd Apatow, Kevin Smith and George Clooney, the men appeared to be dragging their feet to publicly condemn the powerful producer. Worse, there were high-powered celebrities, such as Donna Karan and Lindsay Lohan, who immediately began victim-blaming.

Then, Wednesday happened. A 2015 recording of Weinstein, attempting to coerce model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez into watching him take a shower, was released by The New Yorker. And what had up until that point been a mere trickle of condemnation from A-listers turned into a downpour, with the likes of Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Winslet, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Viola Davis, Glenn Close and Judi Dench expressing their disgust and disbelief. Even Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have released statements regarding Weinstein, as he was a major donor to the Democratic Party.

Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie spoke up about being sexually harassed by Weinstein, who has since been sacked by his own company. As of press time, other actresses are following their lead. Meanwhile, Weinstein’s wife of more than a decade, Georgina Chapman, has announced she is leaving him.

It’s an interesting moment for showbiz, an industry like so many other elite corporations (including the Catholic Church) built on the routine exploitation of human vulnerability, and a “don’t ask, don’t tell” mentality regarding such abuses of power. Lest we forget Donald Trump’s heinous boast regarding his own sexual assaults: “When you’re a star, they let you do it.” And like so many other corporations, it’s easier just to say “none of my business” if you’re benefiting from it. Or if speaking out appears too costly.

As of Wednesday, the cost of speaking out against Weinstein became low enough for everyone to jump on and release their statements. Matt Damon, who denied making a phone call to the Times to kill a story about Weinstein in 2004, said “I did five or six movies with Harvey, I never saw this”.

Clooney said “I’ve known Harvey for 20 years … but I can tell you that I’ve never seen any of this behaviour – ever”.

From Jennifer Lawrence: “I did not experience any form of harassment personally.”

From producer Jeffrey Katzenberg: “There appears to be two Harvey Weinsteins, one I have known well … and another that I have not known at all.”

From Glenn Close: “I have been aware of the vague rumours that Harvey Weinstein had a pattern of behaving inappropriately around women … Harvey has always been decent to me.”

From Charlize Theron: “Although I didn’t have a personal experience with Harvey Weinstein, I unfortunately cannot say I’m surprised.”

Are you sensing the theme? Threaded through each condemning statement is a defensive line about “knowing nothing”. There are several problems with this line of reasoning. First, it’s unlikely to be true. As Jessica Chastain said, “I was warned from the beginning. The stories were everywhere”.

Chastain is not alone. A cursory Google of Weinstein’s “open secret” of sexually harassing young actresses is all over the internet, and has been for years.

Second, the idea that if it didn’t happen to you personally it was not worth speaking up about, is exactly how predators like Weinstein are able to thrive. Indeed, these statements read less like condemnation and more like a glittering performance of hot potato: “Don’t look at me.”

Since the victims of Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly have come forward, the social norms and sexist, cowardly practice of not believing or outright dismissing survivors of sexual assault and rape has shifted ever so slightly. But one thing has not changed: the practice of powerful people not speaking up until the evidence is undeniable; until it is safe for them to do so. And yet it’s precisely this section of society – the rich and privileged – that needs to, in order to facilitate change.

For example, It’s great that Kate Winslet and Emma Stone have publicly expressed their outrage over Weinstein, but I’d like to know why they’re both still working with Woody Allen. Allen has consistently dismissed the allegation that he sexually abused his daughter, Dylan Farrow. But the facts are undeniable. The state attorney at the time said he had “probable cause” to press charges against him. The judge presiding over the case found that Allen’s behaviour towards Dylan was “grossly inappropriate and that measures must be taken to protect her”. Dylan herself wrote publicly about what happened to her.

Perhaps we will have to wait until the right sort of people – the powerful and the privileged – come forward before Allen’s career is put to rest. And then search those statements for the searing subtext, “Don’t blame me – I heard the rumours, but I never saw a thing”.



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