Outlets around the world are reporting that legendary Hollywood film executive Harvey Weinstein has allegedly sexually assaulted scores of women over his extensive career. The Harvey Weinstein scandal should serve as a larger wake up call for our society. We have to stop doing something we’re all guilty of; sticking our heads in the sand and pretending that certain societal issues don’t exist.
The news first broke a few weeks ago that Harvey Weinstein has allegedly sexually assaulted – or even in some cases allegedly raped – actresses in Hollywood. It’s a classic tale – one so played out there’s even a term for it; the casting couch. This refers to a practise where prominent people in Hollywood promise starring roles to budding actresses or actors, in return for sexual favours.
The scale of Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual misconduct has become all too glaringly apparent within the past few weeks. Numerous big names have accused the man of these crimes, including A-Lister’s such as Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow. It has also emerged that whenever he stayed in French film industry centre Cannes, Weinstein’s alleged illegal actions and barbarous demeanour were so renowned, staff at hotels where he stayed nicknamed him ‘the pig’. As of the time of writing, almost 60 women have accused Weinstein of either sexual assault or rape, it’s that serious.
Hashtag me too
The media attention surrounding the Harvey Weinstein scandal has had one very positive effect. It has given other victims the confidence to reveal their own stories of sexual abuse, shining a light on one of society’s most endemic issues. And I’m not just talking about victims of Weinstein. Just look at Tony Goldwyn; a US actor who has a leading role on hit TV series Scandal. He has just admitted that he was subjected to the ‘casting couch’ by a male director years ago, adding his voice to the growing chorus who are determined to tell society a few harsh home truths.
It’s not just prominent Hollywood actors and actresses who are now coming forward with their stories of sexual harassment or abuse; it’s everyday people as well. American actress Alyssa Milano asked people who have suffered from these acts to join the #MeToo campaign on Twitter to highlight this issue. According to the BBC, the hashtag has been used over 200,000 times, with people sharing countless stories that they were afraid to tell until recently. This is a positive step forward, but it also reminds us that as a society, we find it very hard to talk about delicate issues such as sexual abuse, giving perpetrators the cover they need to keep committing these crimes.
Did they know?
Despite the scale of Harvey Weinstein’s alleged behaviour, it seems that the vast majority of Hollywood remained oblivious to his transgressions. There are clues that some actors at least had an inkling. Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, for example, made a cutting joke about Weinstein’s alleged sexual misconduct at an awards ceremony a few years ago, and has now since admitted that he had some idea of what was going on. Also, footage recently surfaced showing American singer Courtney Love warning young women to stay away from Weinstein in a red-carpet interview.
An interesting case study is A-List actor Matt Damon, who has worked on various Weinstein productions. When the scandal broke, he claimed he had no idea of what Weinstein was allegedly doing. But the Daily Mail reports that he has since admitted that he had been informed of Weinstein’s alleged attack on Gwyneth Paltrow, but maintains that he did not know the scale of Weinstein’s behaviour. In this same interview, A-List actor George Clooney admitted that he knew that Weinstein had numerous sexual encounters. Clooney added that he “didn’t necessarily believe him quite honestly, because to believe him would be to believe the worst of some actresses who were friends of mine.” Clearly Weinstein’s alleged behaviour was somewhat known in tinsel town.
Both Damon’s decision to keep quiet, and Clooney’s inability to even comprehend that something darker was going on, are both highly indicative. It’s clear that as a society, we often prefer to bury our heads in the sand rather than confront a serious problem, especially if we don’t have concrete evidence. This is understandable; to do something as risky as confront alleged sexual abuse without concrete evidence – especially when the perpetrator is powerful, and the issue in question is an uncomfortable one to discuss – is a brave thing to, so many just ignore the problem instead. There are various cases which suggest that this behaviour is more widespread than we might realise.
Here in the UK, the Harvey Weinstein scandal adds to a conversation that as a society, we’ve been having for a few years. It emerged in 2012, The Guardian writes, that popular British entertainer Jimmy Savile sexually abused children during the height of his fame. This was deeply shocking – Savile had practically been a national treasure before this came out, but it soon became obvious just how wrong we all were about him. There are allegations which imply that Savile sexually abused up to 500 vulnerable people. Sometimes he did it by gaining access to public institutions such as hospitals, showing just how the powerful leverage their influence in society to commit crimes.
Over the following few years, various public figures were accused of committing sexual crimes and some – like entertainer Rolf Harris, were found guilty. We have also seen the emergence of sexual misconduct claims stateside. Various figures including iconic entertainer Bill Cosby and controversial Fox News host Bill O’Reilly have been accused of sexual harassment, sexual assault or rape. It makes you wonder how this issue was kept quiet for so long. Yes, the alleged/proven perpetrators leveraged their influence to silence their victims; Weinstein is said to have threatened to ruin peoples’ careers if they talked. But if as a society we’d been more willing to talk about these issues in the open, maybe the victims would have felt comfortable to come out with their stories earlier.
I’m not trying to play the blame game; I just think that collectively, we need to do better. It’s not just sexual crimes that we often look away from. There are numerous issues we ignore, and in our ignorance we’re all just making things worse. We decide not to talk for the same reason anyone who was aware of Weinstein’s alleged sexual crimes kept quiet. These issues make us feel uncomfortable, as they force us to examine our own lives, making us realise we often look away when we shouldn’t.
Let’s look at the issue of homelessness as an example. We all know that there are people who are homeless. We all know that it’s wrong to let these people live on the streets. But who among us can say that we actually do anything about it? I will readily admit that there are times where I’ve walked past a homeless person because I felt uncomfortable – I felt as though it was easier to walk away, than confront an issue that seems so large I wouldn’t even know where to begin to help. The BBC notes that there are over 250,000 homeless people in the UK alone. We are one of the richest nations on earth – there should be nobody in a country as wealthy as the UK living on the streets. Yet they are, and the rest of us – myself very much included, choose to look away rather than help.
We could say this about a range of other societal problems. We shop at discount clothing stores, even though we know that many of their goods are made in unsatisfactory working conditions by people living in the developing world. We use cars and planes to travel, even though we know that using these modes of transportation exacerbates global warming. We continue to eat meat, even though many of us are aware that these animals are forced to live in abhorrent conditions. We keep reading celebrity gossip magazines, even though it’s obvious that these publications often invade said celebrities’ privacy. And the list goes on and on, while as a society, we continue to ignore it all.
It’s vital that we see the Harvey Weinstein scandal as a wake up call. It’s time to stop burying our heads in the sand, and start changing the way we live, so we can create a better world. Saying all of this is one thing, making those all-important change is another, as for whatever reason whether it be convenience, necessity or bull-headedness, it’s easier to ignore problems that sometimes seem unsolvable. If we all resolve to do better, then we will – it really can be as simple as that.