Last week Harvey Weinstein was a ‘media mogul’. For a brief period over the weekend he was an ‘accused media mogul’. Today he is a ‘beast’ – according to hastily reworked headline epithets as the scale of his crimes becomes clear.
For this clarity, we have women to thank. Brave individuals who spoke out – many of them at the cost of their careers and professional networks. Many endured years of disbelief and others years of keeping painful experiences hidden before what is now described as an ‘open secret’ burst like a sewage bubble and released the stench of decades of sexual violence and harassment.
You’d think today those women would be carried shoulder-high across the studio lots for finally deposing a man who disgraced Hollywood. But instead they are now entering the next circle of hell that is common to so many women who report sexual violence against them: an inquisition of their inability to prevent that violence. Survivors of Harvey Weinstein’s violent, bullying behaviour are now being taken to task in massive media headlines for not speaking up sooner, for not caring about one another’s suffering – and even, yes, for ‘asking for it.’
What the Sun, the Daily Mail and so many other media manipulators choose to overlook (I won’t say forget, for I don’t believe they have forgotten any detail of this at all) is the fact that last week, Harvey Weinstein wasn’t a beast. He was the gatekeeper to a career in Hollywood – a man of vast power and influence. A man so confident in his invulnerability that widespread rumour made no difference to his behaviour. A man who treated women as prey, who hired and fired and terrified.
That more women targeted by Weinstein did not come forward is the story of women in workplaces everywhere. It is the story of a system that repeatedly fails women by placing the onus on them to document their oppression, rather than holding men to account for their actions. Just as earlier in the year, we were told that rising rates of sexual violence on trains could be tackled by segregating women rather than making men responsible for that sexual violence, so now again we are told that victims of violence are at fault for putting themselves in front of violence.
This is a failing that we see replicated across many industries and around the world. Research by the TUC and Everyday Sexism has found that over half of women in the UK experience sexual harassment at work. They found that perpetrators of sexual harassment tend to be in a position of power over the target of sexual harassment. They also found that the reality for the vast majority of women is either nothing changes after reporting the harassment or things get worse. Many women will be reading about Weinstein with shudders of familiarity.
The Weinstein case proves both that individuals can have an impact by speaking out on sexual harassment but also the woeful inadequacy of waiting for this to happen as a solution. Systemic problems need systemic solutions and that is the purpose of the Women’s Equality party.
Only by changing the structures of business and civil society to be genuinely inclusive of women can these kinds of abuses finally be stamped out. Only by creating equality for women in the media can we rewrite the story of violence against women. Some have written insightfully on the conditions that made a beast like Weinstein possible. But the many outlets blaming his victims are reinforcing the inequality that enabled his actions. Just yesterday, our Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, spoke about the slow progress towards prosecutions and convictions in rape cases across the UK. The immediate response of John Humphrys on BBC Radio 4 was to ask about false allegations against men.
The message about structural inequality must be broadcast far and wide to if we are to understand why this keeps happening and stop it. Holding the media to account for damaging and untruthful treatment of victims is a key part of that job.
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