The sordid revelations emanating from Hollywood this past week have all the hallmarks of a melodramatic blockbuster. Never before has the notion of the 'casting couch' been more starkly exposed as the story of Harvey Weinstein's systematic sexual predation upon aspiring young actresses rapidly unravels. All business leaders and entrepreneurs have something to learn from the salutary lessons of the whole tawdry tale.
And now the inevitable questions. How did Weinstein manage to get away with his deplorable behavior for so long? Why did it take the explosive whistle blower article from the New York Times to finally unearth the truth? And why only now are the many women who were preyed upon by Weinstein coming forward to tell their stories?
Bianca Fileborn is a Lecturer in Criminology at UNSW and she has focused on the reasons why, after years of silence, the proverbial dam has been breached and there is a veritable flood of accusations about Weinstein dating back to the 1980's. Fileborn has indicated that there are 9 reasons why this should be the case:
- Fear of not being believed.
- Scared that their experience would be dismissed or trivialized.
- Belief the incident wasn't serious enough to tell anyone about.
- Fear of retaliation from the perpetrator.
- Believing there was nothing that could be done about it.
- Wanting to move on from or forget the incident.
- Confusion about what happened.
After reading the accounts of several of Weinstein's victims, including the likes of Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Beckinsale, all of these factors played a part in them choosing to remain silent.
Fileborn goes on to say that the root cause of sexual abuse at work, whether it be verbal or physical, is an imbalance of power. He described himself as a 'god' in the movie industry who could literally make or break the burgeoning careers of many young actresses. And the harsh truth? It was true, which makes all those people who turned a blind eye to his nefarious activities somehow complicit in the crimes against his victims.
That was until Rose McGowan decided it was time to blow the lid off the scandal. And yet for months McGowan herself was pilloried by the industry who refused to believe her side of the story. This was despite the fact that she was paid $100,000 by Weinstein in 1997 to guarantee her silence after she was subjected to an act of sexual violence at the Sundance Film Festival. Now the industry is listening but also believing.
So why did the industry decide that Weinstein's behavior was seen as acceptable whilst the comments of McGowan were marginalized? Again, Fileborn offers us some insight into this anomaly. She believes that the cultural attitudes in Hollywood had become both "normalized and rationalized" because it was widely accepted that senior figures were simply expected to take advantage of young women. And so, in turn, any "occurrence of sexual harassment and assault is reframed as acceptable".
Blogger Megan Williams covers similar territory in her article 'Harvey Weinstein and the Feminist Man' where she states:
"There is no denial that we still exist within a culture, perpetuated by the likes of Weinstein's defenders (who are not limited to influential men by any means, and include the likes of Donna Karan, Lindsay Lohan and feminist attorney Linda Bloom), where women face adversity every day"
The unfortunate, but sadly undeniable, truth is that this type of predatory behavior is not the solitary domain of the movie industry. It prevails in a whole host of industries where men abuse their positions of power to intimidate their female colleagues.
Just last year Erin Johnson, the Chief Communications Officer at the advertising agency J. Walter Thompson accused CEO Gustavo Martinez of sexual harassment. It seems he made various comments referencing rape which he made about her to around 60 senior employees which was also captured on video. One week later, Martinez was fired.
I've spoken to a number of senior female colleagues to see if they have ever experienced inappropriate sexual references or approaches towards them in the workplace. The appalling answer was that every single one of them had suffered to some extent. From cat calling to groping, often in front of other co-workers and yet nothing was done about it.
If there is one positive to be taken from the whole Weinstein debacle, it's that this type of appalling behavior will no longer be tolerated. We cannot condone any kind of company culture that accepts women being sexually exploited or undermined by men in the workplace and they need to make it absolutely clear in their company policy that these archaic attitudes will lead to instant dismissal.
Given the trending hashtag #metoo doing the rounds on social media right now, I suspect there will be many more high profile cases of sexual harassment over the coming months.