On Oct. 5, 2017, the New York Times published a scathing report detailing decades of sexual harassment by Oscar-winning producer Harvey Weinstein. Under the pretense of business meetings, Weinstein, who has been married for 27 years, invited dozens of young aspiring actresses to his hotel, where he would make uninvited sexual advances on these women trying to further their careers. How did this story about Hollywood and Weinstein, a longtime advocate for women’s empowerment and artistic expression, not surface sooner?
The mentality in which young actors are encouraged to use sexual favors to advance their entertainment careers by being subservient to studio executives has long been a part of Hollywood culture. For instance, in the classic film “All About Eve,” Miss Casswell, played by a young Marilyn Monroe, is told by her mentor to “go make him [the producer of an upcoming play]happy” so that she would get the part. This example from the 1950s reveals that this mentality has been an ever-present–and morally shameful–aspect of Hollywood.
Weinstein has reached at least eight non-disclosed financial settlements worth millions of dollars with women who claimed to have been sexually assaulted by him. Rumors surrounding Weinstein’s sexual abuse were not secret in Hollywood. According to actress Ashley Judd, a victim of Weinstein’s exploitation, “Women have been talking about Harvey amongst ourselves for a long time, and it’s simply beyond time to have the conversation publicly.” Furthermore, according to the New York Times, “dozens of Mr. Weinstein’s former and current employees, from assistants to top executives, said they knew of inappropriate conduct while they worked for him. Only a handful said they ever confronted him.” Additionally, in her comedy show 30 Rock, Tina Fey joked that Jenna, a female character, “turned down intercourse with Harvey Weinstein three times…out of five.”
Yet many big name actors and actresses, whose careers were often facilitated by Weinstein, deny knowing anything about Weinstein’s sexual misconduct. How do actions so perverted and so pervasive go unspoken for so long?
Such denials reveal a deeper hypocrisy inside of Hollywood: Many actresses continued to accept the money and fame that Harvey Weinstein gave them, yet often criticized the morals of those with whom they disagree morally and politically. Meryl Streep, for instance, publicly questioned the ethics of those who support candidates on the right, claiming that “when the powerful [referring to President Trump]use their position to bully others, we all lose.” Well, Harvey Weinstein perpetuated this exact form of intimidation and bullying.
Many of these celebrities claim to champion liberal causes and women’s empowerment, speaking out against conservatives’ “war on women” while remaining silent for decades about Harvey Weinstein’s sexual abuse allegations. For example, Gwyneth Paltrow, who praised then-President Barack Obama for championing female empowerment at her fundraiser, publicly thanked Weinstein in her Oscar acceptance speech for “Shakespeare in Love” in 1999, just two years after Weinstein sexually abused her. Perhaps Paltrow should have used her celebrity platform to expose this sexual predator for 20 years rather than enable his behavior through decades of silence and self-serving hypocrisy. She only recently came forward after Weinstein was exposed for such abuse. What kind of message does this send to aspiring actors and actresses?
Such a rampant problem of sexual assault cannot be solved by hollow bravery of Hollywood superstars, who speak up about issues only when socially and politically acceptable to do so. I don’t condemn an actress’s silence when young and powerless, but when an actress becomes influential and powerful, she must be brave and come forward about cases of sexual misconduct. Victims must speak up rather than profit from non-disclosure settlements worth millions. Failing to speak up about cases of such assault will not solve the long-standing problem of sexual exploitation amongst the Hollywood elite; it will further propagate it.