Harvey Weinstein and Hollywood’s Sexual Harassment Culture

The film industry, ironically defined as ‘liberal,’ enables sexual predators.


Elizabeth Cook

The New York Times released an article on Oct. 5 packed with evidence and allegations of sexual assault perpetrated by Harvey Weinstein. The co-founder of his self-titled production company, Weinstein assaulted upwards of 30 women over the course of three decades.

As the executive producer of cult classics such as “Pulp Fiction” and “Good Will Hunting,” Weinstein’s physical and figurative presence in Hollywood is massive. With an ego more obese than his frame, Weinstein weaponized his A-list status to threaten women into sexual submission.

The same ruthless instinct that earned Weinstein over 300 Oscar nominations is the same instinct used for his predatory status. His addiction to power and sense of entitlement fostered his ability to abuse, belittle, and intimidate countless women.

Since the New York Times story broke, the list of women with accusations against Weinstein has grown to over 34, ranging from international movie stars to female interns. Silenced by nondisclosure agreements and their own misplaced sense of shame, Weinstein’s women represent a small percentage of sexual assault victims in Hollywood.

Weinstein is not the first predator to stalk the red carpet; other offenders include Casey Affleck, Woody Allen, and Mel Gibson all of whom continue to work in the film industry without protest. In fact, Casey Affleck won the Oscar for Best Actor in 2016, and Woody Allen is still hailed as one of the greatest directors despite continued allegations from his daughter of sexual abuse.

Hollywood tends to succumb to its intrinsic greed and forgive and forget the bad behavior of some of its participants. Money serves as the ultimate apology. The “cinematic gold” from Woody Allen or Roman Polanski is worth more than the women they violated; their talent is a just compensation for their predatory tendencies.

The Times story revealed that peers and assistants of Weinstein enabled his predatory behavior in exchange for his friendship or funds on their next feature film. They traded human decency for paper currency and a chance at 15 seconds of fame.

Ironically, Hollywood exudes a facade of liberalism to its gullible audiences. However, at its core, this industry is one of conservatism maintained through oppression. A New York Times opinion piece published this past Wednesday highlighted that an under-representation of women persists from the intern to the executive level. A report by USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism found women account for more than half of the population and more than half of moviegoers but remain at a 2:1 ratio to men for leading roles.

These restricted hiring standards create a gender-homogenous environment and reinforce the reality of male dominance on- and off-screen. Leading ladies are reduced to supporting roles, female stories are delegated to “niche” audiences, and female experiences are invalidated under the guise of a low profit margin.

Hollywood’s leniency toward sexual misconduct also represents a much larger issue: inherent disbelief in victims of sexual assault. In the case of Harvey Weinstein, these victims belong to some of the most privileged sectors of our society. Furthermore, a large majority of these allegations trace back to the early 1990s; his victims remained silent until now.

Publicizing personal trauma in modern-day, victim-blaming culture requires intense courage. Though many public figures released statements in support of the women, these survivors will face consequent alienation and criticism for the rest of their careers.

Can you imagine how many women haven’t come forward yet, whether they be victims of Harvey or another lecherous, power-hungry executive? What about the droves of women from lower socioeconomic statuses who suffer from abuse but whose stories are never told?

Our society perpetuates an environment in which women are to be seen, not heard. Their voices are silenced while their bodies are sexualized and exploited for profit. As quoted by Rose McGowan in the original NYT expose, an actress and sexual assault survivor herself, “The men of Hollywood need to know they own no woman.”

We cannot progress if we live in a culture that enables a damaging behavior from powerful men.