Clementine Ford: The message predatory men should take from claims against Harvey Weinstein
OPINION: In news that's becoming increasingly familiar, explosive allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct emerged this week against one of the most powerful men in Hollywood.
An investigation by The New York Times' Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey revealed Miramax boss Harvey Weinstein has "undisclosed allegations … stretching over nearly three decades, documented through interviews with current and former employees and film industry workers, as well as legal records, emails and internal documents from the businesses he has run, Miramax and the Weinstein Company". During the course of that time, Weinstein and his lawyers have also reached at least eight settlements with various women.
When allegations like these are made, the men who appear to be incriminated in them are quick to either dismiss the allegations outright or blame their own mental health issues for their inability to be decent, respectful human beings. Some, like Weinstein, try to do both things at once.
What they don't realise (or perhaps don't care about) is the fact that women talk.
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Women's solidarity with each other is a point worth emphasising, particularly in a cultural narrative that frequently paints us as liars or fantasists when it comes to the bad behaviour of men. When I read Kantor and Twohey's coverage, it wasn't the content of the allegations that stayed with me. It was this observation from Ashley Judd, one of the women allegedly sexually harassed by Weinstein in an incident dating back 20 years and taking place in a hotel room. She said, "Women have been talking about Harvey amongst ourselves for a long time, and it's simply beyond time to have the conversation publicly."
It astonishes me that predatory men don't seem to realise this simple fact, so I'll repeat it for the people up the back.
Women talk to each other.
We do not lack for means of communication, even if we lack the substantial structural power to make changes (or even be believed in the first place). I am in numerous online communities where the names of predatory men in the respective industries being represented are shared and warned against. Information is stockpiled, patterns of behaviour are established and photographic evidence of harassment or abuse is shown.
Once upon a time, we used to write our warnings on toilet doors or pass it along via the glowing tip of a shared cigarette. We still do those things, but now we also have technology to help take the message even further.
You may remember a story from the start of 2016 about a number of independent female musicians in America who had banded together to expose the abusive behaviour of Heathcliff Berru, the founder of Life or Death PR and Management. The Dirty Projectors' Amber Coffman was the first to go public, initially only hinting at the sexual harassment Berru subjected her to. Yasmine Kittles, a musician in the band Tearist, texted Coffman that night and said, "I stand behind you, if you're going to name him."
Abusers don't just succeed by convincing their victims that no one will believe them; an even more effective tactic is to convince them that there's nothing sinister to be 'believed' in the first place.
If you can convince a number of vulnerable individuals with far less power than you that this is just normal – in fact, it's what everyone is happy to do – then you all but guarantee their public silence.
Except. In private, women talk.
We talk. And we tell each other which men to be wary of, and which to avoid outright. It's no coincidence that female employees of Weinstein were also reported to have organised, where they could, to never be alone with their boss but to always have a friend present.
Women everywhere do this too. Because we have to live and operate in a world that reminds us at every turn that our experiences won't be given credit, that we won't be believed, and that we can't bring about real structural change in a society that is still essentially governed by men who look out for each other. We can't excuse ourselves from the world. We have to figure out a way to survive within it.
So we talk.
Around the same time as his harassment of Judd, Weinstein reached a settlement with the young actress Rose McGowan. McGowan had just starred in the first of the hugely successful Scream movies for Miramax. She was 23 years old, but an incident in a hotel room during the Sundance Film Festival led to Weinstein paying her a settlement of US$100,000. According to legal documents reviewed by the New York Times, this was "'not to be construed as an admission' but intended to 'avoid litigation and buy peace' ".
Before the New York Times story broke, The Hollywood Reporter foreshadowed that allegations against Weinstein would be surfacing in both the Times and The New Yorker. Weinstein said in response: "The story sounds so good, I want to buy the movie rights."
Presumably having read this, McGowan shortly after tweeted, "I want to buy the movie rights." The actress Asia Argento, whose career was launched by Weinstein in the 90s, replied, "I own the movie rights."
Women talk. And all predatory men should heed this message: tread carefully.
Because women are talking a lot louder than they ever have before. And some day, some time, it'll be your turn to stand in the spotlight.
I hope you're ready for your close-up.
- Sydney Morning Herald