Why we shouldn't call Weinstein a monster
OPINION: Let's get this straight. Harvey Weinstein is not a "beast" or a "monster". He is a man who has behaved like many other powerful men. The only difference is that Weinstein's alleged offences have finally, after decades of shameful silence, emerged into the public eye. But thousands of men like him continue to operate with impunity.
In the past few days, Weinstein has been described as the "monster of Tinseltown", but this threatens to dehumanise his very human crimes. Weinstein is no ordinary man, they suggest, but an anomaly - a "beast" whose actions are incomprehensible and animalistic.
For women across the world, this could not be further from the truth. While many decent men have been shocked and appalled by the emerging allegations, women everywhere have nodded grimly, thinking of their own Weinsteins.
He is the man who squeezes up too close as you pass him in the corridor. The boss who made it clear that your career progression depended on your response to his unwanted sexual advances. The colleague who put his hand between your legs at the Christmas party. The supervisor who made lewd comments about your body. The client who stroked your knee under the table. While many will describe some of these behaviours as "minor", turning a blind eye to any form of harassment risks emboldening perpetrators and creating a culture of impunity. It is telling that three women have now come forward to accuse Weinstein of rape.
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I was involved in a major survey last year, which revealed that more than half of all women, and two thirds of young women, have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. A shocking one in four had experienced unwanted touching and one in eight said somebody tried to kiss them at work against their will.
Since I set up the Everyday Sexism Project, five years ago, to collect these stories, they have poured in. They are not limited to the glamorous industries of film and fashion but pervade all sectors, from hospitality to medicine to law. The shop employee whose boss slapped her bottom every time she went up the ladder to get fresh stock from the store room. The office worker told to sit on her boss's lap if she wanted her Christmas bonus. The waitress locked into the restaurant freezer by a lecherous co-worker. The bartender told she would be fired if she didn't indulge in a threesome with her manager and another colleague. The lawyer who was assaulted on a work trip, but nothing was done because it was a senior partner in the company her firm were trying to win business from. As Cara Delevigne said of her own "terrifying" Weinstein experience yesterday: "in every industry... men abuse their power using fear and get away with it."
The portrayal of Weinstein as a Halloween monster goes some way towards letting him, and men like him, off the hook. Indeed, the suggestion that it was the responsibility of others to stop him has been widespread, from people blasting prominent actresses for not speaking out quickly enough after the allegations emerged, to the suggestion that Weinstein's victims should have raised their voices louder, to the notion that they were in some way complicit, or "asking for it".
The reasons women don't speak out about workplace harassment and assault are many and complex. They fear dismissal, disbelief and blame. They wonder if their careers will suffer as a result. They may be harassed by the very supervisor to whom they are supposed to report problems. They risk being seen as a troublemaker, or "rocking the boat". They might be labelled "frigid", "uptight" or "a prude". They have seen others speak out and face horrendous backlash. They feel confused and embarrassed. They may blame themselves for not having "managed" the situation better, or found a way out, as women so often do.
In one office, wrote one woman, a senior manager's wandering hands were so widely renowned that female staff developed a strategic "side-step movement" to escape his clutches. Eventually, she said, "a complaint was made, but nothing changed".
Hearing women's stories day in and day out, I honestly believe that there is a Weinstein in practically every workplace. But the balance of power is so rigidly tilted in the favour of powerful and predatory men that women deal with the issue in different ways. Some discuss it in private with female friends. Some develop intricate coping mechanisms, from avoiding the perpetrator (often to the detriment of their career), to changing jobs altogether. Many never tell anybody what has happened at all.
Again and again, even those women who do find the strength to come forward face catastrophic consequences. Our survey found that of those who reported inappropriate behaviour, three quarters said that nothing changed and a further 16 per cent were treated worse as a result. So, for a shocking 90 per cent, reporting did nothing to help. Unless businesses and organisations commit to a radical overhaul of procedures to improve these dismal statistics, it is ludicrous to suggest that the responsibility to fix the problem lies with women.
Those who do have an opportunity to change things are the bystanders who hear the stories, the ones who currently join in the whispers, but do nothing to challenge the perpetrator or fix the situation. The senior male colleagues, who could raise the issue without the same risks of career and reputational damage faced by female victims. The influential men who keep quiet because it is easier to benefit from a good relationship with a power player than to stand up for the women he has abused. The all-male boards such as that at Weinstein's company, where it has been reported his behaviour was widely known, yet clearly went unchallenged.
If we insist on labelling Weinstein a monster, then we must face up to this fact: there are monsters everywhere. And it is not the responsibility of their victims to stop them.
- The Telegraph, London