In a landmark case on February 24, 2020, former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison for felony sex crimes and rape. While the results of the case have proven to be a victory of the viral #MeToo movement, tensions remain on both sides of the cultural movement.
The beginning of Weinstein’s downfall came on the heels of the cases against notable media figures Bill Cosby and Bill O’Reilly. After the case, Actor Rose McGowan tweeted (presumably about Weinstein) under the #WhyWomenDontReport movement, “because it’s been an open secret in Hollywood/Media & they shamed me while adulating my rapist.” Following McGowan’s tweet, a New York Times article revealed a dizzying series of accusations of sexual assault, rape, and harassment against Weinstein spanning two decades.
In the subsequent series of trials, Annabella Sciorra, Miriam Haley, and Jessica Mann relived their traumatic encounters with Weinstein before the jury, supported by an additional three women. NPR summarizes the chilling testimony of Annabella Sciorra; “Weinstein gave her a ride home after a dinner party. After dropping her off, she said, the producer reappeared at her door, forced his way through and began unbuttoning his shirt as soon as he was inside her apartment. Then, he allegedly shoved her onto the bed, where he held her down and raped her.”
The testimonies from the six women recount a harrowing pattern of Weinstein’s abuse of power over young aspiring actresses and models. In multiple accounts, the women were invited to meet the producer with enticements of movie roles, only to find themselves alone with him in a hotel room where he sexually assaulted them. Lauren Young recalled her attempts to refuse his advances, and his response “This is what all actresses do, to make it.”
As we sift through the pieces of the story of Harvey Weinstein, we begin to stitch together a convoluted portrait of the notion of “making it” in Hollywood and the media. It involves a widespread acceptance of this abusive dynamic through inappropriate behavior between genders — not only an acceptance, but a justification of it as a part of the deal for women entering the industry.
The first accusations sparked the worldwide #MeToo movement, Weinstein’s expulsion from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, his resignation from the Weinstein Company, and three years of trials. While the #MeToo movement was in progress before Weinstein’s charges, the trial gave it the momentum to go viral. Today, #MeToo has continued and expanded its scope from the powerful men of Hollywood and the media to other sectors, such as domestic work, hospitality, and agriculture. It has granted survivors an opportunity to voice their experiences with sexual abuse or harassment, and has created a structured community to offer support and begin the conversation around sexual violence.
The #MeToo movement continues to spark change worldwide, with the #BalanceTonPorc movement in France and the resignation of Japanese vice finance minister, Junichi Fukuda, after accusations of sexual harassment. In 2019, a global treaty established international standards to end violence and harassment at work with the creation of The International Labor Organization Violence and Harassment Convention. This, coupled with the sentence of Harvey Weinstein, marks a watershed advancement for women’s rights worldwide.
In response to the decision, Mr. Weinstein’s lawyer, Donna Rotunno, called the sentence “obscene” and “obnoxious”, and credited the prison sentence to the pressure of the public rather than to the evidence of the trial. Weinstein himself protested the sentence with the claim, “Thousands of men are losing due process. I’m worried about this country.” Weinstein continued to protest in court by claiming that he was not only innocent, but also a victim of the press. He compared the #MeToo movement to the Red Scare, and highlighted his contributions to charity and advancing women’s roles in the film industry.
While we may be able to roll our eyes in disgust at Weinstein’s dramatic and self-pitying rant after the sentence, others still voice doubts about #MeToo’s backlash.
Although a Harvard Business Review article reports that “74% of women said they thought they would be more willing now to speak out against harassment, and 77% of men anticipated being more careful about potentially inappropriate behavior,” these numbers are accompanied by other misgivings. The report continues to say, “10% of both men and women said they thought they would be less willing than previously to hire attractive women”, and “56% of women said they expected that men would continue to harass but would take more precautions against getting caught, and 58% of men predicted that men in general would have greater fears of being unfairly accused.”
These statistics are concerning; the purpose of the #MeToo movement should not be to diminish interactions between men and women, nor should it be aimed at inviting paranoia into the workplace.
This view does not only harm women, but it harms men’s perceptions of their reality and their position. Just look at Weinstein’s confusion at his sentence. Whether or not this confusion was a performance, it sparked an alarming backlash by men who felt unfairly targeted by the movement. Chatelaine conducted a survey in 2018 of 1000 Canadian men about their feelings on sexual harassment; they report that “25% of respondents said they felt “nothing” when the topic of sexual harassment came up. But of the remaining 75%, 42% feel “sad” and 32% feel “angry.” Oone of the men interviewed by Chatelaine said “…he was reluctant to even engage in a conversation about #MeToo for fear of coming across as a misogynist.”
University of Ottawa professor, Janice Fiamengo, affirms that this feeling is common among many men. In an article from Global News, she says, “Most men I know believe that the general cultural climate today is negative toward them.”
If this paranoia extends to the workplace, it could have a rebound effect on the feminist movement as women’s demands for higher-paying jobs are met with fear and avoidance. The workplace will be increasingly viewed as a legal minefield rather than a cooperative environment for the two genders. In an article on Washington Post, a wealth adviser admitted that hiring a woman has become “an unknown risk.”
The Washington Post referenced this phenomenon as the “Pence Effect,” which refers to Vice President Pence’s personal rule of not dining alone with a woman who is not his wife. Their article phrased the dilemma well: “Perception more than temptation is often the driving force.”
How do we reconcile these two views? On one hand, we must grant women the voice to confront their abusers and bring them to justice; on the other hand, we run the risk of stratifying society and the workplace between the genders.
Some, such as Arwa Mahdawi in the Guardian, write that men have resorted to the inevitable form of victim-blaming. She writes, “They’re angry that they’ve been made to think about their behavior, made to interrogate power dynamics they’ve always taken for granted, and they are punishing women for it by refusing to interact with them.”
However, is this really true? Is this narrative of a corrupt, dominating masculine oppressor truly a conscious decision on the part of men? And, furthermore, will grouping all men into the same category as Harvey Weinstein truly alleviate this divide?
It becomes increasingly necessary to extend our compassion to both sides. While this following phrase has a hackneyed past as an object of mockery, it’s common sense to say “not all men” are trash, just as “not all women” are liars. Educating both genders on the importance of respect and consent is the first step in resolving these underlying feelings of paranoia, anger, and blame.