In recent weeks a lot has been said and written about film producer Harvey Weinstein. Not only has he been accused of sexual assault against several women, there seems to have been a systematic cover-up of these assaults. Weinstein’s entourage knew what was happening behind closed doors, but they kept their mouths shut. Silence gives consent. And so actors and secretaries who were aware of Weinstein’s behavior, indirectly became complicit to his sexual violence. In that regard, one could even hold everyone in Hollywood accountable for the cover-up. The media mogul had a reputation of being a predator. It was an ‘open secret’ that women weren’t safe around him. It was so out in the open, that Seth MacFarlane “joked” about it at the hosting of the 2013 Oscars.
Weinstein made employees of the Weinstein Company sign a code of silence, stating they will not criticize it or its leaders. Others were simply too scared to speak up, afraid that speaking out would harm their careers and propel them straight out of Hollywood. Who cares about the sexual assault of women – including your own wife – if speaking out means killing your career, right Brad Pritt?
Now that many women – including world-renowned actresses like Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow – have broken the silence, the question that keeps popping up is: why didn’t they speak up about Weinstein sooner? What kept them silent? The answer is quite simple: if “ordinary” women find it difficult to speak out, it’s even harder when all the cameras are pointed at you. Top that off with the risk of losing your job, thus your income, and it’s a done deal: you will keep your mouth shut.
Patriarchy has cleverly designed a way to always blame women for "sinful" behavior, even when it’s not their behavior that’s the problem.
When it comes to sexual assault victim blaming is real. After all, sexual assault phrases like “she f*cked her way up to the top” or “she shouldn’t have worn a short skirt” are pretty common. Blaming the victim, telling her it’s her fault, is a very useful mechanism. When you feel ashamed of yourself, or when you think you’re guilty, you will keep your mouth shut.
Patriarchy has cleverly designed a way to always blame women for “sinful” behavior, even when it’s not their behavior that’s the problem. Women are tasked to be chaste, so men can be free of that burden. So when sinful behavior occurs, it’s by women breaking their chastity.
What is so striking about the responses to the Weinstein-affair, are the responses of men. They are somehow surprised by the assault and the size of it. With Bill Cosby, Roger Ailles, Bill O’Reilly and Donald Trump himself preceding Harvey Weinstein, the news is still met with disbelief. The thing is: Sexual harassment only comes as a surprise to men. Women know that the possibility of being assaulted is always lurking. It’s everywhere. Under the overpass, on the dark road, behind closed office doors. In the pub, on the dance floor, on your way to the restroom in the restaurant.
My co-worker Joyce Brekelmans recently wrote:
We write down staff numbers of cabdrivers and text them to our friends. When we get home safe, we text them again. Because all of us know, or are someone who - suddenly and against their will - was no longer human. A mere object in a man’s grip.
Women would rather take a detour, then cycle over an unlit path. Going for a jog after dusk is a risk. We warn each other of the CEO who threatens his female employees in order to get his way. It has become so normal to feel unsafe, we don’t even complain about it. How strange is that?
The discussion about Weinstein ultimately should lead to a discussion about power and power structures. The Weinstein-affair is probably the best contemporary illustration of abuse of power. Harvey Weinstein is one of the most thanked people in Oscar history, only outdone by Steven Spielberg. Even God came in third, after Weinstein. The film director must have, in a sense, thought he was greater than life; maybe even mightier than God Himself. Of course he must have thought he could get away with everything. Weinstein was the boss, and everybody listens to the boss. Period.
There are many more Weinsteins in the world. Contrary to Beyoncé’s hit single claim “who run the world...girls,” it’s actually men who rule the world. In every important field, be it politics, economics or religion, men determine the status quo. As a result, it is men who benefit from the status quo. Women are left out. Whether it’s sexual violence, sexual and reproductive health, career opportunities, implicit and explicit dress codes, men are freer than women in each and every area.
Weinstein has recently checked into a luxury resort to “heal” from his “sex addiction.” The power structures that allowed his behavior to flourish are however still in place. It is high time that those structures are dismantled.
Mia Kirshner, one of Weinstein’s victims has come up with some good examples of how Hollywood must proceed from here on. ”First of all, can we agree that no more meetings for anything related to work be held in hotel rooms?”, she writes. It’s a great idea, but it’s symptom control. The problem must be dealt with at the root. Kirshner also proposes that “the unions need a new system for investigating allegations of wrongdoing.” Again, a great point, but I would like to move forward to a world in which legal assistance through unions is no longer necessary for this type of issues.
In order to achieve this, not only do we need more women to be politically involved, women should be allowed to hold positions in places where they can actually make a difference. From President of the United States to Prime Minister of the Netherlands.
Also, religion and politics must be strictly separated. Gender bias is huge in religion. Your God should not be able to have a say in my uterus. Tackling that issue however will probably take even longer, and we need change now. So out the window with religion based politics.
It should be clear by now: It is time for more women to be in charge. In businesses, within the creative sector and elsewhere. If men in those high ranked positions don’t feel like giving up or sharing their power, it’s time for a massive strike. One that even outshines the very successful Women’s March on Washington.
The Greek playwright from ancient Athens, Aristophane, wrote ‘no peace no pussy’ in relation to the Peloponnesian war. I’d like to borrow that phrase and change it into ‘no power, no pussy’.
Let all women unite, let us put down our tasks –- be it indoors or outdoors. And let us no longer serve as the backbone that carries the successes and freedoms of men, until we too can get an equal piece of the cake.
* For readability, this article focuses on women, but in fact, the argument largely applies to all marginalized groups in society