Will the Harvey Weinstein Scandal Inspire Reforms?

Harvey Weinstein

Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump, two affluent white men whose names are synonymous with their brands, have one possession in common: a taped confession of the hideous, disturbing way they perceive and treat women.

Both used their fame and status to aggressively seek sexual favors. Both employed similar tactics to silence accusers: non-disclosure agreements, lawsuits and private settlements. Only one lost his job.

A deluge of sexual abuse allegations against Weinstein, one of Hollywood’s most accomplished producers, was laid out in painstaking detail by the New York Times last week. The report, which covered predatory behavior spanning two decades, encouraged 32 more actresses and film-industry women — including Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie — to come forward with accounts of similar incidents.

Weinstein, co-founder of Miramax Films, and a mega-donor to the Democratic Party, is ostensibly a champion of women’s rights; he recently pledged $5 million to fund scholarships for women directors at USC’s film school. This facade crumbled upon the emergence of a 2015 recording in which he admits to groping Filipina-Italian model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez.

While Weinstein’s actions may have been more egregious than most, they’re closer to a cliché than an anomaly. One reason the issue of sexual assault has been generating national buzz is that several public figures have been recently entangled in such scandals.

A month before the presidential election, the Washington Post released the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Trump bragged to radio host Billy Bush about grabbing women “by the pussy.” As long as you’re “a star,” he went on, “you can do anything.”

Two Fox News figures faced similar controversies around the same time. Former chairman Roger Ailes resigned last July in the wake of sexual harassment allegations. Less than a year later, anchor Bill O’Reilly also departed — taking with him a $25 million buyout — after reports emerged that the company had paid five women millions of dollars to prevent them from disclosing his indiscretions.

And in perhaps the most highly publicized case, comedian Bill Cosby went to trial for drugging and sexually assaulting one of his many accusers. It ended in a hung jury.

In all the above cases, the allegations were not news to insiders. Company executives and shareholders were apparently willing to turn a blind eye to morally indefensible behavior until it became a public relations nightmare. That Weinstein allegedly harassed women for decades without retribution can largely be attributed to willful, even callous, ignorance from his board members, staff and Hollywood friends like Matt Damon.

But the widespread outrage and Weinstein’s swift firing may point to a seismic shift in our collective attitude toward sexual assault and the culture of victimhood. By showing that the perspective on sex and power has significantly evolved in the past few years, detailed testimonies from Italian actress Asia Argento and others emboldened more women to talk about their encounters with the producer — in some cases, decades after the harrowing episodes occurred.

The de facto rules indemnifying powerful men against any repercussions, legal or financial, may finally be collapsing, under the growing weight of a sympathetic, angry and increasingly responsive American public.

It would be amiss, however, to not address the elephant in the room: a sexual predator — one who confessed to groping married women by the genitalia — holds the highest office in the country. In the videos below, Louise Godbold talks about the long-lasting trauma she sustained from her encounter with Weinstein, and the Telegraph provides six reasons some sexual assault victims don’t report the crime until years later.


Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from  Roger Ailes (DoD / Wikimedia), Harvey Weinstein (Georges Biard / Wikimedia – CC BY-SA 3.0) and Donald Trump (Gage Skidmore / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0).

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4 responses to “Will the Harvey Weinstein Scandal Inspire Reforms?”

  1. John Kesich says:

    Why should we think Weinstein’s sex crimes would trigger reforms when the White House is occupied by someone who has been accused of sexual assault or harassment by 15 women, was filmed bragging about being a sexual predator, and made sick comments about dating his daughter on national TV – and about 1/3 of Americans think he’s fit for the office?

  2. editorsteve says:

    When I taught college, I remember a former student, a recent grad (around 1990) who was now my adjunct, helping to run a computer lab. He told me he would not be my adjunct the next semester because he wanted to date a student who lived in his dorm. He had no grading responsibility or any other power over the student at all. She didn’t even use the computer labs. Both were graduate students. She was slightly older. The new college rules on this stated that even if the relationship was totally consensual or initiated by the student, it would not be tolerated. The inequality of positions was just too great. This was a particular tight rule at the time. I noted that as a member of university senate I had come up with a key compromise that allowed the rule to pass, and although this particular situation was the letter of the law, it was not the spirit. It was just sloppy drafting. I suggested getting a ruling on the matter.

    The student insisted that creating a minor loophole was still creating a loophole and that this would not be right. I lost him as an adjunct. He and the student entered into a relationship that lasted quite awhile.

    The former adjunct might be surprised that I remember this.

    Not all men are dishonorable… and I have three daughters who were just coming up to college age at the time. My youngest was eventually attacked by her professor at another school. She had to enroll at a different college when the one she was attending protected the attacker. Most men really don’t understand how common this is.

  3. Cloudchopper says:

    How come no mention of Bill Clinton?

    • Mackenzie says:

      Excellent question. I can already hear the excuse of “Weinstein and Trump are both current while Bill Clinton hasn’t been president for almost 2 decades”. But it would be an incredibly lame excuse as (Bill’s enabler) Hillary just ran for POTUS and Weinstein has been tied into politics for years (including during WJC’s tenure). In fact, apparently Weinstein donated $10K to WJC’s defense fund after the Monica Lewinsky scandal.