The accusatory glare of mainstream media this week has almost entirely been reserved for Harvey Weinstein. Sexual harassment allegations against him are still on the rise, with more and more women coming out of the woodwork to share their own experiences. Among other things, the revelations about Weinstein have struck a particular chord because of the image of him that has, until now, been maintained in the media.
So much of Weinstein’s public image allied him with feminism, making his alleged misconduct all the more hard to swallow. He took a picture with Hillary Clinton at the 100th Anniversary Gala of Planned Parenthood, funded a Gender Studies professorship in Gloria Steinem’s name, attended the Women’s March and produced a documentary on Sexual Assault. It all seems to incongruous with what he has now been accused of doing. It’s important to remember that all this does not make him a feminist- it makes him a predator who can speak the language of feminism, and who has realised, as Elle magazine put it, “the evolutionary importance of camouflage”.
Like so many men before him, Weinstein adopted a feminist facade, but never questioned or reacted against the structures that allowed him to thrive as a rich, white man. Feminism, or at least allusions to it, were simply tools to maintain his dominance. When stories like this come out, it points to a larger problem with male feminist allies- it creates the feeling that Weinstein, and men like him, are just laughing at us. They are aligning themselves with us in spaces dominated by women, where they can say “look at me, I’m a good man, I’m a feminist”, before returning to their male peers and engaging in the kind of “locker room talk” alluded to by Donald Trump in defense of his “grab her by the pussy” remarks. They are putting on a mask and using feminism as an accessory- a hat to take on and off depending on the company. To actually help the feminist movement, to actually make a real change, men need to start talking about it in male dominated spaces.
So many young men, good young men, don’t realise the damage they do when they talk about girls in such a way. “I grabbed her by the pussy” sounds shocking when it comes from the mouth of a President, but I dare say it doesn’t sound completely at odds with the talk I’ve heard going on between sports teams, at the back of a bus, or on social media. Don’t tell me you’re a feminist and then engage in the kind of behaviour that perpetuates the same culture that has allowed Harvey Weinstein to stay in his position of power for so long, actually change the way you behave. Change the way you speak about girls, change the way you approach them. The language you use with your peers preserves certain ideals about the way women should be, and therefore the way they deserve to be treated. The fact that you as an individual might never commit a sexual crime doesn’t forgive this.
Are we looking at a larger problem though, involving older, powerful white men? Probably. Power dynamics are a huge part it. Weinstein is not alone in these allegations, we see it in the media time and time again that another ‘good man’, famed for various successes and adored by reams of fans, has taken advantage of his position and acted like a pig. Is it even shocking anymore? The problem is more than just sexual assault, which would have been enough, but a balance of power that inhibits the potential to resist. There is no denial that we still exist within a culture, perpetuated by the likes of Weinstein’s defenders (who are not limited to influential men by any means, and actually include the likes of Donna Karan, Lindsay Lohan and feminist attorney Linda Bloom), where women face adversity every day.
Firing Weinstein was not a feminist triumph, but a necessary act of damage control, and it is not the end of sexual misconduct in Hollywood. Who know’s how many other men abuse their power every day and are yet to be called out on it. To some extent, we now rely on the bravery of women to come out and share their experiences. More so, I think we rely on men to stop making excuses for each other and start wanting better for their female peers.