Why Did the Culture of Complicity Protect Harvey Weinstein for So Long?

“Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers For Decades,” read the October 5 New York Times headline. A few days later, reporters followed up with further allegations of harassment, including accounts from Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie.

On October 9, The New Yorker published an even more extensive story, chronicling the women who have accused the movie mogul of sexual assault. This disturbing article also revealed rape allegations from three women, including actress Asia Argento.

“Two decades ago, the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein invited Ashley Judd to the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel for what the young actress expected to be a business breakfast meeting,” reported the New York Times. “Instead he had her sent up to his room, where he appeared in a bathrobe and asked if he could give her a massage or she could watch him shower.”

Numerous women — including Rosanna Arquette, Angelina Jolie and Cara Delevigne — have now spoken up to allege sexual harassment by Weinstein. And the details of each encounter are nauseatingly similar: Women agreed to meet Weinstein at a hotel, believing they were showing up for a work meeting, only to be invited to his room where he would make various sexual requests or attempt to kiss them or fondle their breasts.

How is it possible that these blatant abuses of power have taken so long to surface?

A Giant Machine to Silence Women

According to The New York Times, “Dozens of Mr. Weinstein’s former and current employees, from assistants to top executives, said they knew of inappropriate conduct while they worked for him. Only a handful said they ever confronted him.”

One answer lies in the code of silence enforced by the Weinstein Company. All employees sign contracts stating that they may not criticize the company or its leaders in any way that might hurt its “business reputation” or “any employee’s personal reputation.”

Money also plays a big part. The Times reports that, following allegations of sexual harassment, Weinstein has made at least eight settlements with women, in which they were required to sign highly restrictive non-disclosure agreements.

And for aspiring actresses, their career may also keep them silent. Weinstein was an important producer, with a string of major movie successes such as “Pulp Fiction,” “Shakespeare in Love” and “Good Will Hunting,” as well as six “Best Picture” Oscars. What actress would want to turn this man, who could make or break a career, into her enemy? 

All of these factors add up to a giant machine designed to silence women.

Clearly, it has taken a great deal of courage for these women to finally speak up.

More Than Weinstein

And, sadly, it’s not just about Weinstein. As French actress Léa Seydoux writes in The Guardian:

I meet men like Harvey Weinstein all the time. I have starred in many films over the last 10 years and have been lucky enough to win awards at festivals like Cannes. Cinema is my life. And I know all of the ways in which the film industry holds women in contempt.

Seydoux recalls meeting the movie mogul for the first time. She found Weinstein both charming and smart, but when he insisted that they had to get together for drinks that night, she knew “This was never going to be about work. He had other intentions – I could see that very clearly.”

Seydoux also remembers a particularly unsettling comment from a director she had once respected: “I wish I could have sex with you, I wish I could fuck you.” 

A Societal Abuse of Power

Ultimately, this is not just a story about Hollywood, the film industry or Harvey Weinstein; it’s an all too common tale about widespread abuse of power.

A culture that allows powerful men to take advantage of women is nothing new. We’ve seen this happen with Bill Cosby, Donald Trump and Roger Ailes. And these men hardly suffered from their actions — especially considering that one holds office as president. When men are not punished for their actions, they got more and more blatant with their abuses.

Just look at the statistics surrounding rape. Perpetrators — largely male — are often exonerated, or given minimal sentences, such as the one handed down to Brock Turner

Men abusing their power are prevalent across many industries. Care2 recently created a successful petition to force the removal of Kay and Jared Jewelry Company’s CEO, who was accused of organizing “sex fests,” and denying female employees promotion if they didn’t perform certain sex acts. A staggering 69,000 women accused the company of gender discrimination.

Now that the Weinstein story is out in the open, and so many brave women have spoken up, could this be the beginning of a new era in the politics of power?

Farrow, speaking on PBS NewsHour, thinks so. “They made a tough call here. And that reveals what every survivor everywhere is up against when they decide whether to speak about this,” he said. “So, you know, I think what you’re seeing now in terms of the public support for these women is indicative of something of a turning point.”

Let’s hope so.

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk

74 comments

Peggy B
Peggy B5 days ago

TYFS

SEND
Clare O
Clare O18 days ago

looks like you need a chaperone for a business meeting

SEND
Cindy S
Past Member 2 months ago

he is sick

SEND
Leanne K
Leanne K2 months ago

The number one reason is because victims never get to meet, can’t tell their story or verify someone else’s experiences

SEND
Leanne K
Leanne K2 months ago

I would love to know the employees who actually did speak up, the ones who confronted their boss or sought to have this issue addressed long before it came to light. I want to know what happened. And I want to say good on you!

SEND
Peggy B
Peggy B2 months ago

Karen H...so true.

SEND
Danuta W
Danuta W2 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

SEND
Marie W
Marie W3 months ago

Thank you

SEND
Karen H
Karen H6 months ago

Sarah Hill, until you've been in their situation, you'll have no idea why they didn't come forward sooner. Do you know that Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino were blacklisted when they rejected his sexual advances? They're not second-rate actresses. When Peter Jackson expressed an interest in casting both of them for Lord of the Rings, Weinstein's company told him the women were "a nightmare to work with" and he should avoid them at all cost. Jackson simply accepted that and didn't find out till much later that the thumbs-down was because Judd and Sorvino had turned down Weinstein. Sorvino did tell someone, but she says, "Her reaction was as though I was suddenly radioactive for daring to bring it up..." In a company, you go to HR. Where do you go when there is no HR department? Where do you go when everybody either has no idea what's going on or covers for the (expletive deleted)?

SEND
Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill7 months ago

Some of the women coming forward are Hollywood elite, how could they be afraid for their careers? They come from very prominent Hollywood families. Why did they not come forward much sooner?

SEND