The Harvey Weinstein Scandal and the conspiracy of silence

This year’s award season for actors and actresses has been dominated by the scandal of sexual abuse in Hollywood. Notably at the Golden Globe Awards multiple actors and actresses chose to wear black in order to show their support for the ‘Times Up” movement. Whilst movements of solidarity against sexual harassment should of course be supported, this article serves as a reminder that if true progress is to be made, engagement with such issues needs to go beyond a hashtag or the wearing of black. The article also looks at what can be done in order to tackle the issue of sexual harassment, specifically in the workplace.

On the 5th October last year the New York Times published a story that revealed decades of allegations of sexual harassment against the famous American film producer Harvey Weinstein. This scandal has shone a light on the issue of sexual harassment not just in Hollywood, but in the workplace in general. Everyone agrees that something must be done about this toxic culture that allows sexual abusers to remain in positions of power within their respective fields, and campaigns that show support for those who have suffered abuse are certainly a step in the right direction. Moreover, the fact that this show of solidarity has allowed women to feel like they can come forward demonstrates the power that such campaigns can have. Maybe the Weinstein revelations mark a turning point? Take the example of Dylan Farrow, the adopted daughter of Woody Allen. This month Farrow gave a TV interview detailing the abuse that she has suffered at the hands of Allen. Her allegations have prompted a wave of solidarity. For example, following the interview actress Rebecca Hall apologised for her role in Allen’s new film and said that she will donate her wages to the Times Up campaign. However, this episode also reveals a key problem. It should be remembered that this is not the first time that Farrow has gone public in accusing her father of sexual assault; in 2014 she spoke about this abuse yet there was no celebrity outcry. Obviously the political environment then meant that actors did not feel secure enough to react against the allegations. Without trying to belittle the influence of power play, the changing reactions to Dylan Farrow serve to remind us that it is important that we are all brave enough to shun the perpetrators of sexual abuse. Only with this courage and lack of passivity will there be progress post-Weinstein.

The recent scandal in Hollywood reflects a wider trend that sees men (who dominate the hierarchies of the working world) exploit their position of power to harass women. Indeed according to a BBC survey last year, half of British woman have been sexually harassed at work or a place of study.[1] From a domestic policy perspective, therefore, a pressing issue for the UK government is what can be done in order to tackle this. Crucially we need to re-dress the gender balance in positions of power. This task should not be underestimated and will only be achieved when we, amongst other things, stop gender stereotyping from a young age. In the mean time we need to continue to fight against sexual harassment so that it remains a talking point long after the Hollywood scandal ceases to make news headlines. We also need to create an atmosphere where women feel safe speaking out. On this last point it should be noted that we must also ensure adequate protection for those accused of sexual harassment and perhaps the question of anonymity for the accused needs to be re-looked at; this is a difficult issue but especially pressing in light of the recent multiple collapsed rape trials. However, ultimately we need to progress to a stage where the perpetrators of sexual abuse are called out by their colleagues and thus the onus is not on the victims to reveal such scandalous and endemic behaviour.

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-41741615

Article by Helen Taylor

Photograph – The New York Times

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