The Weinstein case: to speak or not to speak

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Image: Thomas Hawk. Shared under Creative Commons (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/legalcode)

Hollywood’s most famous producer has been fired by his own board after shocking allegations of sexual harassment on young employees over the span of decades. The Associated Press gave the news on October 9th, but the sexual assault stories on Weinstein date back at least twenty years. The movie mogul used his position as leverage on young employees to make them accept his explicit advances in order to “boost their careers”. The details contained in the victim’s testimonies are appalling, describing a toxic and unsafe environment for women at the company Weinstein was head of.

The New York Times uncovered previous allegations on the producer for which he reached eight legal settlements with the victims, in order for the story not to leak.

The scandal has huge repercussions on the whole Hollywood acting and producing scene, and many celebrities have publicly condemned Weinstein’s behaviour. Some of them, including Meryl Streep and George Clooney have denounced his conduct as “inexcusable” but also declared they had “no idea” any of this was happening inside the company. Clooney admitted he heard rumours about young actresses sleeping with Weinstein, but said he believed they were fabricated to tarnish their reputations.

The world-famous fashion designer Donna Karan suggested that the way women “are dressing and what they’re asking by just presenting themselves the way they do” is the reason sexual harassment happens. Karan’s controversial statement raised ferocious critiques on social media, clearly, not only in relation to this specific case but referring to a wider conception of women’s sexual freedom.

We’re not quite there yet, but our society is somehow trying to promote an ideal of liberation and freedom of expression for women, fighting back on a misogynistic ideal that blames all sexual assault victims for what happens to them, saying they were “asking for it”. The fact that a woman with a powerful voice like Donna Karan has made such a declaration is frankly quite devastating and frightening, and the fact that the whole Hollywood scene has kept quiet for decades raises a lot of doubts.

The story has been out for quite some time now, clearly not in this capacity, but if regular folks knew something about it, it sounds odd that people who were directly in contact with Weinstein did not. Of course, there is no way to know for sure, but one thing’s certain: this particular case has sparked a huge debate on how the Hollywood system works. So many of the victims were too scared to come forward because they felt they would not be listened to. On top of that, their career could have been destroyed within seconds by someone who was not only more powerful than they were but is, most importantly, a man.

It is hard enough for anyone to expose their abuser, but when the whole system your career depends on turns its back on you, it’s even harder.

Some have found the courage to speak out against this twisted situation, like Rose McGowan and Asia Argento, but many more kept quiet. These events should open our eyes to how abuse can happen anywhere, push us to read into it and help any way we can, even if only by sharing the powerful stories of the brave women who have stepped forwards.

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