How many victims does it take for a sex offender to become widely and publically vilified for his actions?
In the case of Harvey Weinstein, the magic number is at least fifty-two.
Since the October 5th appearance of a New York Times article that merely reported the eight known settlements that Harvey Weinstein has reached with women over the course of his career, at least fifty-two women have come forward with stories of rape, sexual assault, unwanted sexual advances, or even just overall creepy, frightening behavior from the prominent film producer. The majority of these women, however, are established white actresses. If you take into account all the unnamed women working in the service industry – in all the hotels, restaurants, bars, and offices that have been darkened by Harvey Weinstein’s shadow – that magic number likely grows.
Three weeks later, Weinstein has been fired from his company’s board and expelled from both the Producers Guild of America and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts; his wife is divorcing him, his brother has denounced him, two of his lawyers originally charged with handling the case have left his employ, and several large corporations have ended collaborations with his company.
I’d say that’s a good start.
The original article, however, had more to say about Harvey Weinstein, the man, rather than Harvey Weinstein, wearer of bathrobes and assailant of young adult females. He has supported research for AIDS and for multiple sclerosis, poverty alleviation projects, gun control and universal health care. He helped fund the Gloria Steinem Endowed Chair in Media, Culture, and Feminist Studies at Rutgers University. He participated in the Women’s March in Park City, though perhaps more for the other participants than for the actual cause.
Up until this month and unaware of the closed-door dirty dealings happening a thousand miles away from my chilly student apartment in Provo, this is a man I could have applauded. Many in Hollywood did applaud him, both for his philanthropic effort and his award-winning work in the film industry. Bizarrely, many in Hollywood also knew what kind of a man he was, and no one said a darn thing about it until Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey announced it to the Times’ entire readership audience.
Most of us shook our heads in surprise and anger. The real success of the affair, however, is that several dozen victims realized they were not alone, and in so doing, found the courage to speak up. With each added voice, Harvey Weinstein, the man, disintegrated in the eyes of anyone and everyone with an internet connection.
My hope for the future is that we can continue to expand on this success. My hope is that we as a society will stop treating sexual assault like a natural disaster, inevitable and unstoppable, as if the only option is to be as prepared as possible and try to stay out of its path.
Ask any girl how she prepares for the “inevitability” that she is assaulted, and I’ll bet you she has a list:
Don’t walk alone at night.
Check your surroundings, always.
Let someone know where you are and where you will be.
Keep an eye on your drink.
Carry pepper spray.
Carry your keys splayed in your hand like the claws of a cat faced with a cucumber, like that will help.
Carry a gun so that it can be knocked out of your hand or become stuck in your purse or so your potential rapist can turn around and sue you for blowing out his kneecaps and burdening him with hospital bills.
From hatpins in the 1800s to Viking castration rights in the 11th century, we have mostly taught people (to try) to prevent themselves from becoming victims. If the twitter feeds have proved anything, though, it’s that we still have a long way to go – the Harveys of the world continue to exist and continue to plunder, because the Harveys of the world are not hurricanes or floods or forest fires. They are rational humans who deliberately seek out victims, and if all we do is teach people to be prepared for the inevitable, there will always be victims.
My hope for the reach of Harvey Weinstein’s humiliation is that we can eventually turn the current curriculum inside out – instead of preparedness, we teach people not to create disasters. We teach people to stop creating victims.
My hope is that we can stop teaching girls to fear everyone they first encounter because we already teach people to treat each other with respect. My hope is that the cacophony of these fifty-odd voices is an encouragement to other victims to let themselves be heard. It is easier than ever to find someone a few streets away or a few thousand miles away who has shared similar traumatic experience, and as anyone who works in politics knows well, the noisemakers are the changemakers.
For those who need it, here’s an alteration to the “list”:
Don’t invite your employees to your hotel room so you can flounce around in your bathrobe.
Don’t ask young women to “massage” you in exchange for boosting, or not ruining, their careers.
Don’t touch people without their permission.
Don’t abuse the advantage of physical strength to intimidate and coerce people into accepting your sexual advances.
Don’t abuse the advantage of physical strength to force people to accept your sexual advances.
Don’t abuse your position of power to intimidate, coerce, or force people to accept your sexual advances.
Don’t abuse your position of power as a means of getting the things you want from others.
Don’t operate on the belief that you are ever entitled to sex or sexual favors, ever.
Disasters like Hurricane Harvey are inevitable.
Dangers like Harvey Weinstein don’t have to be.