Writing by Elise Langford // Photograph by Sandra Lazzarini
Until recently, if you had asked me who Harvey Weinstein is, I would’ve shrugged and been unable to provide an answer. Like most *normal* humans, I go about my day-to-day life without the slightest thought about the celebrity world. My exposure to Hollywood is limited to the occasional Facebook story, or reading old issues of trashy gossip magazines in waiting rooms. Being so far separated from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, it can be easy to forget that celebrities are humans too, and that power and money are no guarantee of safety for women.
For anyone who hasn’t been avidly following the developing accusations around disgraced Producer Harvey Weinstein, it can be confusing to understand what is happening, and why it has become such an enormous news story around the world. The general gist of what we know thus far is that The New York Times published an investigative expose on the 5th of October detailing allegations of Weinstein’s inappropriate behaviour. This behaviour included sexual advances, assaults, comments, requests, and manipulation of female staff, over a timeline spanning decades. Since then, many more women have come forward with their own stories.
The women stating to have been targeted by Weinstein were often Hollywood actresses, and women of privilege. I say this not to belittle their experiences, but to highlight the status and influence that these privileged, educated, and often white women held. If women in the most public, and wealthiest, sectors of society are institutionally exploited and assaulted in this way, it would seem as though little hope is left for women of disadvantage. Whilst different groups within society are affected by sexual assault and harassment differently, it’s pretty damn obvious that this is an issue faced by all women.
“Give us a smile princess, it’s better for business”
Harvey Weinstein’s alleged actions are those of a predator, and thankfully are not representative of the entire male species. The overwhelming problem though, is that patriarchal norms and social constructs have allowed (and are allowing) predatory and abusive behaviour to occur. And to occur widely unchallenged. With the amount of actresses, actors and other film professionals who have come forward since the allegations broke, it is becoming obvious that Weinstein’s behaviour was no secret. So why did it take so long for anyone to come forward?
Probably because they thought that no one would believe them. That they would be penalised in their career, or shunned by their peers. That they would have to face lengthy and intrusive legal action, which is often costly and traumatic. That they would be told to toughen up, learn their place, stop being a drama queen, or that it was just “part of the job”.
If any of this reasoning sounds familiar to you, it’s because it is the same reasoning that women across the world use every single day. Odds are that you yourself have thought like this, or heard a friend or peer use similar excuses. Trying to excuse unacceptable behaviour has become a routine part of the female experience, whether you are a famous celebrity or a regular girl. It’s easier – and far more ‘acceptable’ – to take inappropriate actions and comments in our stride and remain quiet. The ‘girls should be sweet, pretty, and silent’ stereotype is still riding strong, and it’s still ruining lives. And for some reason, it’s still placing the burden of responsibility on women.
I’m pretty sure that none of my male friends have been told to not go out alone after dark. I’m also pretty sure that none of my male friends have been targeted by school dress codes, or told that their outfit would give people (men) ‘the wrong idea’. Sexual assault and harassment is not an issue exclusively faced by women, but it is an issue with an overwhelming amount of female victims. And until something substantial changes within society, our sisters, mothers, friends, co-workers, daughters, girlfriends, wives, and peers are going to keep becoming statistics.
So what can we do?
We can arm ourselves with knowledge, and better understand the world around us so that we can change it more effectively. A decent starting point is Ali Barter’s genius song Girlie Bits, which succinctly explores the patriarchal expectations that we are still forced into. If you haven’t heard, get onto it ASAP. Likewise, Jamila Rizvi’s book Not Just Lucky is a super-detailed insight into the institutional disadvantages that women face in the workplace, and ways to recognise these boundaries in order to overcome them.
The other – most important – thing that we can do is support our fellow females, and hold our brothers, fathers, mates, boyfriends, sons, and other males in our lives to account. Sexual harassment and assault is not acceptable, and it stops with them.[share]