Weinstein and The Abuse of Power

How often have we seen the stereotype of the actress who sleeps her way round LA to get roles? Laughed at exaggerated stories of the desperate new star on a casting couch? Heard the rumours surrounding directors and their leading ladies. These tropes have been around since Hollywood’s conception and they’re often presented comically.

Seth McFarlane made a joke at the 2013 Academy Awards when he announced the nominees for best supporting actress: “Congratulations. You five ladies no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein.”

More often than not, fiction is based on reality and this is certainly the case here. Harvey Weinstein, an influential film producer, has harassed, violated and exploited numerous women in the industry.

To name a few: Cara Delvingne, a 22-year-old Gwyneth Paltrow, a 17-year-old Kate Beckinsale, Angelina Jolie. Rose McGowan came forward with a rape allegation on Twitter. Disgustingly, her account was temporarily suspended for violating the site’s terms and conditions.

And Weinstein’s response? It made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. It’s so dismissive and insincere, like a statement about ‘mistakes’ and ‘learning’ can erase the emotional pain he has caused to countless people in the film industry. His plea for ‘a second chance’ is vomit-inducing.

Not only does this open our eyes to the exploitative nature of Hollywood, it reflects the power dynamics in other industries. Only recently, the Kesha v. Dr Luke court case showed how authority figures can exercise such tight control over others.

Globally, men hold 76% of senior business positions. The CEOs for the top US businesses that are female? Only 29 of 500 companies, which is 5.8%. Women held only 12% of the world’s board seats in 2015. (Stats can be found here)

Business is undeniably patriarchal. Let’s take the media’s various representations of offices, with a ‘big boss man’ and his attractive female secretary. This is pretty much expected and some women in senior positions have often been mistaken for a secretary or PA to a man, such as Sintel’s chief executive, Chua Sock Koong. These stories aren’t new revelations, though. They’re just one of those things that women have to deal with in a man’s world.

What has been exposed by the Weinstein cases is that some people can, and will, abuse that power. The women that the film producer harassed were forced to choose between speaking up or keeping their jobs. Why kick up a fuss, which would have little impact on themselves or anyone else? Weinstein had the money, the reputation and the influence to make sure they would never work again. Why ruin their career?

How many other people have been forced to make that decision? Terry Crews published an interesting thread on Twitter about it, but I didn’t need to hear it from him to know that it’s a prevalent issue. I have heard so many individual stories from women saying that their boss would touch them without permission, make derogatory comments and it was seen as part of the job.

One woman I know said that her boss only picked attractive women for client presentations to ‘show them what was on offer’ if they joined the company.

Work was a degrading and humiliating place to be – yet they stayed. It was normal for the boss to “flirt”; everyone experienced it, but no one complained. With bills to pay, how could they jeopardise their career over a man making them uncomfortable? It’s just part of the job, right?

The exposure of Harvey Weinstein’s past hasn’t revealed anything new to me but it has just underlined that I am going to meet people like him throughout my life and have to make a choice that many people before me have had to make too.

It’s terrifying knowing that when I graduate, I could be forced to make that decision. I’m an ambitious person and plan on a career of progress and success. What if that comes at a price? What if my abilities and knowledge won’t matter?

Best wishes,

Siobhán


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