The ‘Weinstein Effect’: Last Season in Systemic Sexual Harassment

The ‘Weinstein Effect’: Last Season in Systemic Sexual Harassment

Sophie Berry reflects upon Oprah Winfrey’s Golden Globe’s speech

Little time has passed since the flood of sexual harassment allegations against some of Hollywood’s biggest names began. Despite recently fading from headline news, it was made clear at this week’s Golden Globes, that this is not just another news story to be archived. In a symbol of solidarity ‘bigger than a best dressed list’, the attendees of this week’s 75th Golden Globes exchanged their colourful gowns for black clothing. In an inspiring speech given by Oprah Winfrey at the award ceremony, it was made very clear that for predatory males in all industries across the world, time is up.

In contrast to reports of the newly accused (although this does continue to grow), the news of Oprah’s speech offers hope and time for reflection. It allows us to look at what has changed, what must still be done and whether anything could have been done to prevent such horrors. Although, surely no one could have predicted the scale and prevalence of the crimes that exist within one of the world’s most well-established industries? It is not as if there were any signs that such an extreme predatory culture existed…

Well, no signs except back in 1945 when actress Maureen O’Hara declared she was ready to quit the industry, give up on her dreams and her entire career due to the severe pressures she was under to be ‘pawed’ by directors.  O’Hara bravely outed studio bigwigs and became the victim of a ‘Hollywood whispering campaign’ after she refused to have sex with directors. Although, perhaps O’Hara’s unfortunate experience was a one-off?

A one-off, alongside an episode back in 1977 which saw director Roman Polanski accused and charged with five sexual offenses, including statutory rape, against a thirteen-year-old girl. Which, does not bear dissimilarity to the lawsuits faced (and conveniently settled outside of court) by actor Casey Affleck in 2010, if anyone recalls? For those who have perhaps forgotten, Affleck was accused of two cases of sexual harassment whilst filming I’m Still Here. Although, it seems that these legal cases are unlikely to be part of a wider pattern, or even of much importance, as both men went on to win Academy Awards and Golden Globes for their contributions to the film industry (the prestigious Academy would not provide such high level of recognition to those guilty of, or associated with, serious sexual crimes… right?).

And therefore, it must surely be a mere coincidence that, when interviewed in 2005, Courtney Love advised young actresses ‘if Harvey Weinstein invites you to a private party in the Four Seasons [Hotel], don’t go’.  Because, obviously there is no chance that a statement made twelve years ago could have any resonance with the developments of recent weeks… right?

Clearly, as horrific as last autumn’s wave of sexual harassment allegations was, it is not part of a new phenomenon. A culture of predatory male domination has existed within the film industry, most notoriously in Hollywood, for time immemorial. Let us not forget that the motion picture industry literally coined the term ‘Casting Couch’ – a phrase which is defined as a ‘demanding of sexual favours by an employer or person in a position of power and authority, from an apprentice employee, or subordinate, in return for entry into an occupation, or for other career advancement’.

Although, as Oprah also alluded to, the culture of unwanted sexual attention is not endemic to Hollywood. As such, in response to the aforementioned surge of courage seen by victims of sexual assault and harassment, social media has witnessed the rise of #MeToo – a movement of global unity and solidarity for those who have been through similar ordeals. This trend, however, has been considered by many a bittersweet revelation. Undoubtedly there can be little more comforting for victims of sexual assault and harassment than the realisation that they are not alone; this is something which has been achieved by widespread use of the hashtag. Yet, it is undeniable that than the vast quantity of stomach-turning anecdotes, despite the feelings of liberation that they express, leave a rather unpleasant aftertaste.

As Oprah noted, we must show great commendation to those with the strength to come forward, but learning of the countless examples of work-place sexual harassment results in the nauseating realisation that this is a deeply engrained system, and not one confined to the entertainment industry. In her spine-tingling final words, and in unprecedented turn, Oprah spoke of the day that ‘no one ever has to say Me Too again’.

Even despite widespread support for change, the aftermath of this new wave has made the reality of change more likely, but has also made clear that serious change will occur overnight. In a shockingly clear example, it took all but two weeks for national embarrassment James Cordon to deem it acceptable to candidly make vulgar jokes about Weinstein’s criminal behaviour. Further shock came after ‘sympathy’ was expressed towards Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey (both who have mounting allegations against them) by actor Woody Allen and singer Morrissey. Evidence such as this stands as an example of the uphill battle that is being faced in fundamentally changing attitudes towards sexual harassment.

However, as Oprah rightly asserts: a new day is on the horizon. Harvey Weinstein and others’ infamous behaviour will soon be last season’s news, but now we must ensure that for systemic sexual harassment, this is the last season.

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