By now, most of us have heard about the ongoing allegations against Harvey Weinstein, one of the biggest movie producers in history and predator of the moment. But as stories of harassment and sexual assault continue to pour in, and as more and more actors speak out, relaying their “disgust” and “horror,” what has shocked me most is not Weinstein’s abusive behaviour, but the shock itself.
I cannot remember the last time I was “shocked” to hear that a man beat his wife, raped a fan, or sexually harassed a co-worker. Grossed out? Sure. Angry? Definitely. But shocked? Nah. Men abuse women every day. “Nice guy” or not (and Weinstein was most certainly not), I am rather sad to admit that it’s almost expected at this point. Oh. A beloved progressive writer/actor/activist/radio host is actually an abusive creep? Natch. A high-powered CEO/producer/government official/president is a rapist? Of course. I mean, we’re talking about men, here. And men do these things. Like, all the fucking time.
While I don’t necessarily expect everyone to mimic my oh another one response, I don’t buy that anyone is shocked at these particular allegations. We are talking about a man like Weinstein, who has been in a position of power in an industry like Hollywood, where not only does this kind of thing go on all the time, but where people talk. At this point, the general public should be aware that men in positions of power often use that power to abuse women. That actresses are routinely sexually harassed and pressured to have sex with men who have the power to get them work in Hollywood is a running joke. Everyone knows this behaviour is far from abnormal. And in case you have been living under a rock, there are plenty of accounts to substantiate this.
According to Joan Collins, she didn’t get the lead role in Cleopatra because she wouldn’t sleep with the studio head. She said:
“I had tested for ‘Cleopatra’ twice and was the front-runner. He took me into his office and said, ‘You really want this part?’ And I said, ‘Yes. I really do.’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘then all you have to do is be nice to me.’ It was a wonderful euphemism in the Sixties for you know what. But I couldn’t do that. In fact, I was rather wimpish, burst into tears and rushed out of his office.”
When Shirley Temple was 12 years old, an MGM producer said to have an “adventuresome casting couch” unzipped his pants and exposed himself to her during their first meeting. Judy Garland was allegedly groped and sexually harassed by studio executives at MGM, (including Louis B. Mayer, the head of the studio, who was supposedly one of the worst offenders) for years, as a teenager and young woman. This week, Tippi Hedren tweeted about the fact that Alfred Hitchcock sexually assaulted, harassed, and threatened her career when she was acting in his movies. “Everybody talks about it like it’s something new,” Hendren told The Daily Beast. “It isn’t.” And then there is, of course, the Roman Polanskis, the Woody Allens, the Casey Afflecks, the Bill Cosbys… The list goes on and on.
The reality of sexual abuse is that it happens because men are in a position of power in our society. They are socialized to believe they have the right to access women’s bodies and also know that their male friends will protect them and even joke with them about their predatory behaviour, and continue to bro down with them, regardless of how they treat women. There is a culture among men that encourages this behaviour — rites of passage like going to strip clubs, paying for sex, pressuring young women into performing various porny sex acts, then bragging about it or sharing photos, all exist to reinforce the idea that being a man is about objectifying women.
I find it incredibly hard to believe that in 2017, when the United States elected a misogynistic man who actually bragged about sexually assaulting women as president, when men like Hugh Hefner are heralded as revolutionaries, when thousands of girls are trafficked into the sex trade because johns want to abuse and exploit the most vulnerable people on the planet, and when stories have been coming out about sexual harassment and abuse in Hollywood since Hollywood existed, that anyone at all is shocked. In fact, I’m quite certain most people in the industry were well aware of Weinstein’s reputation.
Indeed, George Clooney told The Daily Beast:
“I’ve heard rumours, and the rumours in general started back in the 90s, and they were that certain actresses had slept with Harvey to get a role. It seemed like a way to smear the actresses and demean them by saying that they didn’t get the jobs based on their talent, so I took those rumors with a grain of salt.”
In The New Yorker, Ronan Farrow writes:
“This has been an open secret to many in Hollywood and beyond, but previous attempts by many publications, including The New Yorker, to investigate and publish the story over the years fell short of the demands of journalistic evidence. Too few people were willing to speak, much less allow a reporter to use their names, and Weinstein and his associates used nondisclosure agreements, monetary payoffs, and legal threats to suppress these myriad stories.”
Yesterday, Jane Fonda announced that she found out about Weinstein a year ago, when Rosana Arquette revealed her experience with Weinstein to Fonda. She also pointed out that this situation is far from “unique.” On CNN, Fonda told Christiane Amanpour:
“This goes on all the time — in Hollywood and everywhere… In bars, in restaurants, in stores… Women are assaulted, abused, harassed, and seen [as] sexual objects there for a man’s desire, instead of as whole human beings.”
But beyond the actors who knew or heard rumours — many of whom perhaps felt afraid to say something or that it wasn’t their place to speak about another woman’s experience, if she wasn’t planning to go public — are the executives and assistants at Weinstein’s companies who had full knowledge of his behaviour. Farrow reports that 16 of these people told him “that they witnessed or had knowledge of unwanted sexual advances and touching at events associated with Weinstein’s films and in the workplace.” Farrow writes:
“They and others describe a pattern of professional meetings that were little more than thin pretexts for sexual advances on young actresses and models. All sixteen said that the behavior was widely known within both Miramax and the Weinstein Company.”
On Thursday, Rose McGowan tweeted that not only did Weinstein rape her, but that she repeatedly told an Amazon Studios executive, who did nothing.
1) @jeffbezos I told the head of your studio that HW raped me. Over & over I said it. He said it hadn’t been proven. I said I was the proof.
— rose mcgowan (@rosemcgowan) October 12, 2017
We keep doing this thing where we “call out” men who we “discover” are abusive, announcing how “disturbed” we are, then focus on taking that man down. And of course I believe these men should be held accountable for their actions and that there should be consequences for abusive behaviour. But this is a cultural problem. It is what men masturbate to on their computers. It is what men do to women and girls when they pay for sex. It is what men do when a woman says “no” and he keeps pushing her and pestering her. This is what masculinity is: breaking boundaries, refusing to respect women’s words, and believing that sexual pleasure and sexual access is a right.
So spare me the “shock,” and start addressing the culture — the culture we all live in, participate in, and are truly not at all shocked by.