Belfast Telegraph

Why we all need to have a conversation about Mr Harvey Weinstein

Hollywood's conspiracy of silence has allowed the movie producer to prey on women for decades. Alex Kane, the father of young daughters, says there needs to be a step-change in the culture of tolerating inappropriate sexual behaviour

Here's how one magazine responded to the Harvey Weinstein story: "Stories about Harvey Weinstein, the mogul who brought Best Picture winners Shakespeare in Love and The King's Speech to the screen, had been whispered around Hollywood for years. Famous actresses warned others about his behaviour. Powerful men - stars, studio bosses, talent agents - had heard that he mistreated women. So had some journalists. Yet, Mr Weinstein reigned among them as a king of independent film, able to make and break the careers of young women. Until now."

The wider response followed the usual, well-trodden path. The board of the Weinstein Company, of which his brother is a senior member, expressed shock at the allegations and then fired him. People, many of whom were aware of the rumours, allegations and accusations (Hollywood, like political institutions, is actually a very small community, in which gossip is a crucial currency) took to mainstream media and social media by way of statements which were probably crafted by professional publicists.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the people who vote for the Oscars) revoked his membership, saying, "the era of wilful ignorance and shameful complicity in sexually predatory behaviour and workplace harassment in our industry is over". The French President, Emmanuel Macron, has asked the Grande Chancellerie (which awards the honours) to strip Weinstein of his Legion d'Honneur.

After a number of actresses - including Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Lawrence, Reese Witherspoon and Rose McGowan - said they had been "harassed" by Weinstein and others, increasing numbers came forward with their own accounts of sexual harassment in the film/television/stage/music/entertainment industry.

So many, in fact, that actress Alyssa Milano (best known as Phoebe from the TV drama Charmed) launched the #MeToo campaign, allowing women - irrespective of age, profile, profession, or background - to use social media as a vehicle to express solidarity with women, including themselves, who had been subject to sexual harassment and abuse.

Ironically, it is social media vehicles which have introduced new methods of abusing and bullying, particularly of women. Twitter's co-founder, Jack Dorsey, has acknowledged that the site needed to do more to address tweets glorifying misogyny, violence and containing unwanted sexual advances, and has promised to "start rolling out changes in the next few weeks".

The most extraordinary element of the story is the fact that the vast majority of women who have been subject to this sort of harassment and abuse made the decision not to report it and not to speak about it. And in so doing - although I can understand why many of them take that decision - sustaining and perpetuating the climate and environment which allows the abuse to continue.

As one former producer in Hollywood noted: "The Weinstein scandal raises a deeper question about Hollywood culture. Many had heard at least vaguely that Mr Weinstein had behaved inappropriately with women. For decades, there was no reckoning. Powerful men of Hollywood say they had no idea just how appalling the accusations were, that allegations of rape make his case an extreme outlier.

"But the fact that many ignored the whispers, and continued to work with Mr Weinstein, suggests a continued tolerance for abuses of power by men in Hollywood."

But there is a deeper truth, too: Hollywood is the real world writ small. What happens there happens everywhere else. Whether it's a famous actress, or just an unknown woman in a factory, or other workplace, women (and men, too, let's not forget) are subject to regular sexual abuse or harassment and say nothing to anyone else about it.

"They stay silent because they actually fear the consequences of speaking out and pointing the finger.

They fear having their careers destroyed. They fear being pulled apart in a court hearing. They fear being accused of having "led" their abuser on. They fear losing a promotion. They fear losing their job and salary. They fear not being able to work again in their chosen area. They fear being dismissed as some sort of crank, or prude, who can't put up with a bit of "workplace banter".

So, remaining silent has become the "normal" thing to do. No one chooses to be a victim of any predator. No one should be left with silence as their only option when a predator takes advantage of them.

Their silence - as it did in Weinstein's case and thousands of others - encourages existing and potential predators. And, as is often the case, when they later discover that their predator has gone on to do something much worse to others, it merely compounds their existing sense of guilt, isolation, depression and helplessness. Silence must never be the "normal" response.

For me, there's another aspect to this, one that doesn't get mentioned very often. Evidence suggests that those who have been abused don't even tell their own parents. That horrifies me. I'm a dad, with two daughters and a son. I can imagine few things worse than them not being able to tell me that they had been abused by a sexual predator.

And since many predators are not household names in business and showbusiness, but are local bosses and line managers and employers close to the homes of their victims, there's a fair chance that the parents of the victim would know them. Might even talk to them on a regular basis, or meet them in social settings.

So, yes, I would be very hurt if my children weren't strong enough, confident enough, to come and tell me. I don't ever want to discover that I've failed them: and I don't ever want them to think that I wouldn't be there when they most needed me.

In my lifetime, it was "normal" for homosexuals to be ridiculed and caricatured on television. It was "normal" for them to stay in the closet. It was "normal" for people from different ethnic backgrounds to be mocked and shunned. It was "normal" for people with mental and physical imperfections to be described in the most appalling and primitive of terms.

It was "normal" to treat different cultures with disdain. It was "normal" to ignore the plight of the underclass. It was "normal" to assume that a rounded education was the preserve of the middle classes.

It has been a long and difficult social revolution, but in most cases what used to be considered "normal" has been overturned and exposed for the offensive rot it was. Remaining silent if you have been abused is not "normal". Knowing, as we do, that our wives, sons, daughters, friends and family remain silent because they fear the consequences of speaking up for themselves is something that should shame us.

Abusers, whoever they are and wherever they are, need to know that silence will no longer be their protector. Moreover, this is more than just #MeToo. If someone you know, someone very close to you, is remaining silent because of fear, then, yes, it's you, too.

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