Harvey Weinstein is finally going to jail.
Content warning: Includes examples and explanations of sexual assault. Please take care of yourself and if you feel impacted by this story and its contents, please reach out to our beautiful, caring friends at the Survivors Network.
It took 25 years (at least), and more than 80 women coming forward to bravely tell their story, to get him off the streets, but finally he’s been removed from society. He’s not in jail yet, because he began experiencing “chest pains” just after the verdict was announced, so right now he’s in a hospital bed. We’re yet to see how much time he’ll actually spend behind bars and, at the age of 67, is it even possible for him to serve out a punishment equal to the crimes he’s committed? The vast number of lives – and livelihoods – that he’s destroyed? Probably not. But at least, in a world and an industry that has traditionally sanctioned deeply disturbing treatment of women, he has, eventually, been convicted.
I’ve seen a lot of social media posts today making a great display of the poster’s shock and disgust at the behaviour of Weinstein. People are appalled – appalled, I tell you – that someone could use their position of power to hurt so many women. And yes, it is appalling. And shocking, and disgusting, and horrific. But it is not unique to Harvey Weinstein. It goes on every single day. It will continue to go on until we all share collective responsibility for maintaining a culture that enables this behaviour.
“Why didn’t anyone speak up sooner?”
The inevitable reaction when historic rape and sexual assault cases are brought is questions over why the victims are only just coming forward now. “Surely,” the predictable refrain goes, “if this were true, she would have made a complaint at the time?!” There are many reasons that that is entirely incorrect, which I won’t go into now (but I will summarise – fear, shame, trauma, a broken system, threats, intimidation, a culture that discredits and humiliates victims, worries about not being believed, and more fear and a whole load more shame are the main reasons). However, in Weinstein’s case, as in many other instances of powerful men abusing their status, women did speak up at the time. They were just told to be silent.
It was well known across Hollywood that Weinstein was a dangerous man – women were frequently warned not to be left alone in a room with him. It was just accepted that that was how he was and that was how the industry operated. And before you pull your best appalled face at that, ask yourself whether there are any men that you might suggest women avoided being alone with. Because there absolutely are.
In every city across the UK, and in every country, there are several high profile company leaders that will win awards and accolades from the business community, but at the ceremony people will suggest the younger ladies keep out of their way and jokes will be made about them being a bit “handsy”. The women that don’t get the benefit of those warnings will discover that being a bit “handsy” is not an old-fashioned idiosyncrasy; it’s being violated, intimidated, tormented, threatened and sometimes brutally attacked.
Sure, these men don’t have the level of power and access to the vast numbers of women that Weinstein had, so their violent behaviour will be on a smaller scale – they’ll only ruin the lives and livelihoods of a few women, no more than one a year. Two or three a year at most. And women will speak up, and they’ll be told to keep quiet. They’ll be told not to rock the boat. They’ll be told that it’s better for their careers if they play nice, that that’s just how things are, that he’s not a bad guy really, that they should think of his wife and children, that no one will believe them anyway. If they refuse to tow the line and push for justice, chances are that, over the course of the long and degrading process of trying to get the case heard at a tribunal, they will be bullied into accepting a settlement and signing a non-disclosure agreement, forbidding them to speak out at all. Ever.
“Just how it is”
We are, all of us, facilitating this behaviour every day by not taking a stand against it. By turning a blind eye to the men that we know are perpetrating it. At Brighton Digital Women we have heard from women scared to go to work because of bosses who threaten or commit assault; from women forced out of their jobs by predatory behaviour; from women unable to warn others about dangerous or disturbing work environments because of NDAs; and from women suffering from depression, anxiety and trauma because of men who use their positions to manipulate, pressure and coerce their staff.
And yes, #MeToo. When I was 16, one of my first ever bosses trapped me in the office – literally backed me into a corner so I couldn’t get out – while everyone else was leaving, and when we were alone told me he wouldn’t let me go until I agreed to go on a date with him. I reiterate, I was 16.
One former boss, years later, sent me text messages telling me how he wanted to rape me. Not so long ago, I was told by a man who employs a number of female staff that the #MeToo movement had gone too far because, and I quote, “you can’t grab women anymore”.
These are the environments that women are working in. So, to be honest, I could do without the outpouring of shock over Harvey Weinstein. As a society we enable hundreds of Harvey Weinsteins to operate unchecked every day when we collectively accept this sort of behaviour as “just how it is”.
Taking a stand
So what can we do? First of all, we can admit we have a cultural problem. We can stop trying to pretend that men like Weinstein are highly unusual. In Brighton, in particular, we like to tell ourselves how inclusive and diverse we are, as if that makes us immune to any negative behaviours. That attitude only creates more blinkers and more dark corners in which abuse can flourish.
We need to stop ignoring rumours. We need to stop laughing off jokes about men being overly familiar or “ladies men” and start to question where these jokes are coming from. We need to seriously consider whether these are people we want to do business with, be associated with, have our community represented by.
We need to take a stand against workplace cultures that dismiss complaints of discomfort or harassment. We need to remove the word “banter” from our collective vocabularies. We need to stand up for colleagues that we see feeling uncomfortable or receiving unwanted attention. We need to work with organisations like The Survivors’ Network who offer training to enable staff to challenge sexual violence and harassment in the workplace.
We need to push for systemic change. Non-disclosure agreements need to be banned. Currently, an employment tribunal will only hear claims that relate to a period of up to three months prior to the initial complaint, making it very difficult to prove sustained behaviour and giving an employee in fear of losing their job little time to decide whether to make that complaint. And the entire process of reporting a rape, and how investigations are then handled, is, quite frankly, a disgrace.
We need to all collectively agree that we will not be part of a society that accepts rape, sexual violence and harassment as part of normal life. There’s a job for every single one of us to do. That’s not to get away from the vital fact that these men need to stop raping, assaulting and harassing – ultimately, the responsibility and the blame lie with them and no one else. But quite clearly they are not going to stop until the rest of us make it clear that we will not stand for it. That there is no place in society, never mind at the top of the corporate ladder, for people who commit these acts of physical and psychological violence. That we all consider this kind of behaviour to be abhorrent and intolerable.
Most importantly, we need to keep our eyes open and be honest about what we see. We need to stop being afraid of the subject and confront it head on. We need to stop being shocked about men like Harvey Weinstein and accept that these men, all of these many men, are our collective problem.
We have to deal with them together.
Please take care of yourself. If you feel impacted by this story and its contents, please reach out to our beautiful, caring friends at the Survivors Network.
Allegra Chapman is a marketing strategist and business mentor, helping women to build purposeful businesses. She is also a fiction writer and has very many opinions.
You can find Allegra on Twitter: @Allegra_Chapman