While I try to spotlight instances of rape culture in my articles as related to current news, I have hesitated to write directly to the ever-growing list of allegations of sexual harassment, intimidation, and rapes against Harvey Weinstein. The relentless coverage by mainstream media has left me wondering if I have anything original to add to the dialogue, while truth be told, I have also been hesitant to write on the topic in part out of fear of being harassed.
But alas, in addition to not going away anytime soon this story also reveals some significant lessons regarding where we stand as a society when it comes to the safety and well being of all women. So I am here to offer a rape culture 101 lesson for those interested in understanding why these sordid and violent offenses against women continue to occur by men in power and continue to be swept under the rug by both men and women who protect the perpetrators. Yes, I also said women—and no, I am not referring to the female victims. I am referring to the women working in positions of power alongside the men who are enabling, hiding, protecting or insulating perpetrators like Harvey Weinstein from being exposed for the sexual predator that he is.
This also includes the women who voted for Donald Trump after the Access Hollywood tapes were leaked, who continue to defend his behavior even as he persists in marginalizing, bullying, and who-knows-what-else behind closed doors against women. The list includes the female lawyers who were hired to represent and defend Weinstein, and those female members of Trump’s administration in high profile positions who give a veneer of respectability and legitimacy to their brand of misogyny by enabling them to enhance the optics of their positions even if their refrain of “See, I support women” is dubious at best for those of us willing to breach the surface of their rhetoric. Both men and women in positions of power need to be held accountable for the roles that their complicity may be playing in enabling sexual predators to get away with their crimes.
Gender is a significant framework for how we understand and perceive the world around us. By this, I mean that notions of what it means to be “masculine” versus “feminine” are a powerful lens through which we interpret and process our social interactions. Our ideas of appropriate male versus female behavior are strongly impacted by powerful socializing agents such as the media, our government, the education system, etc. So, of course, the irony of a male-dominated industry that has sexually objectified women for decades now being under renewed scrutiny for its complicity in enabling a sexual predator like Weinstein (or Bill O’Reilly, to use Fox News as an example) is not lost to most of us.
For those who doubt the dominance of white males in positions of power in Hollywood, Marling (2017) presents facts when she writes that, “The storytellers—the people with economic and artistic power—are, by and large, straight, white men. As of 2017, women make up only 23 percent of the Directors Guild of America and only 11 percent are people of color” (para 4). So for those of you who still question why diversity matters in the workplace, the eradication of rape culture is just one of its potential benefits.
The question of course becomes are the revelations of the extent of Weinstein’s alleged sexual violence a real tipping point in our culture?
The Bill Cosby allegations, the eventual ouster of Ailes at Fox News, and later their ratings-juggernaut O’Reilly wasn’t enough. In fact, our Commander-in-Chief bragged about being a sexual predator and still got nominated to the highest position in the nation! So perhaps we are a little too optimistic in thinking that somehow the Weinstein allegations will turn the tide. Of course, change takes time, and the entrenched stereotypes about women—particularly professional women who continue to penetrate historically male-dominated industries like media and politics—will not change overnight. Moreover, the institutional barriers that remain in place that make it hard for women to propel to high positions within professional ranks may also contribute to their feeling compelled to stay silent when they do witness their male colleagues or employers harassing other employees.
Despite the increasing attention that the Weinstein allegations have given to the issues related to the rape culture that persists in our country, I can’t help but feel pessimistic about the end result of its byproducts such as the #MeToo campaign. While silence has always empowered perpetrators and can become a second trauma for victims of sexual harassment and acts of coercion and rape, until men like Weinstein don’t just lose their reputations or get skewered on social media but actually face significant jail time for their unlawful and criminal behavior, a true tipping point will not have been reached. And as has been written by many other journalists, feminists, scholars, and bloggers, the pursuit of a woman’s right to work outside of the home without fear of sexual harassment or worse should not be framed as a female issue, but rather, a human rights one that impacts everyone.
Placing the burden on women to stop their own harassment or worse doesn’t make sense because they are not the cause of rape culture, but unfortunately, more often than not the victims.The problem is the culture of entitlement and male privilege that continues to permeate our society and is magnified in male-dominated institutions such as the entertainment industry and politics. Until males understand that there will be consequences for their actions, such deviant behavior will continue to persist. Trump justified his vulgar behavior as “locker room talk”. Similarly, we have all been socialized to a certain extent in a “boys will be boys” culture. In fact, until the entitlements and privileges that come from being male in this country are confronted and measures are put in place for a more egalitarian society, #MeToo will also continue to persist.
It is no coincidence that with the exception of Bill Cosby, who was arguably one of the most powerful and beloved figures in the African American community before the allegations about his predatory behavior were taken seriously, that all the other high profile examples of perpetrators of harassment and sexual coercion and rape were made against powerful white males. Male and white privilege intersect to create an environment conducive to the corruption of power, with an entire system that enables their behaviors while silencing the overwhelmingly female victims and blaming them for their persecution.
Where do we go from here as a society? I don’t know if anyone has the answer to that. But I do hope that real change is coming to create a safer environment for everyone in the workplace and beyond, so that perhaps one day our young girls and boys can grow up recollecting with chagrin that the world their parents used to live in had the necessity for a #Metoo campaign to bring awareness to how widespread sexual harassment and violence against women (and some men) used to be.
Now isn’t that a dream to aspire to? To create a society where the hashtag #MeToo is not only no longer prevalent, but a remnant of some faraway past when institutions didn’t know any better and bystanders were too afraid to speak out so the perpetrators got away with their sexual crimes. Hopefully, for victims of the wide range of violence that exists within rape culture, the dialogue opened up by the most recent headlines from Hollywood and the massive social media campaign by activists will enable some sense of empowerment.
To those victims: you are not alone, your campaign for equality is worth the struggle, and your voice cannot be silenced indefinitely. I stand in solidarity as an ally and advocate and will consider it a success if my infant niece grows up to ask me in the future what the #MeToo campaign was all about, anyway.
Copyright 2017 Azadeh Aalai
Marling, B. (2017, October 23). Harvey Weinstein and the Economics of Consent. The Atlantic. Retrieved on October 24, 2017 from: https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/10/harvey-weinstein-and-the-economics-of-consent/543618/