By Jeremy Dewar
Harvey Weinstein’s crimes against women are the ‘tip of the iceberg’, not just endemic in the entertainment industry but systemic to capitalism
On 5 October Harvey Weinstein – movie mogul, multi-millionaire, friend to the rich and famous, patron to the Democrats – was exposed as a serial sexual predator.
An article in the New York Times alleged that the Miramax film producer had sexually harassed many women over several decades and named Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan. Within days, a dozens of women came forward with accusations of rape, attempted rape and sexual harassment.
Many of the testimonies describe a pattern. Fantastic opportunities await if the young woman would follow him to a hotel room, threats to ruin her career if she refused. Using his weight and the wealth that he thought granted him impunity. Offering money but demanding non-disclosure contracts in return.
A culture both deep and wide
It has emerged that Weinstein’s predatory sexist behaviour was common knowledge, and even joked about at award ceremonies. Why wasn’t he stopped?
It is a complete inversion of right and wrong to lay the blame on the victims themselves, as many right wing and even liberal columnists have done. It is notoriously hard for women to speak out about their abusers for fear of retribution, of accusations of lying or “bringing it on”, of the high legal hurdles in the way of justice.
The fact that stars like Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow apologised for not speaking out about their experiences at the hands of Weinstein, even though they could not have feared his malicious influence for years, demonstrates the malign and traumatic hold that sexual abusers can maintain over women for the rest of their lives.
The truth is the people who could have stopped him were profiting by him. His brother Bob Weinstein, who was on the board of the Weinstein Company and voted to sack him, told the Reporter: “Harvey was a bully, Harvey was arrogant, he treated people like shit all the time. That I knew. And I had to clean up for so many of his employee messes.” But until Harvey was uncovered, brother Bob, like dozens of other accomplices, kept his eyes down and his snout firmly in the trough.
As in hundreds of thousands of workplaces around the world, so long as boorish, bullying, sexist behaviour enhances, or at least doesn’t get in the way of business, then it’s a case of “see no evil”.
Of course, Hollywood isn’t exceptional in enabling men to assert their dominance and reinforce a power imbalance through sexual crimes. The world of broadcasting and healthcare (Jimmy Savile), sports, and politics have all been shaken as women are increasingly prepared to confront institutional indifference to degrading sexist treatment in the workplace.
But nor are long term celebrity abusers able to get away with their crimes for so long simply because they are rich and powerful. As millions of women know, ordinary men often get away with exactly the same behaviour over decades, whether committed in the home, in the workplace, or both.
This culture of sexism and relative impunity for sexist crimes has a name: patriarchy. Literally the rule of the father, it is rooted in the family structure. But the nuclear family differs enormously, not just between nations and cultures, but even more so between classes.
There is a danger that this becomes just another “scandal”, like the Jimmy Savile case. The hypocritical media pour crocodile tears… while playing it for titillation. And the establishment is left to self-regulate. But class is important.
For the ruling class, the patriarchal family is a way of handing down wealth and sharing power and privileges. The Trumps, the Murdochs, the Windsors are classic examples.
For the working class, it can be a way of sharing meagre resources and enjoying comfort, or it can be a living hell for women and children, sometimes both. What it can’t be is a way of passing on non-existent wealth.
In fact the economic foundation of the working class family is constantly shaken as more and more women are drawn into the workforce – the number still rising both here in the UK and globally.
This has enabled a degree of economic independence for millions of working class women, but also creates a new field of struggle to overcome the gender pay gap and stop sexist bullying and harassment in the workplace.
Bullying and sexual harassment by colleagues and, more usually, managers against women form a large chunk of workplace grievances. Yet despite good work by thousands of union activists, few are satisfactorily resolved, and the scale and rate of complaints are not diminishing.
All workers benefit from equality in the workplace, from the elimination of abusive behaviour. We need a new social movement, a working class women’s movement that can champion the fight for equality and women’s liberation.
Whether it’s calling for union action to equalise wages and end discrimination, or tackling the culture of abuse in parts of the education system, or eventually isolating and shaming abusers in our communities, working class women will always be to the fore.
By linking up with their fellow workers in the labour movement, they can shake the foundations on which the Weinsteins and the Trumps of this world build their empires, from where they currently abuse and exploit at will.