Editor’s Note: The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not represent the views of Babble.
If you’ve been keeping up with the headlines, you’ve likely heard the name Harvey Weinstein being slung through the mud over the past week. The Oscar-winning producer has a string of hit films under his belt, including Gangs of New York, Shakespeare in Love, and the iconic Pulp Fiction.
He’s a pretty big deal, to put it mildly. But the recent news about Weinstein to make headlines isn’t flattering — and that’s also putting things mildly.
The string of women who have come forward in the last week to accuse Weinstein of sexual harassment and assault reads like a list of Hollywood Who’s Who, including names like Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Ashley Judd, Mira Sorvino. It’s a disturbingly long list; one that might even grow longer if more women come forward, bolstered by the knowledge that they aren’t alone.
Weinstein preyed on young women who were trying to move the needle forward. Talented young women with aspirations of being successful Hollywood actresses. Being in Weinstein’s inner circle was getting somewhere. Being somebody. Inching one step closer to their goals. But he certainly isn’t the first man to use that to his advantage in the worst possible way, and he sadly won’t be the last.
I may not be a Hollywood A-Lister, but I know a little something about power positions and the level of destructive influence they can wield. During the first week of what I like to call my first “grown-up job,” a male superior attempted to start a “dating-type” relationship with me. He didn’t suggest massages or try to grope me on company time. But he asked me to dinner, while casually remarking he could “do things” and “make things happen” for me if we “got to know each other on a social level.”
The suggestion that “things wouldn’t go my way” if I rebuffed him was a bit subtler, but it was present. I noticed it then, but as a young twenty-something I had no idea how to handle the situation. I look back now and I chastise myself for my naivety, but the reality was that I found myself in an awkward and uncomfortable clandestine relationship with a male superior that I wasn’t attracted to and didn’t really like. And I felt ill-equipped at knowing how to navigate it.
That was over 20 years ago now, and I still recall it every time I read about an abuse of power. I’m no Gwyneth Paltrow, and “Ed from Training” was no Hollywood mogul, but the basics are the same.
I like to think young women today are smarter and more empowered than we once were. I like to think our society has evolved beyond “put up and shut up” and being the get-along girl.
Then I read about men like Harvey Weinstein and I wonder if we’ve evolved at all.
I read about the women he’s alleged to have groped, harassed, and assaulted, and I think about a time when I too was afraid to come forward. I think about the night I stupidly went home with a man I didn’t know very well. I can remember changing my mind as things started to get hot and heavy, telling him “no” at a very inconvenient moment. I remember what it feels like to have a large, strong hand clasped over my mouth and nose and what it’s like to feel small and helpless.
I remember feeling like I was skirting an abyss and narrowly escaping plummeting over the edge at the last minute. Thanking my lucky stars the man who could have overpowered me chose to let me go.
Heart thudding. Feeling small and stupid.
This isn’t some kind of twisted “Stars: They’re just like us!” analogy, but that vulnerable feeling when you’re at the mercy of someone stronger and more powerful? It’s the same.
There is strength in numbers and relief and validation when you hear those “me too’s.”
That’s why it’s not the least bit surprising to me that more women are coming forward with Harvey Weinstein stories as the hours tick by. The floodgates have opened, and there is healing in being recognized and affirmed.
I know this, and so do a lot of other women just like me, whose stories of harassment echo mine in some ways, and are far more disturbing in others.
“I was a high school senior working at a drug store,” a writer named Glynis recently told me. “My boss took every chance to get me alone. Offered rides home and leered at me constantly. I finally got up the courage to tell my parents after he cornered me one night after closing. I assumed it was my fault somehow. I quit before he could fire me, but I never forgot how he made me feel worthless as anything but an object put there for his pleasure. In retrospect, I’m sure it was why he hired me in the first place.”
Others I spoke with admit they’ve largely blocked out the details of what’s happened to them.
“Wanna know something bizarre?” a woman named Maureen asked me. “I’ve been sexually harassed in multiple workplaces, but it’s generally my coworkers who have remembered it happened, years after the fact, not me.”
She went on to tell me that she was sexually harassed repeatedly by a coworker who was 20 years her senior when she was temping at a law firm. It eventually resulted in him getting fired, though it turned out she wasn’t alone. “He’d been harassing women on the job for years,” she said, “and it was me who finally got him fired. But I [still] can’t remember his face, or what he said.”
Another woman, named Shannon, told me that a manager where she used to bartend would routinely go around grazing the waists of staff members while they were busy making drinks or helping customers.
“After a few months of working there, I asked him why he felt the need to put his hands on staff,” she recalled. “He said he was trying to make everyone feel comfortable. I told him there were definitely better ways to achieve that, like maybe keeping his hands to himself, instead.”
The more women I talk to, the clearer it becomes that there are far too many Harvey Weinsteins in this world, who — in major positions of power and in small — will keep crossing that line of impropriety if those around them continue to stay silent.
I’m just glad to see that at least in this case, the silence is finally over.
So what’s next for Harvey Weinstein? Loss of position power, loss of prestige? Should we even be worried about that?
The answer is no.
Our concern and support should be for the women who are brave enough to come forward and call out individuals who use their position to abuse women. It doesn’t matter if those women who are coming forward are among the Hollywood elite, living charmed lives. It doesn’t matter how successful or how famous they are or how much money they make. They are sticking their necks out for all of us and they deserve our support. They are showing their vulnerability. They’re doing their part to change the sexual assault culture.
They deserve our empathy and our collective voice.
We don’t know what’s next for Harvey Weinstein. But what’s next for us? What will we do next week, next month, next year, when we read another story like this?
The culture change needs starts with each of us — and it needs to start now.