Money & Careers

Last Chance, Harvey? Sex and Power in the Workplace

Allegations have erupted about top Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein since two explosive pieces appeared in The New York Times and The New Yorker accusing him of sexual misconduct, assault, and even rape. Weinstein’s first response was to deny them, but to add that he knows he has a problem and to ask for a second chance. Though he has continued his denials, even in the face of more and more revelations (has anyone escaped his meaty grasp?), he has jetted off to Europe for “rehab.” This is how people of privilege try to salvage their image when caught with their hand in the cookie jar. Writing in The Atlantic, James Hamblin says, “The ability to even attempt to sell this narrative is a luxury disproportionately afforded to powerful men — the ones who are not thugs or violent criminals but simply can’t help themselves . . . .  If there is diagnosable compulsion on display in this case, it seems to be an inability to hold oneself accountable . . . . Some people go to prison, and others go to rehab.”

No matter how Mr. Weinstein would like us to view it, there is no question that he has been accused of criminal offenses. Yet this kind of behavior is as old as show business itself, and it has been perpetuated and even supported with the tacit approval of the old-boy network. His “support system” was large and many-faceted. The Times columnist Bret Stephens reports:

“The enablers were of all sorts. Corporate board members who declined to investigate allegations of his sexual behavior and now claim the news comes as ‘an utter surprise.’ Assistants who acted as ‘honeypots,’ joining meetings between Mr. Weinstein and his intended victims to give them a sense of security — and then leaving the predator to his prey. Reporters who paid him tribute with awards, did his bidding with fawning coverage, or went after his enemies with hit pieces. A lavishly paid Italian studio executive whose real job, according to former Times reporter Sharon Waxman, was “to take care of Weinstein’s women needs.” (A lawyer for the executive reportedly denies the allegation.) And then there was the rest of Hollywood.”

It turns out, everyone knew about Harvey Weinstein. It wasn’t an “open secret.” It wasn’t even a secret. I knew his reputation with women, and that he was a bully with a terrible temper. But we live in an era in which some people get away with criminal behavior—and, like cheating on Wall Street, if you are rich enough or powerful enough, everyone seems to look the other way. In the words of our president, “they just let you do it.”

Women, like actress and director Sarah Polley, felt powerless to take on someone like Weinstein: “Like so many, I knew about him . . . . For years, I heard the horrible stories that are now chilling so many people to their core. Like so many, I didn’t know what to do with all of it. I’ve grown up in this industry, surrounded by predatory behavior, and the idea of making people care about it seemed as distant an ambition as pulling the sun out of the sky.”

The “Weinstein Affair” is less about sex than it is about power. He already had a beautiful wife, and could no doubt have had sex with many others. But when a man has the power to make or break someone’s career, can sex truly be consensual, as he claimed it was? It appears that while women in the industry warned each other in a “whisper campaign,” men were indifferent. Woody Allen (who really should know better than to comment on this story, given his own history of alleged sexual misconduct), said, “No one ever came to me or told me horror stories with any real seriousness. And they wouldn’t, because you are not interested in it. You are interested in making your movie.”

Yes, everyone cared about getting the “work” done. Lena Dunham said in a Times editorial that she knew Weinstein’s reputation, but agreed to work with him at a fundraiser for Clinton, “because I wanted so desperately to support my candidate that I made a calculation. We’ve all made calculations, and saying we’re sorry about those calculations is not an act of cowardice . . . ” She continued that now we must all speak out, because “Hollywood’s silence, particularly that of men who worked closely with Mr. Weinstein, only reinforces the culture that keeps women from speaking.”

And yet, while men have not exactly closed ranks for the deeply unpopular Weinstein, they have been largely silent. In another startlingly insensitive comment, Mr. Allen warned against “a witch-hunt.” Is it a witch-hunt if there is an actual ghoul on the loose? He said “You also don’t want . . . a Salem atmosphere, where every guy in an office who winks at a woman is suddenly having to call a lawyer to defend himself. That’s not right either.”

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