“I’ve known Harvey Weinstein for a long time, I’m not at all surprised.”
— President Donald Trump
It seems most everyone who knew film producer Harvey Weinstein knew Harvey Weinstein — the private Harvey Weinstein, the serial sexual assaulter Harvey Weinstein who was publicly revealed in disgusting detail this month by The New York Times and The New Yorker.
And that’s as much of a problem as he was.
His staff brought women to him, his company board knew about his hush money payouts, and his friends turned a blind eye to his perversion. In other words, they enabled him — and in so doing, for whatever reason (he is notoriously vengeful), they normalized his behavior and allowed it to continue for years.
People protected or accepted Mr. Weinstein out of fear and guilt, greed and apathy, and — apparently — pervasive like-mindedness. Our own president was recorded in 2005 saying women are there for the taking if you’re powerful and privileged: “I just start kissing them,” he said. “It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the [crotch]. You can do anything.”
As we’ve seen.
Mr. Trump’s comments were made public one year ago this week. In that time, comedian Bill Cosby was publicly accused of multiple attacks on women and criminally tried on charges he committed sexual assault in 2004. Cable news host Bill O’Reilly was fired from Fox after it was reported he’d paid out millions to settle multiple sexual harassment claims. And former U.S. Congressman Anthony Weiner was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison for sexting with a teen-ager in 2016 (after getting caught sending salacious selfies on social media in 2011 and 2015).
What is it with these men? They get a little bit of power and turn primal, so overcome by their own self-importance they think they have a right to physically take what they want — even if it’s another human being and despite the vast damage it causes.
It doesn’t even have to be a lot of power for their egos to explode. According to the replies writer Anne Donahue is getting on Twitter to the question “When did you meet YOUR Harvey Weinstein,” radio station managers and driving instructors and history teachers and all sorts of other low-level leaders think it’s OK to demand sexual interaction.
Like many of his peers, Mr. Weinstein’s reckoning was a long time coming. The recent news reports chronicle years of forcing himself on actresses and coercing silence with threats and money. The New Yorker describes his actions as an “open secret,” and his accusers describe a man who doesn’t take “no” for an answer.
And why should he? He did what he wanted, and those around him largely let him. That’s something that should give us all pause. What is it we’re ignoring that we shouldn’t, whether it’s being done to us or someone else? What responsibility do we bear when we look the other way? And why is it that it’s only now — after the allegations have been made public and after his film success has waned — that Mr. Weinstein is experiencing any significant consequences? His board of directors fired him from his company, his wife left him, and he’s become a pariah in the industry he once ruled.
It’s shameful it took so long, but what would be worse is for the outcry to stop with him. He’s just the latest example of a man sexually exploiting his power, but we’ll never get to the last if so many of us stay willingly silent on the subject.
Tricia Bishop is The Sun's deputy editorial page editor. Her column runs every other Friday. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @triciabishop.