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What is the reason for silence in the aftermath of the Weinstein allegations?

ByOlivia Morelli

Nov 11, 2017

Since The New York Times first revealed sexual harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein, the support for the women who have come forward has been phenomenal. Meryl Streep, Lena Dunham, Judi Dench, and Brie Larson are just a few names that have passionately condemned the actions of the film producer.
The Guardian have claimed that the Weinstein allegations have given women worldwide a voice against sexual violence and harassment, demonstrated specifically with the campaign #MeToo: this hashtag, urging people to share their experiences, was used half a million times in 24 hours.

Despite huge levels of support from women in the film industry, the reaction has been undeniably female dominated. Many women, such as model Zoe Brock, screenwriter Migdia Chinea, and actor Brooklyn Decker, have voiced the question many are thinking: where are the men? Some have suggested the silence is an illustration of the discomfort felt by these male actors as they attempt to comprehend the painful humiliation and victimisation of their friends and colleagues. Others, however, have referred to the allegations as Hollywood’s ‘worst kept secret’, attributing the silence to a reflection of the sheer number of men who were aware of the misconduct and are, even now, too afraid to come forward.

Several men have confessed to this accusation. Quentin Tarantino has admitted that he knew about Weinstein, stating in an interview: “I knew enough to do more than I did. There was more to it than just the normal rumours, the normal gossip.” In a lengthy and shocking disclosure on Facebook, screenwriter Scott Rosenberg claimed that everyone who worked at Miramax was “aware of a certain pattern of overly-aggressive behaviour,” not specifically about sexual assault, but about “the man’s hunger; his fervour; his appetite.” He points to ‘‘You, the big producers; you, the big directors; you, the big agents; you, the big financiers,” accusing them of feigned ignorance. Both Tarantino and Rosenberg have issued sincere apologies for their lack of inaction, and fierce support for the women coming forward.

The question then arises: if these two men can come forward to apologise, accept their implicit involvement in the scandal, and claim that many others were aware, then why is there still silence in the aftermath of the allegations?
Colin Firth has commended the women accusing Weinstein, and calls him “a powerful and frightening man to stand up to.” This suggests that it is the fear of Weinstein’s influence that prevented people in the past from coming forward, and is still impacting people now. Rosenberg suggests that Weinstein’s control over the media was a potential reason for the lack of reports, claiming that “Harvey owned the press.” The most shocking suggestion that Rosenberg puts forward was the ‘pathetic’ but apparently implicit sentiment that “everybody was just having too good a time.”

Other fingers point towards the film industry in general. Film producer, Emily Best, also claimed that Weinstein’s misconduct was an “open secret,” accusing the film industry of “providing shelter for his bad behaviour” through silence. In a survey commissioned by the BBC after the publication of the Weinstein allegations, results show that half of British women and a fifth of men have been sexually harassed in the workplace in general. Out of these, 63 per cent of women and 79 per cent of men did not report the harassment or tell anyone. Even more shocking than these statistics are the attempts by companies to repress reports or issues relating to sexual harassment in the workplace.

Zelda Perkins, a British former assistant to the film producer, has told The Financial Times about a non-disclosure agreement made in 1998 after she accused Weinstein of harassing her, in which she was paid £125,000 to keep quiet. In an open letter, a group of Harvey Weinstein’s employees have asked to be released from their non-disclosure agreements in order to speak out about what they have seen. Clearly, many officials throughout the film industry were aware of Weinstein’s gross misconduct, and it is highly likely that similar incidents are being reported, and ignored, in workplaces all over the world.

This speculation proves that the question we should be asking is not ‘where are the men?’, but instead: ‘what is the reason for silence?’ Is the fear of a ‘powerful man’ enough to prevent people reporting sexual harassment cases? Is it an assumption that these powerful men own the press? Is it, as Rosenberg suggests, that people simply follow the crowd, a toxic social compliance hindering our ability to speak up? Or are industries and non-disclosure agreements truly at fault? We can only hope that women and men take courage from this case, not only to come forward about their own experiences, but also to fulfil the crucial responsibility of emotionally and vocally supporting others.

Image: Nick Stepowyj

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