Written by: Reema Dudekula
Edited by: Anna Mohan, Clarissa Lilananda
Trigger warning: This article contains references to sexual assault and explicit content
Throwback to February 24th, 2020..
The jury, after 5 days of deliberation, found Weinstein guilty of criminal sexual assault. This was a case that had been ongoing for the past three years, the New York Times in October of 2017 released the initial report, covering allegations of sexual abuse that spanned over two decades.
The takedown of Hollywood mogul, Harvey Weinstein, birthed one of the most prominent social justice movements the 21st century has seen. His name is now synonymous with the downfall of those previously invincible. Now, headlines consistently ask, “ Is, *insert name here*, the next Harvey Weinstein?”. As co-founder of Miramax, a leading production company, Weinstein has lived a life of fame and fortune from a young age. Usurped by his power that dominated Hollywood for decades, Weinstein solicited sexual favours from multiple actresses and threatened that any lack of compliance would result in the end of their careers.
His deplorable behaviour has been no secret to Hollywood, and despite the vortex of decades-long allegations against Weinstein, taking down a man so powerful seemed close to impossible. Non-disclosure agreements, financial settlements, legal threats and blackmail were a few of the methods Weinstein’s associates adopted to buy the silence of women he had assaulted.
Things changed when Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey released a report stating all the allegations against Weinstein. Additionally, Rose McGowan, an actress who was raped by Weinstein, persistently fought to make his harrowing acts public knowledge. She took on a man significantly more powerful than her, someone who could be deemed ‘invincible’. Her success marked a turning point. Prompting conversation, it became a catalyst for what some have cited an "online feminist wave". McGowan’s Twitter thread in October of 2017 that aimed to expose Weinstein’s confidential monetary settlements with his victims in exchange for silence, led to her account being suspended.
This set off a domino effect of women boycotting the platform and supporting McGowan’s allegations against Weinstein. These revelations resulted in Harvey Weinstein being fired from his own company.
As investigations pursued, tens of women stepped forward with their accounts, which revealed a pattern in how Weinstein cornered women. From forcibly performing oral sex on them to making them watch while he masturbated, Weinstein ensured that he got what he wanted from the women he wanted. His threat – ending their career if they didn’t comply. For instance, actresses Rosanna Arquette and Mira Sorvino, amongst others, were blacklisted from production houses for rejecting Weinstein’s advances and for attempting to rectify such behaviour by approaching higher-ups. He would ask women to ‘not ruin your (their) friendship with me (him)’ for the sake of five minutes of sexual favours.’
The mistreatment of women was not only tolerated but facilitated by the Weinstein Company. Female executives were made to persuade the ‘chosen’ women to do as they are told, and in some cases would accompany women at the start of meetings with Weinstein to make them feel like they were safe only to later be dismissed, leaving the woman alone with Weinstein.
As one of Weinstein’s victims, Lucia Evans recounted, “Everything was designed to make me feel comfortable before it happened. And then the shame in what happened was also designed to keep me quiet.” Essentially, these executives aided and abetted Weinstein’s sexual crimes and offences. Most, out of fear of retaliation by a very powerful man who could do so at the snap of his fingers if he wanted to.
The discourse and conversation surrounding women’s safety and rape culture have shifted drastically since the Weinstein case. This is coupled with the investigation of power dynamics resulting in more and more being willing women to speak up against injustices.
The movement that followed, #MeToo, took the world by storm. Women in industries all around the world who were cornered, assaulted and threatened came forward with their stories and thus began the exposé of the underbelly of show business.
Fortunately, a mogul like Weinstein couldn’t pit himself above resounding dissent. He was eventually convicted and sentenced 23 years in prison. Unfortunately, this sentence fails to undo the trauma and damage that his actions caused. Interestingly, the court also found him not-guilty for predatory behaviour.
As Rose McGowan said, “I knew if I died I’d be remembered for revealing my rapist, but not for my achievements. I didn’t want his name next to mine on my obituary." Weinstein’s actions define not only him but also haunt the women who have spent years overcoming the emotional and mental trauma of having to fight for justice. Their names have been attached to Weinstein’s tainted legacy.
Still, imprisoning Weinstein fails to wash off the indubitable stain of his depraved behaviour on the lives of these women.
“I knew if I died I’d be remembered for revealing my rapist, but not for my achievements. I didn’t want his name next to mine on my obituary."
One would not be wrong to assume that there still remain powerful men in the industry, just like Weinstein, who abuse their access to power to assume an entitlement to sexual favours. One can only hope that society has progressed far enough to keep such predators at bay, or at the very least, call these predators out. Weinstein’s case, at the rudimentary level, highlights the omnipresent existence of workplace harassment. Both women and men experience sexual coercion.
In Singapore, sexual harassment has been deemed ‘common’, with 79% of the victims being women. 12% of those who were surveyed received threats on termination if they did not comply with requests made.