With the recent saturation of news on Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood producer who allegedly used his position to sexually harass and assault hundreds of women over a period of decades, the world has suddenly become hyper aware of the epidemic of intimidation and coercion that exists in the entertainment industry, and anywhere else where men use their power to control women.
But despite the Weinstein situation being such an open secret that it was known and accepted by literally every figure in an entire industry who sat by and did nothing about it, we mustn’t be tricked into thinking that this is anything more than an unfortunate isolated incident.
We certainly don’t want this turning into a witch hunt, where deviant men are dragged from their secluded corridors of power and brought into the harsh and unflinching light of judgement.
While 994 out of every 1000 rapists walk away free, that’s simply the price we’ve all agreed to pay to maintain our beloved and accepted status quo, where celebrities, athletes, politicians, and religious figures are allowed the same “innocent until proven guilty” status as the rest of us (who are not poor or visible minorities).
We mustn’t be quick to judge those who hold unchecked, near unlimited privilege and are unafraid to lord that power over others. As Oliver Stone quite rightly said, “It’s not easy what [Weinstein’s] going through,” and as the accusers mount it’s important for us to find empathy for Mr. Weinstein, and any man who succumbs to the temptations that come with power. Who among us hasn’t assaulted with impunity? A blameless victim of alcohol, drugs, or “sex addiction”… whichever makes for the most convenient and/or believable excuse.
Stone himself was later accused of groping a Playboy model, which I’m sure was entirely unconnected to his willingness to give Weinstein his support.
It’s been heartening to see power players like Woody Allen use their impeccable reputations to support Weinstein in his darkest moments. As Woody kindly said, “It’s sad for Harvey that his life is so messed up.” Very true. And particularly meaningful since it’s coming from someone without any horrific, revolting skeletons in their closet—a man with a string of audience-pleasing masterpieces, who very rarely projects his pedophilic fantasies into his films, transparently taunting his own traumatized family members.
So it’s premature to burn your R. Kelly CDs or toss your Roman Polanski films in the trash. While every day we see more and more accusations from women who have been monstrously abused by the industries they’ve devoted their lives to, we mustn’t forget the real victims here: the theoretically innocent men who were simply pawns in an accepted—if not encouraged—culture of abuse. They may never get their day in court, where a justice system perceptibly twisted in their favour could find them innocent while mocking, shaming, and punishing those who stood up against them, but they have something even more powerful than that: the benefit of the doubt.