That women as successful as Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie stayed quiet for decades before finally daring to accuse Harvey Weinstein of sexually harassing them underlines why so few women with no Oscars and far less power and prestige ever come forward.
(And also with less Brad Pitt. Long before he married Jolie, he was seeing 22-year-old Paltrow when the producer allegedly groped her during a meeting in his hotel room. Pitt warned Weinstein never to go near her again, and Weinstein warned Paltrow not to tell anyone else.)
Going public about the abuse of power is always difficult and often diminishing. And that, of course, is what abusers count on and love about it.
Maybe, as Meryl Streep says, not everyone who worked with Weinstein knew about his decades of abuse, though they knew enough to laugh at a joke about it at the 2013 Oscar nominations. And maybe Weinstein’s longtime friend and beneficiary Hillary Clinton really is, as she belatedly said, “shocked and appalled.”
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But a lot of people in progressive, pro-woman Los Angeles clearly did know, including the current or former employees of Weinstein’s companies, who told The New Yorker they had witnessed or otherwise had direct knowledge of his predations.
Just like a lot of people in not-progressive Fox News knew about Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly. And as not a few centrists in Bill Clinton’s campaign and White House knew that the Big Dog was one. Nobody wanted to hear that Bill Cosby was no Cliff Huxtable. And only a year ago, no one who voted for President Donald Trump found his boast about grabbing women’s genitals disqualifying.
What does it mean that Billy Bush lost his job at NBC for having yukked it up with Trump over his yucky behavior, while the grabber himself grabbed the ultimate job?
Or that Ailes and O’Reilly ultimately were forced out, but Bill Clinton, who was accused of rape and assault, is still widely defended as someone whose only lapse was liking women too well?
Black and white, left and right, rich and richer — they all seem like one guy. A guy, that is, who got into trouble only when he was old and not funny any more, or older and not as in touch with the Oscar gods any more, or Bush — youngish but a harmless Today show host — instead of a lifelong libertine promising to turn himself into the ultimate pro-lifer.
Tina Brown runs the uber-feminist Women in the World Summit, where “inspirational activists and political change-makers from all over the world ... offer solutions to building a better life for women and girls.” When it’s only now that she reveals all the payoffs she saw when she worked with Weinstein, how much has changed?
Something has, since we never used to speak of these things at all. Yet much has not. After moving ever so briefly and slightly toward recognizing these realities, we’ve lately taken three steps back. Trump with his checkered history on these issues is in the White House. And his administration’s emphasis on due process for college students accused of sexual assault has unfortunately refueled old attitudes about false accusations and victim blaming.
On or off campus, due process is crucial, but that in no way obviates the need to keep the focus on the grave systemic problems underscored by just last year’s worth of high-profile scandals.
My former colleague David McLemore, a writer in San Antonio, said the truest thing I’ve heard about Weinstein et al: “If we think sexual predation is a Hollywood thing, or a liberal/conservative thing, or a rich person thing, we probably need to talk to more women” about harassment or assault, because “every woman I know has dealt with it at some time. Every one.”
Me, too, David. So will we ever get to the tipping point some of us have been waiting for so long?
Like karma, some tipping points show up awfully late.
This column originally appeared in USA Today.