When the Bill Cosby scandal broke, and then Roger Ailes, and then Bill O’Reilly, and then Justin Caldbeck shortly thereafter ― topping a floodgate of evidence of the disgusting culture of sexual harassment across the U.S. ― I have to admit that my thought was, “Will the shoe ever drop on Harvey Weinstein?”
It appears the time has come. Or has it?
Based on my years in the industry and unfortunately, my own personal experience with Harvey Weinstein, I can tell you that I believe every single word that was written in the extremely disturbing, but not all that shocking, New York Times piece published yesterday. Not all that shocking because very similar things happened to me. I was naive, new to the industry, and didn’t know how to deal with his aggressive advances ― work invitations with a friend late-night at The Toronto Film Festival, and later an invitation to meet with him about a role in The Peninsula Hotel, where staff were present and then all of a sudden disappeared like clockwork, leaving me alone with this extremely powerful and intimidating Hollywood legend.
Like so many young women, I was taught from the earliest of ages to be polite and keep things “nice.” I was socialized to respect powerful men. This experience, among many others, was part of what inspired me to make Miss Representation. I couldn’t stomach that the industry that had so much power in creating our culture was so entirely demeaning, disrespectful, and diminishing of women and girls.
The pattern with Harvey is one we are now familiar with. Scores of women, adding upon years of rumors and heaps of settlements, created a tower so tall that it finally started to tip over. I am so grateful for the many women who courageously spoke out against his behavior despite understanding that “speaking up could have been costly.” Despite knowing that “The balance of power is [us]: 0, Harvey Weinstein: 10.” I am grateful for their bravery. I am grateful for their fight against the odds and for inspiring me to publically speak the truth.
But I am also extremely exhausted, as I know they are. Why should so many of us women have to be both the victims and the brave heroes?! Why isn’t one of us speaking the truth enough to end this cycle of violence?!!
I was naive, new to the industry, and didn’t know how to deal with his aggressive advances ― work invitations with a friend late-night at The Toronto Film Festival, and later an invitation to meet with him about a role in The Peninsula Hotel, where staff were present and then all of a sudden disappeared like clockwork, leaving me alone with this extremely powerful and intimidating Hollywood legend. Jennifer Siebel Newsom
Because however many hotel robe-wearing incidents, private conversations, and settlements later, it is clear that his behavior was not just widespread, but also well documented. A cadre of witnesses and a paper trail of evidence was as clear as the eye could see. It was an “open secret.” And the entire engine of Harvey Weinstein’s business and legal machines seem to have been working overtime to silence decades and dozens of accusations.
I am dumbfounded by the culture of silence. It’s clear that there were many who knew but who did not stand with the victims. It’s clear that there were many who were too driven to protect their own power and privilege to ensure the perpetrator suffered the consequences.
Until now, I hope.
Women have been exposing this “secret” for years and reporters have been trying to report his predatory behavior for years. But perhaps those in power now finally recognize there must be consequences for men like Harvey. There must be consequences for behavior that systemically harms and oppresses women. And if these consequences can’t or won’t be won in the legal realm (as has yet to be the case for any of the men mentioned above, not to mention the culprit-in-chief, our current President) then at least their reputations, powerful perches, and business opportunities should suffer. Right? I mean, shouldn’t good trump evil in the end?
Certainly the public consciousness around these issues has been raised. But this is only the first step. What will we ultimately do with this newfound consciousness? Will the “code of silence” on sexual harassment and assault finally be broken in the highest offices and most powerful industries across the land?
Let this be the end of “open secrets.” Let there be no more passive waiting for the victims to reach a certain number before we actually do something about this culture of sexual harassment and assault. And let this really be the end of Harvey Weinstein and the Weinstein’s of the world― no matter their wealth, no matter their power, no matter their privilege. Because the Harveys of the world will do whatever it takes to put up a fight and silence their victims, intimidate them from coming forward.
There is so much strength in our numbers, but we cannot do this on our own.
We need more people in power ― particularly men in power ― to break the code of silence and stand up for what is right and what is just and challenge this culture of sexual harassment and assault against women. This requires empathy and conviction and most of all it requires bravery. We must listen to the pain and suffering of others and stand proudly and loudly alongside them. To that end, we need more powerful men like Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr, Jimmy Kimmel, John Legend, Lebron James and my very own husband Gavin Newsom who understand their place of privilege in the public eye and use it to defend and protect those who need defending. Not when it’s popular, not when it’s safe, not when it’s low stakes ― but actually when it isn’t. And, we need more men in particular to do this for women.
Perhaps when enough male allies do that ― we can start to really shift attitudes and behavior towards creating a more just and equitable culture for all ― where women, people of color, immigrants, and LGBTQ communities are valued for their whole humanity. Where women are seen as so much more than their youth, their beauty, and their sexuality.
Imagine that world for our kids. Where there are enough of us standing proudly and loudly for what is right that the injustices do not happen in the first place. It’s up to ALL of us to make it happen. I know we can.
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