Casey Affleck won an Oscar this past Sunday and people are angry. This is now common knowledge.
As far as I’ve seen, no one is contesting the quality of the performance which scored him this coveted, career-boosting award. Instead, the outrage stems from allegations of sexual harassment brought against him back in 2010. So what does this have to do with his career right now, you ask? The correct answer should be everything.
First of all, sexual harassment is unacceptable in any setting, but these particular allegations were brought against him by two coworkers, meaning these acts were allegedly committed in a professional environment during the making of the indie mockumentary, “I’m Still Here.” This suggests they should pertain directly to how his career is furthered, perhaps even years after the fact. You can read about the allegations in detail here.
The biggest argument I’ve heard in Affleck’s favor is this: What if the allegations were false? What if he didn’t do it? The reality of the situation is that legally this was settled years ago, and all parties involved are now barred from commenting in any public forum. No one, other than those involved, will ever know the truth about what happened, leaving the public with this unsettling question:
Should Affleck’s career be affected by something that can’t be proven?
Our legal system stands on the value of innocent until proven guilty. In a perfect world I would be willing to give this argument more heed, but unfortunately that’s not the way it works for women in the workplace. Personally speaking, I have never come across a woman who has reported harassment to Human Resources in a corporate setting and not come to regret it, myself included. It is a regular occurrence that women are interrogated, shamed, and retaliated against after reporting sexual harassment. If you need a recent example, I challenge you not to delete your Uber app after reading about Susan Fowler’s abuse at the hands of the popular company’s Human Resources team. Her story has not only caused others to come forward, but was impactful enough to warrant the company’s addressing of the allegations directly with users who did decide to delete their account over the matter. Recent reports have shown that Google may also be guilty of mishandling allegations brought against the same individual, before he went on to work for Uber.
I have found myself seated in the office of a Human Resources director who refused to bring any consequences against my abuser. During this meeting I revealed I wanted to leave the company due to harassment from another employee. I had terminated our personal relationship, asking him repeatedly to address me regarding professional matters only, and for months he refused to honor that request. He tapped on my car windows in the parking lot and used his body to block the doorway if I tried to exit the break room. He harassed me over company instant messenger and made sexual noises if I was forced to walk by his desk. I had already notified my supervisor, and no action had been taken.
The HR director looked me straight in the face and told me that I was the source of the problem. She supported me in removing myself from the situation, and saw no reason to take action against my coworker. I asked that my notice be kept a secret, fearing that if he found out about my departure the harassment would get worse, citing a violent incident requiring invasive medical treatment as the source of this fear. She declined the request with no explanation, telling me that he would find out immediately, along with everyone else in the department. I left the building that day and never went back.
For any woman who has experienced such a thing, stories like Affleck’s shed light on a horrific double standard. Men are virtually untouchable when we encounter these situations personally, and time after time we are reminded that the same is true in the entertainment industry, one of the world’s most public forums. Never has the spotlight shined so bright on this disturbing fact as when a man who claimed the right to “grab ‘em by the pussy” was elected President of the United States. Affleck is just another name in a long list (Bernardo Bertolucci, Marlon Brando, Roman Polanski, Mel Gibson, Woody Allen), adding insult to injury.
So don’t tell us to keep it about the work. Don’t tell us not to take it personally. As long as there is backlash against those who stand up for themselves in the face of abuse, there should be consequences for those who are accused. Perhaps it should, at the very least, cost them an Oscar.