The Weinstein effect has tentacles that reach far beyond Hollywood
A wave of sexual assault and harassment allegations is crashing across the world, reaching into an increasing number of industries with claims men are abusing positions of power.
The New York Times published the article Harvey Weinstein Paid off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades on October 5.
Since then, men at the height of several industries have faced sexual assault or harassment allegations.
- Leaders in Hollywood
- Bosses at media companies
- Prominent chefs
- Big names in technology
- The list really does go on
There are no geographical boundaries to this surge in allegations either.
Taking a snapshot of our coverage to date in November alone, stories on claims and cases of sexual assault and harassment, as well as women speaking out against violence have included:
- NYPD builds rape case against Harvey Weinstein
- Netflix boots Kevin Spacey from House of Cards
- Miss Peru contestants share violence against women statistics instead of body measurements
- Growing list of sexual harassment and assault allegations in Westminster
- Welsh politician who resigned amid sexual misconduct claims found dead
- Sexual harassment happens on the Australian stage too
Add to that, an Austrian politician resigning amid sexual harassment claims, France’s “rat out your pig” movement, similar social media trends in Italy and Spain as well as the countless stories told around the world that had mentions of #metoo on Twitter doing this:
The common theme? Power
Dacher Keltner is a professor of psychology at the University of California Berkeley and has spent 25 years studying power.
He said the Weinstein case “brought together every force that makes power problematic“.
“It is striking to just think about the context that 95 per cent of directors in Hollywood are male,” Professor Keltner said.
“When you have a kind of concentration of a certain type of person, so men or a certain ethnicity, you’re more likely to get an abuse of power against another group — like young women.”
Professor Keltner has been watching with great interest as the Weinstein case unfolds and the world wakes up.
“I think this is a pivotal moment. I really do,” he said.
Is it **really** different this time?
We started to wonder if there was a genuine and enduring shift happening.
Is this different to Bill Cosby? Is this different to that time a recording of a presidential candidate saying he grabbed women “by the pussy” was released during a campaign and he got elected anyway?
“Feminists have been writing about this, social scientists have been studying sexual harassment, women have been talking about it among themselves, but sometimes you need these pivotal moral events … where suddenly it’s like, ‘OK, we’ve got to change this’.
“I think this is it.”
His theory is that this time women have allies and they’re taking control of the discussion.
Those New York Times journalists who fought for more than a decade to get the Weinstein story up, pressed publish at a time when movements like Women’s March had made significant gains.
Now, there is a network of people — men and women — who are getting strength from one another to say harassment — from cat calling on the street to assault as invasive as rape — is not OK and will no longer be accepted.
Professor Keltner talked about a group of female leaders who run multi-billion-dollar sections of the US healthcare system.
“What they do, is what women will now be doing post-Weinstein,” he said.
“[They say]: ‘Here are 12 things a man cannot do to you, period. And if he does it, you get to tell somebody’.
“He can’t whistle at you. He can’t roll his eyes when you’re in a meeting. He can’t grab your body or try to kiss you — he just can’t do that.”
As media coverage has increased, activists and victims have found a very specific voice.
“When you gather stories, you allow people to use this language,” Professor Keltner said.
“You allow people to say, ‘That senior male professor grabbed my breast’ and before, we were hesitant to use that language and so we couldn’t get a clear picture of this phenomenon and that’s different now.
“Women own that language and when you do that you empower people.”
Remember when Donald Trump called Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman”?
That term didn’t fade. Activists took ownership of it.
To cut through, to claw back power, Professor Keltner says: “You’ve got to take on the grittiness of it.”
Grit. Like this?
Language. Like this?
“Women are gaining power right now more than they’ve had in 15,000 years.”
Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, agrees the time is now.
“I’m really hopeful and optimistic that this global spotlight, but also an Australian spotlight particularly on sexual harassment and assault, will be the catalyst for real change,” she said.
Ms Jenkins referenced different research projects that examined experiences for women in a cross-section of Australian industries, including:
- Victoria Police
- The Royal College of Surgeons
- Universities, via the Human Rights Commission
- The arts, via Actors Equity
“They all show alarmingly high rates of sexual harassment in the workplace and the community at large,” she said.
“What is happening at the moment is it has become a talking point for people who really don’t understand what experiences for women are.”
Why it seems like it’s always men
Because, as the research shows, it usually is.
Research. Data. The people who interview perpetrators. The people who interview victims.
If we look at the data around gender and harassment, we learn some truths.
Here’s one domestic truth:
When you read about the “participation gap”, you’re reading about boardrooms/parliaments/movie credits that have more men than women.
There are fewer women in positions of power, therefore there are fewer women who abuse power.
“There has been a historical view in Australia that sexual assault and harassment happens because men can’t control their urges,” Ms Jenkins said.
“But these situations don’t happen everywhere, they happen in situations of power. They happen where speaking up is difficult.”
Is it a ‘bad time to be a man’?
Because, if you’ve ever been on Twitter, you’ve probably read that.
The way Professor Keltner described it was, “No”. This is just a “long overdue” correction.
He said women gaining power was a “balancing out”, not a takeover.
Maybe the Weinstein tide will subside only when it has dredged up the last of these abuses of power and we get to a point where it’s a good time to be someone who identifies as any gender.
“We need to move from big villains to the small everyday things that lead to this environment where we tolerate sexual harassment,” Ms Jenkins said.
“My hope is not that we start catching high-profile people in Australia, but in the everyday experience we just reduce the prevalence of sexual harassment so it’s not part of the workplace experience for women.”