Women face creeps like Harvey Weinstein everywhere – not just in Hollywood, writes Anita Hill
Media reporting of multiple sexual harassment and assault charges against Harvey Weinstein reads like pulp fiction. This might be a tale that Hollywood itself would turn into a blockbuster movie, if the movie industry cared to show the full horror of sexual harassment and assault.
In reality, though a tale full of boldface names and beautiful people might seem far away from most of our lives, this is really the story of everyday women. The lessons we learn from this – through the lens of an industry that craves publicity but loathes transparency – can and must be applied more broadly throughout American society.
Certainly there are ways in which the Weinstein scandal appears unique to the entertainment business. Charges of sexual extortion, sexual assault and rape deliberately concealed by some and ignored by others signal systemic failure that stems from a disregard for women. It would be naïve to think this bears no relationship to the particular ways this industry packages and profits off of female sexuality and limits women’s opportunities to direct and produce content.
But the lessons we take from this tragedy have huge implications beyond the entertainment world.
There’s a reason, for many women, the stories of Weinstein’s alleged and admitted misconduct read like chapters in their own lives. Take for example two recent scandals in the tech industry, long thought to be a seat of progressive idealism. In February, when Susan Fowler published a blog chronicling her struggles at Uber, many other female employees weighed in exposing the company’s toxic culture of harassment and indifference to their complaints. The climate at Uber was a reflection of its CEO’s brash style.
He later resigned his position under pressure from investors. Mistreatment of women in Silicon Valley came under scrutiny this year, when numerous female entrepreneurs described in vivid terms the sexually predatory behavior of the tech industry’s venture capitalists.
The question for those women is whether Weinstein’s story will help society understand their sexual harassment claims.
Since 1991, when I testified about my own experience with sexual misconduct at Judge Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearing, I regularly hear from individuals who have attempted to stop the abuse they face.
Some of those women worked for charities, politicians, religious organizations, businesses and schools that appear to promote equity and fairness. Yet in far too many cases, institutions actively fight substantiated sexual harassment and assault claims, provide cover for abusers and in some cases offer responses that blame the persons raising the claims – often in the name of protecting the institution’s brand.
Many have pointed out the fact that secret settlements, which required Weinstein accusers to keep quiet, effectively exposed more women to his lascivious and sometimes criminal behavior over the years. Indeed, Weinstein’s corporate board seemed to fail utterly in its oversight on matters of sexual misconduct. They tolerated and sought to manage the problem, rather than seek to put a stop to it.
Companies founded and led by powerful men often effectively put chronic sexual harassment by men in a separate basket, as though it was a “personal problem” rather than a serious business one.
Imagine decades of rumors that Weinstein was an embezzler. Would his boards have shown the same level of disinterest and inattention? When does indifference amount to enabling? The question answers itself and the catastrophic results of the board’s flawed thinking speak for themselves.
Similar indifference or hostility to sexual harassment claims plagues other industries that suffer from the same blind spot. According to Joanna Grossman, author of “Nine to Five: How Gender, Sex, and Sexuality Continue to Define the American Workplace,” as many as 50% of the very few people who actually file formal sexual harassment claims experience retaliation from employers.