Weinstein’s out, but the problem is much bigger
For weeks now, our country’s culture of shaming and silencing survivors has once again been in the spotlight. Headlines have continued to track the widespread allegations of sexual abuse committed by Harvey Weinstein, who has been fired from his production company and may face legal consequences for his actions. In the wake of this revelation, many other instances of sexual assault in Hollywood have started making headlines, too.
Yet this cultural progress comes at a time when the fight against sexual assault is under political attack, especially thanks to Secretary of Education Betsy Devos’ recent actions. On September 22, Devos announced that the Department of Education would rescind President Obama’s “Dear Colleague” letter, which encouraged schools to enforce Title IX and support survivors, essentially rewriting sexual assault policies to favor those who have been accused of sexual assault.
Considering all the other horrific things our government has done lately, this decision shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Devos’ decision not only reeks of victim-blaming and false equivalency but also reduces the likelihood that colleges will take assault cases seriously and discourages survivors from speaking up. As a college student, I have heard of many student sexual assault survivors who didn’t report at all for fear that they would not be believed or even because they blamed themselves. DeVos’ decision reinforces the bogus idea that false reports of rape are both widespread and somehow a bigger problem than rape itself.
Since it’s clear that DeVos and the rest of our government have no interest in trying to prevent sexual assault, it is on the rest of us to challenge rape culture in our own lives. Public figures, especially, should use their platforms to condemn sexual assault. While many in Hollywood have been silent about such “controversial” issues in the past, it’s clear celebrities are beginning to understand the power of their voices. For example, comedian Tig Notaro recently urged progressive comedian Louis C.K. to address accusations of sexual misconduct made against him. Notaro even included a scene in her show One Mississippi in which a woman’s boss masturbates in front of her during a private meeting — something C.K. was specifically accused of doing.
Other public figures are taking a more direct approach. Actress Amber Tamblyn responded to actor James Woods’ recent criticism of a film for featuring a relationship involving an underage boy by claiming that Woods had tried to pick up her and a friend when they were 16. Woods denied her claim, to which Tamblyn subsequently responded by writing an op-ed in The New York Times titled “I’m Done With Not Being Believed.” “What I have experienced as an actress working in a business whose business is to objectify women is frightening,” she wrote. “It is a famous man telling you that you are a liar for what you have remembered.” Tamblyn not only called out a single actor’s transgression, therefore, but used the opportunity to addresses the pervasive problem of prominent men using their money and power to silence victims.
Though actors like Notaro and Tamblyn—and increasingly, people who were abused by Weinstein—are willing to speak up against sexual harassment and assault, it is clear that a culture of silence and complacency in Hollywood still exists. For example, Dylan Farrow wrote an op-ed n in 2014 recounting being sexually abused by acclaimed director Woody Allen. The poignant piece is impossible to ignore, yet so many people did. Not only has Allen never been prosecuted for this charge, but prominent movie stars continue to work with him. In fact, it was recently announced that Selena Gomez will star in Allen’s next film. Though Gomez used her platform to address issues like mental health and sexual assault by producing the show Thirteen Reasons Why, she seems to have no concern with working with one of Hollywood’s most infamous alleged perpetrators of sexual violence.
While the brave stands recently made by prominent survivors are inspiring, it’s clear sexual assault is still not completely taken seriously in this society. It’s this acceptance that enables DeVos to pass policies that disadvantage survivors and why perpetrators like Brock Turner don’t receive the consequences they deserve. If young victims continue to see rapists get away with their actions, they will feel discouraged from speaking out against the injustice.
We should celebrate the fact that a predator like Harvey Weinstein has not gotten out of his allegations unscathed, but this result shouldn’t be so abnormal. There are countless more Weinsteins out there in every industry who get away with their inexcusable offenses every day, and they will continue to do so until our society starts taking this power imbalance more seriously. Women are speaking up — it’s our job to listen.
More articles by Category: Arts and culture, Gender-based violence
More articles by Tag: Sexual harassment, sexual assault