By: Omar K. Elmore, senior writer
Several high-profile women in Hollywood have come out against Harvey Weinstein, a prominent film producer and studio executive, sharing various accounts of sexual harassment, assault and rape.
At the time of publication, more than 60 actresses, directors, models and others involved in Hollywood have shared horrible stories of Weinstein’s sexual exploitation and abuse of power in the industry.
Weinstein has denied “any allegations of non-consensual sex.” He also released a statement defending himself, saying he “came of age in the 60’s and 70’s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then.”
Weinstein’s is a story of complacency in the face of sexual harassment. In their accounts of interactions with the producer, several other women also pointed out that, despite the several legal investigations into Weinstein’s behavior, others in the industry ignored and even encouraged his actions.
On Oct. 19, acclaimed writer-director Quentin Tarantino revealed he was a part of this complacency. Tarantino worked with Weinstein’s company Miramax on several projects including Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and, most recently, “The Hateful Eight.” Despite hearing stories from several women, including his then-girlfriend Mira Sorvino, Tarantino continued to work with Weinstein without acknowledging his pattern of behavior.
“I knew enough to do more than I did. There was more to it than just the normal rumors, the normal gossip,” he said in an interview with the New York Times. “It wasn’t secondhand. I knew he did a couple of these things. I wish I had taken responsibility for what I heard.
Weinstein is one of several other high-profile men to have their behavior with women exposed and questioned in recent years; his name now belongs on the same list as comedian Bill Cosby, director Woody Allen, news personality Bill O’Reilly and the late founder of Fox News and Fox Television Stations Group Roger Ailes. Even President Donald Trump has had his own treatment of women called into question after one infamous, sexually explicit tape surfaced.
These issues are not individualistic; though each of these men have revealed their own degree of misogyny and disgrace, it seems they are merely symptoms of a much larger problem.
That problem is reflected in Weinstein’s defense: “That was the culture then,” he says. And he is not wrong; we certainly have a greater public awareness today pertaining to sexual assault than we have in the past. That, though, does not excuse anything.
That problem touches on other issues evident in our society such as the blatant racism of Weinstein’s strong denial of the account of sexual aggression relayed by actress Lupita Nyong’o, despite his relative quietness on the other 60+ reports that featured white women as his victims.
The problem touches on toxic masculinity such as when the then-presidential candidate Trump defended his lewd comments by characterizing them as “locker-room talk” to the ire of several professional athletes.
The problem is with how we treat history. Just because something has been tolerated for years or decades or even centuries, doesn’t mean it is morally wrong and free from criticism.
This same problem has reared its head since the Unite the Right Rally on August 12 in Charlottesville, VA. The overt celebration of white supremacy and subsequent debates regarding remnants of the Confederacy reflected in statues featured a similar defense: “These things may or may not be problematic, but they are a part of history and, as such, are untouchable.”
This argument is weak in that longevity does not inherently equate to moral superiority.
In the case of sexual harassment, this argument is used to absolve individuals and organizations for objectively wrong conduct.
“This fraternity has done this for years, it’s a tradition.”
“This is and always has been groupie culture.”
“No one has said anything bad about it before, why now?”
As college students, I hope we look at these arguments and take them for what they are: empty statements that hold no one responsible for their actions, weak arguments that ignore the problems found in a pattern of behavior in order to pass blame.
At Wofford, we can stop using these arguments when discussing sexual harassment and move closer toward fixing the institutions that perpetuate it.
Complacency simply isn’t a Wofford value.