Weinstein: a symptom of something bigger

By Clara Gaspar

This week, American film mogul Harvey Weinstein was publicly accused of sexual assault. Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Ashley Judd, Rose McGowan and Rosanna Arquette, among others, have come forward with personal experiences of Weinstein’s unsolicited sexual advances.

There is no doubt that Harvey Weinstein has been fiercely condemned by the media and many of his Hollywood associates. The rest is for the courts to tackle. Nevertheless, the problem of sexism and sexual misdemeanour in Hollywood is more widespread than many like to admit, and it will be left unsolved if we make it purely personal.

This behaviour cannot be pinned solely on the personality of Weinstein, as doing so would excuse individuals who were aware of Weinstein’s reputation, but turned the other cheek.

However, the issue runs deeper still. It is no coincidence that this rampant sexualisation and harassment of women occurs in an industry that has a shameful history in its representation of females. According to San Diego State’s Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film, women made up only 7% of directors on the top 250 films of 2016, a 2% decline from 2015.

When other Hollywood roles were included, including producers and editors, they only accounted for 17% of the workforce altogether. When these facts are considered, it becomes more apparent why young, female actresses have been afraid to come forward with stories of sexual misconduct in an industry that is alienating and intimidating – leaving this behaviour unreported and unpunished.

Of course, all progress towards an equal film industry is positive, but much of it seems to miss the mark. We unquestionably need more meaningful female roles in Hollywood blockbusters, but we also need more women in editing studios, casting rooms and directors’ chairs.

A top-down approach is clearly not working for all the budding young actresses that have been too scared to report uninvited sexual approaches from lecherous directors.

The term “the casting couch” has often been used to express the exchange of sexual favours for career advancement. The fact that its meaning is still implicit in common parlance speaks volumes. For many actresses, their incessant sexualisation seems to come as part of the job description.

Lisa Guerrero, actress and journalist, said: “Nearly every woman I know in Hollywood has been ‘Weinsteined’ at some point in their careers. If not by him,” she adds, “then by someone else.”

And yet how can we expect this to stop when Hollywood notoriously forgives abusive males? Roman Polanski was convicted of statutory rape but is still often lauded within Hollywood. We still idolise the Affleck brothers despite the fact that Ben has now admitted to groping Hilarie Burton in 2003, and his brother Casey has been the subject of two alleged sexual harassment cases.

We must remember that it is not just this week’s headlines that require our attention. Actress Tessa Thompson, along with many others, has described the casual sexism that occurs daily in the industry. “Sometimes you’re on set and a director calls you ‘sweetheart’ and doesn’t ever call you by your name and that’s something that you don’t see him doing to your male counterparts.” It is this subtle but incredibly pervasive behaviour that makes the industry more hostile to successful females.

This may well be the end of Weinstein, but it must not be the end of the conversation about gender inequality in the film industry.

Photograph: Nan Palmero via Flickr and Creative Commons

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