This week, the entertainment world experienced the spectacular downfall of one of Hollywood’s most powerful legends — Harvey Weinstein — the film studio executive who co-founded The Weinstein Company and Miramax.
Weinstein was exposed in The New York Times for his perennial sexual harassment tendencies, revealing that he had paid off eight women who have accused him of sexual harassment.
Since the avalanche broke out last Friday, many more have come out and recounted their sordid experiences with the media mogul.
Weinstein’s life as he knows it is over. Kaput. Gone. He has since been fired from The Weinstein Company, the very company he started from scratch.
His wife has since left him. His high-powered networks, including the Obamas, are gone. (Malia Obama, the first-born daughter of the Obamas, interned at The Weinstein Company before joining Harvard). The Obamas have since described Weinstein’s behaviour as “disgusting”.
That is why I would like us to have yet another conversation about sexual harassment in the workplace.
First, I would like to commend the brave women who came out boldly to speak out against the evil that Weinstein put them through. It takes an incredible amount of courage to stand up against a powerful man.
Even in the face of vituperation and opprobrium, these women stood strong and told their story, conquering the fear that someone may not believe their story.
It then occurred to me that sexual harassment is not so much about sex and harassment, but about a nasty power game that some powerful men have perfected.
It is not about “why didn’t these women speak out sooner?” or “Why speak out now?”, it is about an imbalance of power, coupled with fear and the burden of proof and shame that sexual harassment victims have to carry around their necks like an albatross for the rest of their lives.
Sexual harassment is about a powerful man threatening a young woman — or a bevy of them — to give in to his demands or else… Or else he will destroy their careers… Or else he will look them in the eye and fire them right on the spot because it is his company and he is the boss… Or else he will make sure that they never get a job in the industry… Or else he will just deny it because he is rich and powerful.
Let us call sexual harassment for what it truly is; a gross abuse of power by men in authority who deny young women opportunities not because they are not qualified enough but because these young women have refused to yield to their amorous demands.
Sexual harassment comes in many forms. It is sexual harassment if a male colleague insists on hugging you, touches you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable and makes comments about your body and looks that make you feel uneasy.
The most atrocious aspect of sexual harassment is that the chronic perpetrators are not only living among us, but also living and working in enabling environments where we either directly or indirectly encourage them to keep up with their deviant behaviour.
Reports reveal that there were “loud whispers” about Weinstein’s behaviour in Hollwood for close to three decades, yet no one spoke out. We may be living in different continents, but this rings very true even in the Kenyan context.
We know sexual predators in our workplaces, we know relatives that touch girls inappropriately, but we make excuses for them because we do not want to stir the waters.
We blame our daughters for speaking out and blame the atrocities on meaningless things like the length of a woman’s skirts and make these women carry burdens in their hearts for the rest of their lives.
We know these men are living among us, but we excuse them because we do not want to upset the apple cart. How many times have we turned the other way because the sexual predator is a ‘family man’ and is the ‘boss’ and we would not want to upset him?
I would like to end this by encouraging young women who have gone through such sordid experiences to take the cue from the likes of Ashley Judd, the actress whose testimony was among those that brought down Weinstein.
I know it is easier said than done, but I promise you that you will sleep much better tonight if you know that the sexual predator will not live to do that to another woman.