The Harvey Weinstein scandal has shone the spotlight on Hollywood’s institutional sexism

The disgraced film producer should mark a turning point in the film industry, writes Shivani Ananth

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The story of a millionaire movie mogul at the apex of Hollywood’s hierarchy, using his power to demean, demoralise, and degrade budding actresses is a plot too disturbing for even the most sordid horror film. It’s a tale which exposes the deep-running misogyny, exploitation, and oppression which runs through the veins of Hollywood.

A tale which fundamentally undermines and destabilises an industry which is meant to be a beacon of progressivism and tolerance. Since the New York Times broke their investigation exposing years of sexual harassment and abuse cases perpetrated by Harvey Weinstein, many actresses have bravely spoken out about their experiences of the former film titan.

The hashtag ‘#MeToo’ has been trending on social media platforms – an overt, powerful expression of solidarity, courage and defiance against such predators. The story has led to an outpouring of women (and men) speaking out against the patriarchy and the frequent cases of sexism in the film industry, as well as opening a much-needed dialogue about the dangerous power structures which exist in Hollywood. However, whilst I applaud the heated debate and discussion this exposé has generated, as well as how it has galvanised and empowered women across every industry to share their stories, I can’t help but feel slightly desensitised by it all.

It feels like a narrative too frequently reworked and retold. The film industry has been tainted by scandals such as this, whether through Roman Polanski being charged for having sexual relations with a 13-year-old girl in 1977 or accusations of Woody Allen molesting his adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn. Whilst many have of course condemned both film-makers, they have also been commended by the industry, with Polanski even receiving an Oscar for his 2003 fi lm ‘The Pianist’.

The scandals appear to live exclusively within short-term memory. This is an industry that is becoming more politicised each day, turning into a platform where high-profile stars use their fame and influence to push for social and political change. That’s perhaps why seeing their occasional acceptance, indifference and compliance towards this type of behaviour feels worthy of scrutiny. The glossy and polished George Clooney voiced his disgust at Weinstein’s actions, but admitted that it was a widely known fact that “Harvey’s a dog”. That, in itself, is part of the problem that has enabled men like Weinstein to brazenly and unapologetically mistreat women without having to suffer any consequences.

To accept misogyny as being a type of banter, as “Harvey just being Harvey” not only validates their behaviour – giving them a sense of invincibility and immunity – but is also why so many women are petrified to speak out against such misconduct, for fear their accounts would be ignored and dismissed. It creates a culture of shame and invalidation for victims, and allows an environment of intimidation to fester under the surface.

The industry has displayed a universal disbelief regarding Weinstein – a response that can’t help but feel tinged with insincerity, especially when looking at how many used the whispers of Weinstein’s indecent behaviour as a punchline for their monologues. Seth McFarlane once said in an award show that “you five ladies no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein”. Whilst acclaimed series 30 Rock made light of the situation, with Jane Krakowski’s character Jenna Maroney remarking how she “turned down intercourse with Harvey Weinstein on no less than three occasions”.

As horrifying as this whole episode has been, this was one component of the story that I simply could not comprehend. For an industry to make light of sexual abuse and predatory behaviour, and for those jokes to remain unnoticed and unchallenged is a shocking reminder of how far we still need to go in terms of gender equality. The passivity and in some cases silence displayed by Hollywood, reflects a common attitude in other spheres of life, in which to avoid confrontation and to avoid awkwardness we allow ourselves to become unconscious enablers of such behaviour.

The Harvey Weinstein scandal is indicative of a much bigger problem, a problem that permeates through most of society. But despite the sheer volume of cases similar to his – whether they be instances of misogyny when waiting in a Bridge queue, or damning recordings from the President of the United States – it seems that the tide is beginning to turn. We are able to use the tools at our disposal.

We can debate on Twitter and, yes, we can write articles, to illuminate an endemic issue and finally take action to cleanse a system that has been infected with years of mistreatment and abuse. Whilst there is a collective feeling of sadness regarding recent events, there is also one of rage, a rage that I know can be channeled into stamping out such reprehensible behaviour and inspiring people across every walk of life to probe, challenge and fundamentally change the way women are treated in society

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