Harvey Weinstein is Hollywood: The Industry’s Culture of Harassment Needs a Rewrite

The New York Times today released an exclusive report detailing decades of sexual harassment accusations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

The Times investigation turned up sexual harassment allegations against the media mogul spanning almost 30 years, and confirmed at least eight settlements reached by Weinstein with former employees. As they report, Weinstein’s behavior was rooted in an ages-old predatory pattern: the media mogul would seek out vulnerable women seeking to jump-start their careers, entrap them into private meetings and then persistently and coercively pursue sex or other intimate activities with them.

According to the Times, dozens of current and former employees of Weinstein said they were aware of inappropriate conduct, but only a handful confronted him. Their silence comes with the territory: Employees of the Weinstein company sign contracts saying they will not criticize organizational leaders, and those who threaten to do so have, in the past, reached settlements which appear to demand silence in exchange for “buying peace.”

Laura O’Connor, an employee at the Weinstein Company, wrote a memo in 2015 detailing sexual harassment allegations from her two years at the company. “There is a toxic environment for women at this company,” she wrote to top executives, adding that “the balance of power is me: 0, Harvey Weinstein: 10.” When board members read her letter, they pushed for an investigation—but before that investigation could take place, Weinstein reached a settlement with O’Connor, and she withdrew her complaint.

In 2015, Italian model Ambra Battilana called police within hours of a meeting with Weinstein in his office, accusing him of grabbing her breasts and putting his hands up her skirt; he reached a settlement with Battilana during an active investigation and the Manhattan district attorney’s office declined to charge him. In 2013, he reached a settlement with Rose McGowan, then 23, for an incident taking place in a hotel room during the Sundance Film Festival; she declined to comment to the Times for its report. In 1998, Weinstein’s then-assistant in London, Zelda Perkins, confronted him about what her and colleagues recognized as a pattern of inappropriate behavior and threatened to go public or take legal action if he didn’t stop; a lawyer was dispatched to negotiate a settlement, and Perkins told the Times that she could not discuss her work or whether she had entered into any agreements.

Lisa Bloom, a lawyer and advisor to Weinstein, said in a statement that he was “an old dinosaur learning new ways.” Her comment aligns perfectly with a statement released to the Times today by Weinstein, in which he attempts to excuse his behavior as simply a nostalgic vice. “I came of age in the 60’s and 70’s,” he reminds the paper, “when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then.”

And in a sad twist of fate, Weinstein is right. That was—and stubbornly still is—the culture of the film and television industry and others like it, where heterosexism still reigns supreme and men still dominate leadership positions. “I took meetings at Weinstein with other female execs,” screenwriter Stephanie Mickus shared on Twitter. “But every single time I’d hear ‘as long as you aren’t meeting with Harvey, you’ll be fine.’ That’s our reality.”

The Times report on Weinstein’s decades of misconduct comes in the wake of Bill O’Reilly’s forced resignation, after decades of sexual harassment complaints filed by colleagues, from Fox—a network which was also run, until recently, by a serial assailant of the same ilk and continues to garner assault and harassment allegations from female employees. Actor Ashley Judd’s own story about Weinstein—one in which he asks her to give him a massage and watch him shower—appeared in the Times less than a month after actor and author Amber Tamblyn tweeted that actor James Woods made sexual advances at her when she was just 16. Earlier this year, a Bill Cosby rape trial came to an unjust close after nearly 50 women came forward to accuse the actor of drugging and assaulting them when they were starting out in Hollywood. And of course, perhaps most notably, in the White House sits our very first reality television president—a man who has himself been accused of sexual assault and harassment, and has been caught on tape confessing to as much.

The accusations against Weinstein are disturbing, jarring, uncomfortable, strange—and it is long past time for Hollywood to commit to making them uncommon and unacceptable. Sexual harassment may very well have been “the culture then,” but it never should have been. Women in media—and in every industry—deserve a better reality.




Carmen Rios is a self-proclaimed feminist superstar and the former digital editor at Ms. Her writing on queerness, gender, race and class has been published in print and online by outlets including BuzzFeed, Bitch, Bust, CityLab, DAME, ElixHER, Feministing, Feminist Formations, GirlBoss, GrokNation, MEL, Mic, the National Women’s History Museum, SIGNS and the Women’s Media Center; and she is a co-founder of Webby-nominated Argot Magazine. @carmenriosss|carmenfuckingrios.com