I generally don’t comment on high-profile sexual assaults, because I fear that engaging with trending media stories about rape creates the illusion that rapists are anomalous, that men like Harvey Weinstein—accused over three decades of sexual assault and harassment by over 15 women—are an exception to the rule. They are not. He is not.
In fact, Harvey Weinstein represents the rule: Men in power usually abuse their power, and women are usually their victims.
The Weinstein case in particular has been festering in my head because of what it means for women like me who create media. It seems every minute, another powerful man in the media is exposed as either a sexual assailant or an apologist thereof, whether in life or in death. David Bowie. Bill Cosby. Woody Allen. Prince. Jared Leto. Hugh Hefner. Jason Momoa. Ben Affleck. And the Weinstein stories makes something else painfully clear to women in media: no amount of power will protect you. If Angelina Jolie and Lady Gaga, two of the most famous women in the world, can be harassed and assaulted on their way to fame, then what woman is safe?
There seems to be this unspoken rule that if you want to be a successful man, you must use women—and if you want to be a successful woman, you must be used by men. Wait, no. Scratch that. It’s not unspoken. It’s actually pretty well-known and widely accepted. It’s a culture-wide joke that women get career promotions in exchange for sexual favors. There’s even a porn genre called the “casting couch” where women are given fake job offers as a bribe for sex. When this sexual coercion is framed as consensual–funny, even—we spit in the face of every woman who has ever known the terror of being preyed upon by a man with more money, and more power, than her.
As an artist, I avoid working under men. I don’t want them having significant creative control over my work, nor do I want them having the power to make or break its success. This is why I self-publish or submit primarily to female-run publications. But recently, my life has taken a turn, and this is why the Weinstein Thing is getting to me. I just finished producing my first play, GYNX (coincidentally, it’s about castrating rapists). If you know theater, you know that every playwright’s goal is to get produced in bigger and bigger venues–so typically, your first production is self-funded or crowdfunded, or both, and then you’ve “made it” once a “real” producer decides to fund your next production. Because theater is so absurdly expensive, self-production is not a sustainable option for most emerging playwrights, particularly female ones. If you want to make it, you inevitably must go through men—either that, or drive yourself into copious amounts of debt trying to remain in total control of your art. But even then, men own the more prestigious venues and dominate most design and production teams.
Besides being a first-time playwright, the biggest reason I self-produced GYNX was to set a precedent for its future productions. Going into a field as blatantly misogynistic as theater, where sexual harassment abounds, I have chosen a gruesomely difficult path by seeking female producers and directors only–which means my play may never see the audience I think it deserves. The only other option is to trust GYNX in the hands of powerful men, and potentially get eaten alive in the process. Either way, one could argue that my choice is self-sabotaging. At the risk of sounding dramatic, there’s almost nowhere to turn where you won’t eventually have to compromise, if not totally surrender, to a man.
I understand how women in the media wind up in situations where their male superiors take advantage of them. We have almost no other options. But I believe, in my heart of hearts, that things don’t have to remain the way they are.
Women should not be punished for seeking fame, success, money or simply an audience. Women are talented. Women are geniuses. Women are hard-working. Women deserve space for artistic expression unencumbered by trauma. Women deserve to be safe at work, at home, everywhere. Those things aren’t up for debate. But one question does remain: How many times are we going to hear about male bosses, male producers, male directors creeping on their female underlings before we do something about it?
We’ve all memorized the steps to this culture-wide choreography by now. Rapist is exposed. Everybody virtue-signals their feelings about the rapist and/or victim(s). The story trends for a while. Then it slowly fades out of our consciousness and we collectively move on to the next news fad. In the end, nothing changes. Sexually abusive men remain in power, and women remain their easy targets.
Now is the time to strategize, not virtue signal. Strategizing means figuring out what exactly the problem is, then devising a solution accordingly. This is the only way to potentially change the way things are. So if we know the problem is men being the gatekeepers to women’s success, the solution might be to take men out of the equation altogether.
I’m proposing that we create our own media, as independent of men as possible.
I’m certainly not the first woman to suggest this–far from it. But if this latest high-profile conversation about rape, abuse and harassment can be useful in any way, it can become our motivation to revive the push for women-controlled media. We have a history of getting away with it: I’m thinking back on female-run publishing houses, zines made and circulated by feminist collectives decades ago, some of which remain. (Like Ms.!) We have social media now. We have free platforms at our disposal that feminists of the past could only dream of. Think of the possibilities.
Now is the time to ask ourselves what it really means to support women in media. Support means more than just being a fan of an artist. Support means doing your homework. Think of how many websites you read and share from on the regular. Look into who owns those platforms. Now repeat this process with the music you listen to, the books you read, the movies you watch. Who are the producers, publishers, directors? How much of the media you consume is male-dominated, male-curated and male-oriented? How different would you be–how different would your world be–if you consciously made a shift to female-produced media instead, in everything from literature to music to film? How might this impact your self-image? How might this contribute to a safer world for us all?
Don’t stop at supporting women writers–support women publishers. Don’t just support women actors–support women filmmakers and directors. And what’s a female model or musician without her agent or producer? The women who curate and fund media production need our support now more than ever, and we need their brilliance. Give them your monetary support. And if you don’t have money, give them your time. If you don’t have that, ask them how else you can support them.
Let the Harvey Weinstein scandal be a call to arms. Let it be the last hand-wringing and the next reckoning. We need more than a handful of women making personal choices to boycott certain production companies; we need a massive movement to overhaul all media as it currently stands. We need to create solid networks of women if we are to counteract the unacceptable media system that men like Harvey Weinstein have created to denigrate us. I want us all to be so furious that it inspires real, tangible change. We will know the change is real if measurable resources—money and space, for instance—are being transferred out of the hands of abusive men and into the hands of women.
That work doesn’t end at this byline. Continue discussing this. Brainstorm. Debate. Come up with ideas (it doesn’t matter if they’re imperfect). Pick a solution and try it. If there’s one thing I know about women, it’s that we’re resilient. We are survivors. We will figure out how to create safe havens in media for women.
By writing this, I am planting a seed. It will take time, and struggle, and care, but together–and only together—we’ll grow it into something.