“He’s not a great guy, but it’s not like he’s Harvey Weinstein.” During the infamous mogul’s trial, I keep thinking about this line—something that has been said to me in passing more than once in the last two years when I raised concerns about “questionable characters” in the comedy community.
It was said about a booker who made passes at younger comedians. It was said about a club producer who made “jokes” to me about trading sexual favors for spots. It was said about a comedian who sexually assaulted other comedians. I’m sure you’ve heard it in your industry as well. “Harvey Weinstein is a monster,” these folks told us, whereas “those are just men who have made mistakes.”
Each time it was said to me, I was furious.
Harvey Weinstein has been accused of sexual assault by over 80 women. He has wealth, power and fame. He did not run in my circles—but within them, he has become an anti-example. The people in my world had faith they would never meet Weinstein in the flesh, because he was so far out of their reach, and because of that they would never actually see a side by side comparison of Weinstein and their friends who “just have poor judgement sometimes.” Weinstein became an almost fictional villain to them, a caricature of a Bad Guy. It was safe to say nobody we knew was quite as bad as that, at least the people we know are human.
But I have since then met the infamous Harvey Weinstein—the line in the sand, the monster we compare men to—because our circles collided.
Weinstein attended a variety show I was attending, and which my friend was performing in; when she addressed Weinstein during her comedy set, she was booed. Another audience member, Zoe, shouted at the room for saying nothing while they stood feet away from this predator; they were kicked out for “making a scene.” I followed in their place—but when I went for the monster’s jugular, when I cursed him out, when I said he should disappear, the people around us turned on me, too; I was dismissed, called a cunt and asked to leave.
I felt like I hit a brick wall. This was the monster we compare men to—but now, he was human, and the audience, producers, emcee and venue managers were protecting him. Suddenly, I was the monster for attacking this old man—someone who was just “trying to find some solace in his life that has been turned upside down.”
The truth is that neither of us are monsters. Monsters are not real—they are an abstract idea of the representation of evil, and once someone is in the room with an alleged monster, they lose their imagined fangs and fur.
Monsters are make-believe. Rapists aren’t. Human beings are the perpetrators of these crimes—and if we keep calling people who assault and rape “monsters,” we continue thinking about assault and rape as an abstract and not as a criminal act.
Harvey Weinstein is human. I don’t say this because he is innocent or deserves our sympathy. I say it because rape and assault are a real human crimes, perpetrated by and affecting real human people. We need to stay vigilant if we want a society where an American is not assaulted every 73 seconds, and it is through understanding the humanness of assault that we can get at its core.
Calling rapist “monsters” allows us to shove sexual assault under the rug as a one-off crime. But it is a pervasive part of our culture. As long as we continue to close our eyes, plug our ears, sing “la la la” and pretend like it doesn’t exist, it will continue to pervade our culture.