With horrific allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault swirling around co-chairman Harvey Weinstein, the company that bears his name fired him Sunday. But by waiting so long to take a step that should have been taken, frankly, years earlier, the company fostered a climate in which his behavior — well-known within the company and in Hollywood — was tolerated, concealed and even enabled. For that, the company’s entire leadership shares some blame and shame.
The latest allegations, detailed in the New Yorker Tuesday, go beyond the initial tales of sexual harassment that appeared in the New York Times and now include further allegations of sexual assault. In the typical scenario sketched out by Weinstein’s accusers, young, unsuspecting actresses and models were escorted to his hotel room by female staff members conscripted into serving as “honeypots” — essentially, tricking the women into believing another woman would be present, but then leaving as soon as the “meeting” started. Then, according to a number of accounts, came the intimidation and the victimization, including physical assaults in several cases involving oral sex and other acts. Afterward, Weinstein expected them to say nothing. Most complied; some of the few who did talk believe their careers suffered for it.
A spokesperson for Weinstein has said that he denied any allegations of nonconsensual sex.
Weinstein’s behavior as described by the women is disgusting, but so are the allegedly widespread efforts on the part of other executives and staff members at his company to cover up for him. According to news reports, some of his underlings did try — without effect — to talk to Weinstein, and some reported his behavior to the company officials. Others apparently agonized over whether to say something, fearful about the repercussions for their own careers. In many cases, they did nothing.
That kind of collusion — and that’s what it is — on the part of colleagues who think they know about sexual misconduct but do not stop it or report it is why sexual harassment and assault are still so prevalent in the workplace. Even as women ascend in business and politics, even as seemingly every business and nonprofit instructs its managers on what sexual harassment is and how not to commit it, it flourishes where men wield power over less powerful women — and other people look away. Collectively, we have already stopped accepting the “boys will be boys” excuse for sexual harassment and assault. However, until there is a cultural shift to condemning not just sexual misbehavior but also the routine cover-up, and until reporting it becomes the norm and not an act of bravery, it will continue.
One heartening thing in the last few days is the growing number of women — including some of Hollywood’s best-known actresses — who have come forward to report what happened to them. One can only hope that we are reaching a turning point as a society and not reacting as we always have, renouncing misbehavior years after it should have been stopped.