Assuming the allegations are true, powerful movie producer Harvey Weinstein's sexual harassment of numerous women over a period of several decades is repugnant. Almost as outrageous, though is his whining, self-excusing rationalization that he came of age "in the '60s and '70s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different."
We were around the in 1960s and 1970s too — or some of us were — and, to be clear, sexual harassment by men of their subordinates, their students, their proteges and others was just as abhorrent and inexcusable then as it is now. Some men may not have acknowledged that fact; some companies may have shrugged off such behavior as harmless hijinks — but for those who were harassed, there was no such confusion.
The descriptions of Weinstein's behavior offered by actress Ashley Judd and other women are classics of the genre: He arranged meetings in hotel rooms in Beverly Hills, London and elsewhere with up-and-coming actresses, assistants and others who were eager for his help. When he got them alone, according to their accounts in the New York Times, he pestered them for massages or talked to them while he was naked or asked them to watch him bathing. In some of the cases, the women apparently kept quiet, never officially complaining, for fear of retaliation or embarassment. In other cases, the women complained and settlements were reached.
Of course, Hollywood has long been known for its "casting couch" culture, even back in the early days of the movie business. More recently, when Arnold Schwarzenegger was running for governor of California in 2003, the Los Angeles Times detailed allegations that the powerful star had routinely groped women on movie locations and elsewhere. (He apologized for any bad behavior.)
But the problem of sexual harassment goes well beyond Hollywood. Today, even though America has supposedly had its consciousness raised — and even though school officials and human resource administrators are routinely required to teach people what sexual harassment entails and how wrong it is — this behavior persists. Just this week, the dean of the medical school at USC was forced out of his job because of allegations that he sexually harassed a young female researcher when he was a junior professor and then retaliated against her for reporting him. At Fox News, both chairman Roger Ailes and commentator Bill O'Reilly lost their positions in recent years over allegations of sexual harassment. L.A. City Councilman Jose Huizar saw his most recent re-election bid overshadowed by a sexual harassment lawsuit that the city settled with one of his former aides. To name just a few cases.
Even all these years after Clarence Thomas was accused of sexual harassment by Anita Hill in 1991, smart, accomplished, powerful men still believe they can get away with harassing less powerful women. Women — even if they too are smart and accomplished — often feel humiliated or too scared to speak out. And when they do lodge complaints, they often win settlements that require their silence, so that the harasser (and his employers) are not held accountable and the offensive behavior can continue.
In Weinstein's statement to the New York Times, he says (now that the allegations have been made public) that he is remorseful about the people he hurt. "My journey will now be to learn about myself and conquer my demons," he wrote. Good luck to him on that. He is also taking a leave of absence from his company.
All businesses, including those here in Hollywood, should confront their demons. They should no longer ignore or tolerate sexual harassment by the powerful against the powerless just because the harassers are making money for them. Until that happens, this kind of behavior will continue.