Hollywood is still reeling from the revelation that Harvey Weinstein, someone long rumored to be an angry, aggressive sexual predator, was indeed an angry aggressive sexual predator. And the impact of the Weinstein news has rippled out into the wider world.
Among women and survivors of sexual harassment and abuse—especially in the workplace—there has been a lot to unpack: a lot of listening, a lot of solidarity being built, a lot of uplifting. Unfortunately, such a huge cultural trauma also brings with it a lot of terrible opinions, and there is one especially dangerous concept that is being invoked by Hollywood men as the shock of Weinstein’s behavior wears off: the witch hunt.
Woody Allen warned against the witch hunt in a completely unnecessary statement to the BBC, saying:
“You don’t want it to lead to a witch-hunt atmosphere, a Salem atmosphere, where every guy in an office who winks at a woman is suddenly having to call a lawyer to defend himself. That’s not right either. But sure, you hope that something like this could be transformed into a benefit for people rather than just a sad or tragic situation.”
Leave it to Allen to decry men having to think twice before harassing women, even if it’s just a wink!
In a Variety piece published today, director Paul Feig made a similar remark:
“We don’t want to start a witch hunt, but if there’s a pattern of behavior going on, we want people to know about it,” he says. “We can’t have a system where people think there’s no chance they’ll get caught.”
Part of me expected a little more from Feig, Friend of Women, because he has championed female-led comedies. In light of the #MeToo social media campaign and the scores of women from all walks of life sharing their experiences with harassment and assault, to even bring up the concept of false accusations seems ill-timed and rude. Beyond that, it’s dangerous. Introducing the concept of the witch hunt relays a very fundamental, very pervasive distrust of women and their experiences (you know, the kind of distrust that resulted in actual witch hunts), dousing victimhood with an imaginary, duplicitous vindictiveness.
It’s similar to victim blaming in that it casts doubts onto the veracity of women’s accounts, but it is more insidious because it renders victims the aggressors, which in turn makes the accused the victims. Likening the most powerful people in Hollywood who have a huge say in how our culture is shaped (and who have legal teams dedicated to keeping accusations quiet and out of the news) to vulnerable targets is ridiculous, and affords them an innocence that is almost never granted to victims.
Flaccidly suggesting that “change should happen” doesn’t undo the harm of insinuating that when a group of women come together to talk about how they have been harassed and/or assaulted, it’s only a matter of time before a witch hunt ensues. There have been instances of men being falsely accused of sexual assault, and the fast-paced nature of the internet should be taken into account. But the vast majority of women’s stories about the humiliation they have faced have focused less on the names and more on how the experience impacted them. To see women talking about personal trauma and assume it will lead to a new McCarthyism is quite a leap.
There are obviously other men in Hollywood who have acted as disgustingly as Harvey Weinstein. They cannot be tolerated any longer. The only way they are going to be held accountable for their transgressions is by having their victims—for whom (if you need a reminder) there is no incentive and only immense personal cost for speaking out—come forward with their stories. To preemptively warn that, if women speak about their experiences with sexual assault, it could result in a “witch hunt” isn’t dangerous because it’s new. It’s dangerous because undermining women who have dealt with harassment and assault is business as usual.