Yesterday, the board of directors of the Weinstein Company announced that they had fired Harvey Weinstein, whose decades-long history of alleged sexual harassment was the subject of a New York Times exposé last week.
While the entertainment industry largely remained silent in the immediate aftermath (with Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, and Saturday Night Live not touching the story at all), Weinstein’s firing is loosening people’s tongues. I’m sure we can expect more and more people to come forward to condemn him.
For example, Meryl Streep released a statement on the matter this morning. It’s one part forceful condemnation, one part bizarre disclaimer. Here’s the statement, sent to HuffPost (emphasis Meryl’s):
The disgraceful news about Harvey Weinstein has appalled those of us whose work he championed, and those whose good and worthy causes he supported. The intrepid women who raised their voices to expose this abuse are our heroes.
One thing can be clarified. Not everybody knew. Harvey supported the work fiercely, was exasperating but respectful with me in our working relationship, and with many others with whom he worked professionally. I didn’t know about these other offenses: I did not know about his financial settlements with actresses and colleagues; I did not know about his having meetings in his hotel room, his bathroom, or other inappropriate, coercive acts. And If everybody knew, I don’t believe that all the investigative reporters in the entertainment and the hard news media would have neglected for decades to write about it.
The behavior is inexcusable, but the abuse of power familiar. Each brave voice that is raised, heard and credited by our watchdog media will ultimately change the game.
First of all, it is great that Streep—who benefited a lot from her partnership with Weinstein—is going after him so harshly. And let’s set aside what Streep did or didn’t know—though if there was one person untouched by the mortal sins of man, it would probably be Meryl Streep.
But the idea that Weinstein never would have been allowed to harass and abuse women if “everybody knew about it” is patently false. That is exactly what happened. Everybody did know.
Weinstein wasn’t able to get away with what he did for so long because not enough people knew about it. He used his power as a Hollywood gatekeeper, his ability to make or break a career, to manipulate vulnerable women, and he was surrounded by others who were complicit in his behavior, including members of the media. For instance, at The Wrap, Sharon Waxman claimed that in 2004, the New York Times canned her story on Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual misconduct.
This isn’t a numbers thing. If it only took the right people or the right number of people to find out what was going on in order to hold people accountable and make a change, women in Hollywood would be making the same amount as their male costars, and the industry wouldn’t have received criticism from the federal government for its sexism. If it took the right people, Streep wouldn’t have been one of a just a handful of Hollywood icons to condemn Weinstein.
Streep’s experience is ultimately not what matters here. There were people that held far more power than her who did know about what Weinstein was up to and did nothing. But we won’t be able to deal with the Weinsteins of the world until we admit that they can get away with their abuses even though “everybody knows.”
Streep is right in one respect, though. It is because of the brave women speaking out about their experiences that Weinstein is out and we might potentially see some real change.