WASHINGTON – Confronted with allegations of serial sexual abuse and rape, Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein’s instinct was to lie: “I came of age in the ’60s and ’70s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then.”
No, it wasn’t.
The different-era defense was also used by those who would excuse fugitive director Roman Polanski’s confessed 1977 crime, drugging and having sex with a 13-year-old girl. And those willing to forgive and forget the first 20 or so of Bill Cosby’s alleged sexual assaults, which took place during those scarlet decades.
Blaming the 1960s and 1970s has become the first refuge of abusive creeps. But those of us who lived through that time can recall – yes, perhaps through a slight haze – that “the culture” never approved of the kinds of things Weinstein is accused of doing.
That era was about personal liberation, the biggest component of which involved women’s empowerment. The sexual revolution gave women options that previously had been forbidden to them, but it never took away the option of rejecting unwanted advances. And never did “the culture” give men the moral right to use money and power to coerce sexual favors – or the legal right to commit sexual assault.
That kind of ugly behavior is as old as time. That it is now more likely to be exposed, and condemned, is largely due to the period of cultural upheaval and change that Weinstein now wants to blame.
Not everyone gets it. A word of advice to any prominent figures thinking about commenting on the Weinstein scandal: If you plan on adding a “but on the other hand … “ clause, just don’t say anything at all.
Don’t be like Woody Allen, who said that “the whole Harvey Weinstein thing is sad for everybody involved,” but then went on to urge caution: “You also 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.”
Yeeesh. Begin with the sentiment itself, which is insultingly obtuse. Allen apparently thinks there is no conceivable office setting in which winking at a female colleague would be inappropriate. But that’s beside the point, since (BEG ITAL) WINKING IS NOT THE ISSUE(END ITAL). Is it possible that Allen does not understand the difference between winking and the offenses Weinstein is accused of – and denies – which include indecent exposure, sexual assault and rape?
OK, maybe it’s possible. After all, Allen saw no reason anyone might be grossed out when he betrayed his longtime lover, Mia Farrow, by initiating a sexual relationship with her daughter, who at the time was too young to go into a bar and have a drink.
Is there poetic justice in the fact that it was Allen’s estranged son, journalist Ronan Farrow, who reported and wrote the New Yorker story revealing the most explosive allegations against Weinstein? Perhaps, but we digress.
Most of the reaction to Weinstein’s pattern of horrible and allegedly unlawful behavior has been appropriate, if belated. The number of women who accuse him of misconduct – including A-list stars such as Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow – has leapt quickly from an initial handful into dozens. We should know by now, in these cases, that if there are several victims, there are probably many.
Did some women tolerate his disgusting advances because they knew he was one of the most powerful men in the movie business and had the power to make, resurrect or end a career? Probably, and they shouldn’t have. The way Weinstein treated women was apparently an open secret in Hollywood.
Worse, however, is the fact that co-workers and corporate officers at Miramax and the Weinstein Co. apparently knew all about his proclivities. Not only did they fail to stop him, they enabled him to continue.
In some cases, Weinstein’s assistants are accused of making his targets feel comfortable with the idea of meeting him in hotel rooms – then abandoning them knowing what they would face. Some victims were paid substantial settlements, which people who worked with Weinstein, including board members, must have known about. Weinstein was effectively granted impunity because he brought in so much money and so many Oscars. That’s another old story; complicity and silence weren’t invented in the ‘60s and ‘70s, either.
And by the way, you don’t have to be “the father of daughters” to speak out. I am the father of sons, and I’m angry and appalled.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.