Everybody Does It in a White Bathrobe: Reflections on Weinstein

The year is 1994, 2010, 1988. Harvey Weinstein is wearing a white bathrobe, except for when he isn’t. He asks for a massage, except for when he doesn’t ask. The setting is a hotel suite, except when it’s Weinstein’s apartment or a closed restaurant. The victim is always a young woman. The instructions she’s given are intended to isolate her: head straight up to the hotel room, he’s running late; make a quick stop at his place, he needs to pick something up. She always winds up alone with him. His sexual advances are unwanted. Always.

In the early 90s, Harvey Weinstein was busy – “allegedly.” Of course, he was busy making films and, it is alleged, with sexually victimising a number of young women. Many of these women were actresses starring in films Weinstein produced. When a reluctant 23-year-old Katherine Kendall refused to give him a massage – Weinstein was wearing the white bathrobe – he told her those words: “Everybody does it.” Words meant to placate her, to shame her, or both. It didn’t work. She still refused. And then he took off his clothes.

Weinstein knew the drill. He had an M.O. He was, after all, a man in a position of power. In a professional, social and economic sense, Weinstein commanded a great amount of influence. In 1979, the producer co-founded Miramax with his brother Bob Weinstein. In 2015, Forbes estimated each brother’s share of the company to be worth some $130 million US dollars, which at the time would’ve been somewhere in the ballpark of £83 million pound sterling. The brothers’ entertainment company distributed Pulp Fiction, Paris is Burning and Studio Ghibli’s Princess Monokoke, to name a few cult favourites. Weinstein himself has worked as a producer on dozens of films, including Shakespeare in Love – winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1999. The list of films Weinstein has worked on is long. It follows that the list of people he has worked with is much, much longer.

Many of the women bringing allegations of sexual assault and harassment against Weinstein are counted among those the producer has worked with over the years. Many of the men who “aren’t available for comment” are also among Weinstein’s collaborators. Several of them have faced similar allegations, because Weinstein was telling the truth about one thing. Everybody does it. And that’s the worst part.

Decades before Weinstein would ever don a white bathrobe, everybody was already doing it. British DJ and television host Jimmy Savile never faced charges for sexual abuse when he was alive, but upon his death in 2011, investigations in the allegations that had surrounded him for decades uncovered at least 500 reports of sexual abuse committed by Savile. The earliest incident of abuse by Savile on record was reported to the police in 1955. Harvey Weinstein was barely out of his terrible two’s.

When Derek Chinnery, a former BBC Radio 1 controller who worked with Savile at the radio station in the 1980s, admitted that he’d heard “rumours” even then, he described how Savile had dismissed the rumours as “nonsense.” As the investigations into Savile deepened, the estimates of the number of victims rose steadily and the time frame grew longer and longer. The extent of Savile’s abuse has now been public knowledge for years. And even though Savile is widely considered to epitomise systemic abuses of power within the entertainment industry, his actions weren’t anything new. To tell the sad truth, neither Savile nor Weinstein were the first.

When Shirley Temple was 12-years-old, a producer at American media company Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer exposed his genitals to her. She laughed nervously, and he threw her out of his office. The year was 1940. Harvey Weinstein hadn’t even been born. In her 1988 memoir, Temple described how the producer at MGM was known to have an “adventurous casting couch”. The producer was known as a sexual predator within the industry, in the same way that Savile and Weinstein would later be known – through rumours.

The “rumour mill,” although much maligned, has always been a valuable resource to those who are vulnerable. Angelina Jolie told The New Yorker that, after her own “bad experience” with Weinstein in the late 90s, she warned others who were considering working with him. To some, maybe, her words were just rumours – spiteful, malicious, unfounded. To others, they may have been the difference between being alone in a hotel suite with a powerful man who scares you and never having to experience that trauma. Rumours are, however, only preventative. And they’re easy to discredit. What they aren’t is justice, consequence or enough.

What emerges from an examination of the many, many cases of sexual abuse since Hollywood’s earliest days is the realisation that where there is power, there is abuse of power. In the film, in TV, in music, in the past and the present, in the pub and at a mate’s house party, on the station platform, at a minimum wage part-time job in a supermarket. Sometimes you’re the one warning someone else not to get caught alone with that person, and sometimes you’re the one being warned. Sometimes it’s too late, sometimes it isn’t. And it always comes down to who has access to any kind of structural power.

Power is how a man sexually abuses hundreds of people without repercussion. Power is immunity until after death, because Power means getting away with it. It means you’re believed or trusted or feared or protected, even against mountains of evidence of your guilt. This kind of overt Power allows for covert abuse, because Power is a weapon. Its purpose is to be wielded against someone who is without it.

Weinstein’s power came from his status, his wealth. Its sharp edge assured his victims’ silence. At 22-years-old, Gwyneth Paltrow was to star as the lead in a contemporary adaption of Jane Austen’s Emma, for which Weinstein was an executive producer. When Weinstein “suggested” that Paltrow give him a massage, he was in a position of power. He was, effectively, Paltrow’s boss. She refused. For her refusal, she was afraid that she would lose her role. The film’s producer told her to “keep the secret.”

She did, for reasons that are almost too obvious to be stated, but I will: you are vulnerable against Power – vulnerable to loss of earnings, to social and professional ostracisation; to violence that you can’t prove, to threats, to bodily harm; to lawsuits you can’t afford emotionally or economically. If you tell the secret, there’s always the risk that you’ll be the only one. It will be easy for Power to tear you down then, because others will keep the secret for the same reasons you almost did. And it will be easy for Power to keep working in secret, in hotel suites and white bathrobes. This is why Power loves secrets.

Power loves secrets, but make no mistake – it doesn’t need them. When Weinstein allegedly told Katherine Kendall that “everybody does it,” his intention was to make her refusal seem unreasonable. What he meant was, This is the way of the world, now stop being such a prude. But his assertion speaks to how widespread sexual harassment and violence are among Hollywood’s elite. And, by extension, the top dogs of any industry. Yet this raises the question, why would you need to keep something a secret if everybody does it? The answer is, you don’t. It’s just easier. It’s just insurance, because Power likes to nip a threat in the bud.

In reality, however, Power-as-Roman-Polanski can rape a minor, plead guilty to a lesser charge and eventually flee the country, only to have prominent figures in Hollywood decry your arrest and impending extradition years later. Power-as-Woody-Allen can molest his seven-year-old adopted daughter and continue to enjoy a career as a celebrated filmmaker for decades afterwards. Power-as-Eminem can assault his ex-wife, and later release a song about wanting to kill her on a Grammy Award-winning album. Power-as-Bill-Cosby can drug and rape multiple women, be outed as an abuser by People Magazine in 2006 and then… everybody forgets about it for 10 years. Power-as-Sean-Connery can express the “opinion” that hitting women to give them the “last word” is perfectly fine, maintain this view for 20 years – on record – and still be knighted. Power-as-David-O.-Russell can admit to groping his own niece, and face zero charges.

379 high-profile people have been accused since the Weinstein allegations became public – and there are more. There’s so many more. Like the Power that watches, and says nothing or next to it. Not only does everybody do it, but everybody who does is able to do it because they are many. And because those who don’t do not take meaningful action against the abusers of power. But we can start. We can start with not telling people to keep sexual abuse a secret. We can start with not working with paedophiles or rapists or people who beat their partners. We can start with making abusers fear the things their victims do: ostracisation, losing their jobs, being put on trial. We can start by not feeding the Power, by not keeping its secrets or rushing to its defence. And when those who would defend Power, even in light of all of its abuses, ask why the victims didn’t speak up sooner? We can take a step in the right direction by asking back “Why didn’t you?”

 

Words by Kandace Walker

 

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