A collective jaw dropped this week as Asia Argento, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Mira Sorvino, Rosanna Arquette and a host of other women joined Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan in speaking publicly about being harassed, mauled and even allegedly raped by Hollywood’s heavyweight gorilla, Harvey Weinstein.
Media outlets ironically wrung their hands and asked in big, bold block letters: How could this have gone on for so long? If everyone knew, why didn’t anyone say anything? And the inevitable: What can be done?
To answer these questions, let’s look beyond the Harvey-shaped elephant in the room. Behind the touted veneer of creative genius and imagination, the Hollywood studio system (an umbrella term that now encompasses movie studios, television networks, news organizations, tech companies and new media) was built on top of the cushions of the casting couch. And, as we’ve seen several times this year, that couch was never retired.
I witnessed a lot at Page Six — only a fraction of which ever hit the paper (for a multitude of reasons). But I will share one incident in May 2004 that has always summed up for me how this industry really feels about women.
I had gone to dinner with a friend who was in town for the upfronts (the big annual congregation where television network executives fly in from Los Angeles and present their upcoming slates of new shows). He worked at United Talent Agency and was psyched when I scored us an 8 p.m. reservation at the hottest place in town, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Spice Market, unfortunately, next to a table of three drunk and loud television executives, one of whom I knew headed up a cable network.
“I need a hooker while I’m in town,” one man quasi-yelled.
“Dude — the top-shelf whores go for $1,000 an hour, $5,000 a night,” the cable exec bragged to his friends.
“That’s all? All night?”
“All night — whatever you want — and these are working actresses.”
“No way — who are we talking about?”
The executive, in between ordering more bottles of Patron silver, proceeded to bray out the names of women who were indeed working actresses as well as models — including one woman who was cast in a show on his network. He was her boss.
“How do you think she got the job?” the executive joked, as the others high-fived him.
That incident always ate at me — it was the crystallization of just how lousy it is out there for women trying to either get a job, do their job or advance in one of the most powerful industries in America.
So when these guys are exposed, why do people keep wondering why women keep quiet in the workplace? Pick any or all of the following:
When something like this happens, it is humiliating.
Women don’t have the good-old-boy safety network to save them. If they talk and threaten the company’s bottom line, their career is over. They aren’t given second, third or fourth chances like Mel Gibson, Chris Albrecht, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump or Alec Baldwin were. (Seriously — imagine if Tina Fey, Kirsten Gillibrand or Oprah Winfrey beat or publicly berated their partners or notoriously groped male interns. Do you really think they’d be rewarded like these guys have?)
If women speak publicly, their names will always be associated (via a Google search) with something horrific.
If it happens more than once (like one of Harvey’s accusers, model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, who was reportedly harassed by several men), then they’ve established a pattern and it will be insinuated that they must be in it for the money.
They may not have the funds to hire a lawyer when the predator comes after them.
They know that for every Ashley Judd, there were likely 500 other women who complained and were fired or forced to quit before her.
THEY JUST WANT TO WORK. THEY GOT BILLS TO PAY.
While Harvey is gone (for now) we all know others still out there. They are powerful. They are vengeful and predatory.
Can anything really be done?
Weinstein Co. knew of Harvey's misconduct for years
A lot of the perpetrators are profitable — and therefore protected. (Does anyone really believe that if Harvey Weinstein was still raking in Oscars and cash like he did during his heyday in the ’90s and early oughts, he’d have been outed like he was?)
And to the protectors of the bottom line, a lot of this is on you. Know that enabling toxicity isn’t a long play. It will come out. The longer you wait, the more it will crush your stock — and frankly a lot of these guys aren’t doing such a great job anyway. Hire women for the boardroom. Stop making excuses for bad behavior. You will be rewarded with a better, more productive and profitable workplace.
To the perpetrators, I’d just like to say: We see you. And before you get full on Harvey’d, do what we women had to do a long time ago: Get a shrink. Grow up. Forgive your mother (it’s always the mother). Develop some sort of empathy and understand you can’t keep treating other human beings like worthless dirt without it one day catching up to you.
For now, Hollywood’s inability to accept any of this remains deeply rooted, even among the perpetrators themselves. Frighteningly, on Tuesday, as he jetted off to a sex rehab somewhere in Arizona, Weinstein channeled that other beloved Hollywood groper, Arnold Schwarzenegger and vowed, “I’ll be back.”
That’s exactly what we’re afraid of.
Paula Froelich is a journalist and creator of A Broad Abroad
The Weinstein Company fired its co-founder Harvey Weinstein on Sunday, after a New York Times investigation uncovered allegations that he had engaged in rampant sexual harassment, dealing a stunning blow to a producer known for shaping American film and championing liberal causes.
The statement announcing the firing said the decision had been made “in light of new information about misconduct by Harvey Weinstein that has emerged in the past few days.” In an interview, Lance Maerov, one of the company’s four board members, said it had been brought to their attention that Mr. Weinstein had violated the company’s code of conduct at some point in the past week, but he would not specify what the violation was.
Mr. Maerov said Mr. Weinstein had been notified of his termination by email Sunday evening. The action was taken by Mr. Maerov, Bob Weinstein (Mr. Weinstein’s brother), Richard Koenigsberg and Tarak Ben Ammar. A fifth board member, Paul Tudor Jones, resigned on Saturday.
The firing was an escalation from Friday, when one-third of the company’s all-male board resigned and four members who remained announced that Mr. Weinstein would take a leave of absence while an outside lawyer investigated the allegations.
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