Harvey Weinstein used his dominant role as a Hollywood kingpin to demand sexual favors from young women, a decades-long pattern for him and, until a few days ago, a winning strategy.
Some on Weinstein’s payroll and those who wanted to curry his favor enabled his behavior and silenced his victims, allowing Weinstein to abuse even more women.
Weinstein’s tactics, his accomplices and the reactions of those he abused provide a chilling but never surprising tale of how those who have power in a workplace can abuse and humiliate those who don’t. Reporting in The New York Times, and later in The New Yorker magazine, contains lurid details of women accusing the famed producer — someone thanked more than anyone else in Academy Award acceptance speeches — of demanding sexual gratification as a prerequisite for doing business. And then using legal settlements and his company’s money to buy the silence of his victims.
The downfall of Weinstein, who has been fired by his own company, comes after similar accusations brought down other media titans such as Fox News founder Roger Ailes and host Bill O’Reilly. The patterns are eerily similar to those of Weinstein.
This is not a story about politics on the left or the right. No ideology has a monopoly on the abuse of power or the hypocrisy that accompanies it. And such abuse is not limited to men misbehaving toward women. Nor is it always about the wealthy mistreating the poor, or famous people abusing unknowns. The dynamic is one of people using power to manipulate the powerless in the most base ways.
Weinstein, wealthy and famous, commands our attention just as Ailes and O’Reilly did. But a restaurant manager who controls the work schedule can exercise the same type of power over a waitress who needs good shifts to feed her kids as a movie magnate can over a young actress who needs a role to fulfill her dreams. So can executives at a prominent technology company where there is a culture of aggression and sexism. Just a few months ago, Uber fired more than 20 employees and ousted its CEO in an attempt to reform a toxic workplace.
The atmosphere at work is better for female employees now than in the past. Many companies have strict policies to prevent abuses and human resources staffs that make sure those protections are honored. Sordid behavior is no longer accepted as the norm.
But Weinstein’s casting couch was known well enough in Hollywood to find its way, in joking form, into televised Academy Award presentations and prime-time sitcoms. Stars including Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie are now saying to the cameras what they once whispered to women in those private networks where warnings about abusers were quietly passed along.
Weinstein got away with it for so long because he was powerful and because people feared him or liked him or hoped to use him — and because in the end it was just easier or safer.
So the lesson must be repeated once again: sexual harassment and assault are criminal behavior. Every time a predator is protected and the acts go unpunished, more people are endangered. Those who failed to stop abuse should be ashamed.