Sexual Harassments In The Workplace – Moving Forward From The Weinstein Scandal

On 5 October 2017, the first allegations against Harvey Weinstein came to air. The New York Times article gave voice to women, including actresses Rose McGowan and Ashley Judd, who claimed Weinstein sexually harassed them and abused his position of power as a producer and a co-founder of Miramax. This report was only the beginning. Over the following months, a stream of actresses came forward to share their stories of harassment and assault at the hands of Weinstein, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Cara Delevingne and Salma Hayek. He has since been dismissed by the Weinstein Company and expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The women who stood up against Weinstein have had a resounding impact. The scandal itself has not only dominated media headlines, but has encouraged others in similar situations to speak up. This moment has empowered countless women, clearly demonstrated by those who went on to share their stories and solidarity on social media under the hashtag ‘#MeToo’.

Despite the publicity, however, this is still an incredibly difficult topic to address. It is easy to talk about this issue, but some key obstacles stand in the way of progress. For one, Weinstein is not a one-off case. The entertainment industry sees sexual abuse and harassment claims appearing time after time. It is not a unique phenomenon but rather something ingrained in our society more broadly. The current President of the United States, Donald Trump, has been accused of various allegations of sexual misconduct. According to a recent poll conducted by independent research company SSRS, more than six in ten Americans believe claims against him. The fact that such incidents can happen at the highest form of leadership, without serious repercussions, demonstrates a systemic culture issue of misogyny and male dominance. Additionally, incidents can often turn into a messy, and disheartening, he-said-she-said affair. In December 2017, director Sir Peter Jackson described what he now sees as a “Miramax smear campaign” when he was told to avoid hiring Mira Sorvino and Ashely Judd, both previous targets of Weinstein. In response, a spokesperson for Weinstein denied this ever occurred. Even in the case of Weinstein, details are always up for debate.

However, there is hope something can be done, especially given the support that has occurred in the wake of Weinstein. There is some suggestion that the authorities and criminal justice system in America could provide aid in this circumstance, and in turn hopefully deterrence in the future if it is shown that sexual offenders will be held accountable. A spokesperson from the Los Angeles country district attorney’s office has announced that “two cases have been presented to our office by the Beverly Hills police department regarding Mr. Weinstein and are under review.” While this seems positive, it is yet to be seen to what extent this process will be seen through. However, Weinstein is not alone in facing the prospect of prosecution. Police have also handed over five files in regards to James Toback, a film-maker who has been accused of harassment by actors such as Selma Blair and Julianne Moore. The 73-year-old denies all 200 allegations against him.

Traditional avenues are not necessarily the only possibility that should be relied upon, and some women have decided to push for tangible change. On 1 January, the New York Times announced the ‘Times Up’ movement. Driven by women in the entertainment industry, a letter detailed their comprehensive plan to tackle sexual harassment in all workplaces – from Hollywood, to the business sector, to agriculture. This is partly in response to, and closely affiliated with, the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas (National Farmworker Women’s Alliance). This group penned their own letter published by Time magazine in November 2017 that supported women in Hollywood and highlighted the harassment occurring in their own industry. In response to the ‘Times Up’, President of the Alliance, Monica Ramirez, has stated that “us joining forces” shows not only “how much power we have”, but a genuine “commitment to making workplaces better across the nation.”

The unity between these two starkly different industries highlights one of the strengths of this movement. While it is backed by household names, including Reese Witherspoon, Shonda Rhimes, Oprah Winfrey, Meryl Streep and Steven Spielberg, they are using their voices to call for change in all industries. Calling for “all survivors of sexual harassment, everywhere, to be heard, to be believed, and to know that accountability is possible.” They also note the disparity money can create, and in particular want to “lift up the voices, power, and strength of women working in low-wage industries, where the lack of financial stability makes them vulnerable to high rates of gender-based violence and exploitation.”

On top of this, this movement is doing more than just creating a conversation about the issues that are in play. The letter carefully explains steps that they intend to take to combat misconduct in the workplace. Firstly, they mention how too many “ centers of power” are male-dominated, fostering an “environment that is ripe for abuse and harassment against women.” Therefore, they call for “significant increase of women in positions of leadership and power in all industries.” On top of this, they hope to get “greater representation of women of [color], immigrant women, disabled women, and lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women.”  The second area they identify relates to the fact that “harassment too often persists because perpetrators and employers never face any consequences.” In order to help victims see justice carried out they are creating a “legal fund to help survivors of sexual assault and harassment across all industries challenge those responsible for the harm against them and give voice to their experiences.”

A lot of this conversation and action is focused in America, but this not an issue special to one country. Sexual harassment and abuse happen across the globe, often unseen and unreported. In particular, Harvey Weinstein has shown the world that even if modern women are allowed to have a career, the workplace is at times not a safe place for them. If we hope to have a world of equal opportunity, then women should not be scared to interact with male colleagues or have unwanted advances threatening their progress. Every workplace should be aware of what is taking place, and immediately address problems in a fair manner. On top of this, the wider community should play their part in changing the culture – both ordinary citizens and legislators have a role. In the 21st century, harassment in any form should no longer be deemed acceptable. It persists when people think it is harmless, when the structures in place ignore it, and when women or men are taught to think there is nobody to help them.