A few simple, easy-to-follow rules for how we can be better in the future.
This week has been draining. I’ve spent hours talking about Harvey Weinstein; thinking about him and the countless other predators in Hollywood. Like so many, I’ve spent hours scrolling through twitter feeds and reading articles written by inspiring and courageous women. One of the questions that has preoccupied me the most has been the question of “now what?” Is this the beginning of change? Or just a tidal wave of outrage that will at best force Executives to keep their predatory behavior on the down-low for just a little while?
As an ambitious woman who is trying to establish something of a career in multiple male-dominated fields, I feel both disheartened and emboldened. Like a naive politician, I somehow think that I can make a difference. That I can help amplify the voices of the disenfranchised, as well as sharpening my own voice. So what to do?
1. Listen to women, listen to survivors.
If a woman confides in you that she’s been assaulted or harassed, listen. Do not brush it off. I want to see more men who are genuinely disgraced by what’s going on in the industry, not just tweeting out something their publicist wrote. If you have power, use it to make changes and to hold people accountable.
2. Don’t forget about him, or about toxic masculinity.
One thing is for sure, Harvey Weinstein is not the exception. There are so many men in Hollywood and in other industries who have misused their power and taken advantage of the disenfranchised. At the root of the problem is toxic masculinity. Many men are taught (partly by pop culture) that it is ok to harm a woman. That it’s ok to demand an actress lose weight, or that change her attire. Men have a lot of self-reflecting to do. And we need to do more than just call out Harvey Weinstein. We need to address the root cause.
But we can’t just wait for those men to change. In the meantime, we need to demand institutional changes that protect people at risk.
3. Practice calling out discrimination.
Call-out culture is complicated, and can often be unproductive. But that’s a whole other issue. This isn’t about that. When I say, practice, I do mean it. Standing up for yourself or for other people is really hard. It literally takes practice. I’m a pretty outspoken, opinionated (and most importantly, white) woman, but when I’m confronted with verbal discrimination or any kind of sexually inappropriate behavior I freeze over for a moment. It’s taken a lot of practice for me to take people aside and explain why what they did or said was harmful or “not cool” (even when confronting someone, I feel pressure to be “a chill gal”). Holding people accountable is exhausting. It shouldn’t be the oppressed’s job to fight their oppressor. For instance, women of color face so much discrimination that if they confronted every insecure white boy on the internet they wouldn’t have much time do anything else.
And obviously, there’s a big difference between a male co-worker asking you if you’re “on your period, or something” and one of the most powerful men in Hollywood raping 3 women. But what they both have in common is an abuse of power. If men think they can get away with calling a woman a slut, they’ll think they can get away with groping her too. This isn’t a question of micro-aggressions. If you want to eradicate toxic masculinity, you can’t just stand up against rape.
4. Support (emerging and established) female filmmakers.
If you’re a critic or a cinephile, you have to seek out the work of female filmmakers. And don’t limit your support to cis white women.
If you’re a producer, support needs to happen from the beginning to the very end of the creative process. I’m tired of going to panels with names like “How Can We Support Female Filmmakers?” Take your money and finance a film. Make sure it gets marketed properly, so she has a better chance of making a second or third feature.
If you’re a critic, actively seek out films written and directed by women. Revisit old films by female filmmakers who didn’t get the support they once needed from critics. Filmmakers like Elaine May and Julie Dash who haven’t made fiction films in decades.
If you’re a cinephile, go see a film directed by a woman on opening weekend. Here’s a handy article from Women and Hollywood that lists the upcoming films from female directors in Hollywood.
If more women are in positions of power, less emerging actresses and filmmakers will feel like their only choice to get ahead is to sleep with the men in power.
5. Don’t support the work of predators.
This is a little stickier. It’s a lot easier to actively support someone’s work than to actively avoid someone’s work. Partly because it’s never just someone. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people work on a film and it’s hard to know who you’re supporting when you’re going to see a film. If you go see a film by a sexist director but starring an actor whom you’d like to support, are you a hypocrite? It can be difficult to prioritize your beliefs over your desire to, well, watch a movie. As a feminist, this is something I struggle a great deal with. I think Woody Allen is a creep, but gosh darn it Blue Jasmine was a great film. It’s so easy to feel complicit in everything nowadays. You go see a Polanski film, you’re supporting the work of a rapist. You go see a film with Casey Affleck in the lead role, you’re supporting the work of an alleged assaulter.
The change that needs to happen is more from famous actors. Actors who possess a great deal of star power and can single-handedly get the film made. All the actors who have come out in support of the women that Weinstein raped and assaulted, they need to say no to the directors and executives who are known to abuse their power.
Griffin Newman wrote a very interesting twitter thread about his participation in a Woody Allen film.
6. If you’re a man and think of yourself as an ally or a feminist, step (the f*ck) up.
This relates to #3. Use your privilege to do good.
Statements from famous actors have been rolling out all week, most of them singing the same tune. A lot of attention has been put on actresses like Meryl Streep and Jessica Chastain who have worked with him either directly or indirectly. But not enough focus has been put on the men. Not on how they feel about Weinstein and what he’s done, but on what they plan to do. A lot has been discussed about Ben Affleck denouncing Weinstein while having his own history of inappropriate behavior. It’s so much easier to jump on the bandwagon of dissent than to change its course.
We need powerful men who are not predators, who are not actively trying to take advantage of the less privileged to practice their allyship. They have so much less to lose than those with less privilege do.
7. Demand that NDAs stop protecting predators.
…especially if you’re working for a well-known company. Many of the employees assaulted and harassed while working under Weinstein were contractually unable to speak publicly about his abuse. Also, according to TMZ, Weinstein had a clause in his own contract that basically allowed him to treat people like shit, violating company’s Code of Conduct, as long as he paid for the costs.
The article brings up the Wagner Act from 1935, which “prohibits employers from restraining employees in the exercise of their right to engage in ‘concerted activities’ for the purpose of ‘mutual aid or protection.’ That sounds like a good law. But as the article goes on to say, “the Wagner Act does not apply to domestic workers, independent contractors, or individuals employed as supervisors. Thus, an executive in Weinstein’s organization might lack protection under the act because she supervises lower-rung employees.”
“Federal lawmakers could act, too — say, by amending the Wagner Act to prohibit confidentiality clauses in harassment settlements. But notwithstanding attempts by Republicans in Washington to make hay of the Weinstein allegations, it’s hard to imagine this Congress passing — let alone our sexual-predator-in-chief signing — a sunshine-in-litigation law for harassment claims. While outrage is the natural first reaction to the Weinstein news, a call to your state senator or representative would be a sensible second reaction.”
8. Demand unions and agencies protect women.
When someone as powerful as Weinstein has been getting away with horrendous, disgusting crimes as long as he has, you know that there’s a whole system built to protect and enable him. The agents and managers that sent their actors to Weinstein are complicit too. They must be held accountable. Agents who knew he was a creep should not have sent their actors to his hotel room.
There’s a great piece in The Globe and Mail by Mia Kirshner, a Canadian actor and writer, who, instead of talking about her “ordeal” with Weinstein, calls upon her unions (SAG and ACTRA) to protect their actors.
She demands a number of important things: that unions provide better insurance to cover the costs of therapy for survivors of assault, that they have a system in place to protect actors who speak out against alleged assaulters from being blacklisted, and that they install a better way of investigating the allegations:
“Currently, if a SAG member launches a complaint, the union writes a letter and asks that the production house or studio involved conducting an internal investigation of the alleged abuse. You can imagine its effectiveness. An in-house investigation by the very nature of being in-house does not cultivate impartiality. Especially when the person being investigated runs or owns the studio. Complaints about these matters that are raised within our unions should trigger an independent third-party investigation.”
9. Change where meetings are held.
Weinstein clearly had a well thought out routine to carry out his assaults. He would ask actresses to come up to his hotel room for a meeting or audition, and all boundaries between work and play would dissolve. He depended upon this ambiguity, upon the uncertainty that a business meeting in a hotel room prompts. I don’t know whether meetings in hotel rooms are common in Hollywood or in other industries, but they do pose a serious risk. Meetings with powerful male executives should happen in places where women feel protected. Of course, if he had held these meetings in his office, his behavior wouldn’t have changed.
I’ve read about a lot of actors’ agents who were very protective of their talent by not leaving them alone in the room with him. That’s a good agent (and friend). And of course, even meetings that did start in hotel lobbies and restaurants often ended up his hotel room. But maybe if meeting a producer at a party didn’t seem like a viable way of getting cast in a blockbuster, male Executives wouldn’t hold ‘auditions’ in their hotel room. This is something that unions and agents can address and change directly.
10. Fight back with kick-ass storytelling.
Most of these points have been about effecting change behind the camera. But change certainly needs to happen on-screen too. I want to see more depictions of three-dimensional women. Women who are not defined by what they can offer men. I want to see films that depict the reality of living in the world as a woman, as a trans person, a queer person, a person of color, a disabled person, etc.
One of the things that confuse a lot of people about survivors of sexual assault is their behavior after the assault. A lot of people don’t understand how a woman can be raped, and then keep texting her rapist. How Weinstein can rape Asia Argento, and then introduce her to his mother. She knew that her relations with him after her rape would affect her credibility. But not enough is understood about the psychology of a survivor and how seemingly irrational it is. We need those experiences, in all their painful complexity, represented.