Sexual Misconduct: A Hollywood Epidemic
As more women continue to courageously come forward to share their stories of Harvey Weinstein sexually abusing and harassing them, fingers are being pointed at other celebrities who may have known more than they would like to reveal, and who may have perpetrated the same predatory behavior as Weinstein.
These allegations, each one more horrendous than the one before, come from the heart of Hollywood: a breeding ground for sexual harassment.
The idea of the “casting couch” is a familiar one, and obviously for a good reason. Weinstein’s scandal is sadly not a solitary story, it is just the story that will now be known as the face for this systemic sexism and abuse.
Hopefully as Weinstein’s scandal is discussed and his career is ruined, we can look to other men in the industry and work to shut their careers down as well. Working in Hollywood, and being given awards in Hollywood, is a coveted position to be in, it is a privilege, and should be considered an honor.
Thus the likes of Roman Polanski who fled the country after pleading guilty to the rape of a 13 year old girl and Woody Allen, who has been repeatedly accused of sexually abusing his adopted daughter who he went on to marry, should also have their rights to work in the industry revoked.
Though every industry, unfortunately, has dealt with instances of sexism and sexual harassment; the entertainment industry is teeming with opportunities for abuse. Men are primarily the people in powerful positions and more often than not it is young women in positions of vulnerability, fighting for opportunities while they are being oversexualized and viewed as replaceable objects.
If an actress is viewed as ‘difficult’ in Hollywood it is easy to call in another actress willing to do the same part with less fuss — this mindset becomes easily taken advantage of.
What defines an actress as difficult? Maybe she truly isn’t easy to work with onset or she doesn’t get along with her costars and crew. Maybe she won’t agree to take her clothes off in a scene or she won’t take her clothes off for a higher-up working on the film… either way, someone less difficult will surely come along.
Moreover, in Hollywood, women are subjected to some of the worst hiring conditions in the modern world. It is nearly impossible to name five working actresses over the age of 60, or five working actresses who wear a dress size larger than a 10. And it is nigh impossible to name five actresses over 50 wearing a size larger than a 10 getting acting work.
There is a severe lack of representation in the film industry for women of color, women who don’t conform to typical beauty standards, women “of a certain age,” and women who identify as part of the LGBTQA community. This lack of representation in Hollywood is poisonous and sends the message that the only women worth showing (and casting) are primarily the young, beautiful, straight, white ones.
Of course this pressure to be forever young and beautiful has done wonders for the cosmetic surgery industry – but this is a trap! If women age without cosmetic work, they are branded ugly or lazy, but if they get cosmetic work done they are branded as superficial and weird.
Take Oscar winner Renee Zellweger, for example. She was blasted in 2016 when it was rumored that she had some plastic surgery which she later denied having, to maintain a youthful appearance as she returned to the role of Bridget Jones in Bridget Jones’s Baby. She was criticized for ruining her face and falling into Hollywood’s trap. Only 15 years earlier she was called fat and lazy for gaining weight to play the same role! There is no winning.
Although many men in Hollywood are subjected to impossible body standards too — I mean it. Superhero bodies simply aren’t realistic to expect from anyone, let alone the average man who can’t afford to spend thousands of dollars on a fitness plan — at least they are given the freedom to age and gain weight, and keep their careers.
This double standard in Hollywood sends the message that women are not as valid as men, not as important or as unique – has created a constant stream of subconscious messaging which creates a harmful work environment.
The idea that men are more valid than women has created a severe imbalance of power that some men have taken to believe as facts; this mindset that a man is more valid than a woman, is part of the systematic misogyny that has led to the subjection of hundreds of women to sexual harassment and abuse.
Harvey Weinstein is one of these men who has bought into this dangerous mindset: he was untouchable in Hollywood. For three decades he sexually harassed and abused employees, models and actresses with no repercussions. He was a billionaire, a producer, and an influential social presence who could end careers just as quickly as he could create them.
As Weinstein’s scandals continue to grow and unravel, light is being shone on people who may have covered for him and who are now being accused of similar behaviors. Of these men catching the heat are beloved Hollywood golden boys Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.
“The idea of the “casting couch” is a familiar one, and obviously for a good reason. Weinstein’s scandal is sadly not a solitary story, it is just the story that will now be known as the face for this systemic sexism and abuse.”
Matt Damon came under fire for allegedly helping kill a story in 2004 for The New York Times by Sharon Waxman. The New York Times disputes the claims that the story was purposefully killed; but Waxman reported that she had been working on a story discussing Weinstein’s alleged sexual misconduct, and that she was looking into Miramax’s Italian head Fabrizio Lombardo.
“I had people on the record telling me Lombardo knew nothing about film, and others citing evenings he organized with Russian escorts,” Waxman said.
At the time Waxman was called by actors Matt Damon and Russell Crowe, both who spoke highly of Lombardo on Weinstein’s request. Their attempts to kill the story caused outrage this week, now that Weinstein has had the opportunity to harass more women in the 13 years since the article might have been published.
Damon was interviewed by Deadline, where he explained that he wasn’t fully aware of why he had been asked to call Lombardo and he was only able to vouch for the man on a professional level.
“Harvey said, Sharon Waxman is writing a story about Fabrizio and it’s really negative. Can you just call and tell her what your experience with Fabrizio was,” Damon explained, “So I did, and that’s what I said to her. It didn’t even make the piece that she wrote.”
The actor continued added, “Look, even before I was famous, I didn’t abide this kind of behavior. But now, as the father of four daughters, this is the kind of sexual predation that keeps me up at night. This is the great fear for all of us. “
Waxman confirmed Damon’s statement in a short message of support for the actor on Twitter. “I endorse Matt Damon’s statement. He called me briefly, wasn’t informed – nor shld he have been – abt investigative aspect of piece”
In all fairness, if Damon was as in the dark as he claims to be which both Waxman and his former costar Jessica Chastain believe him about, then his part in the Weinstein drama is small and insignificant.
If Damon hadn’t financially supported another sexual abuser’s career I might even claim that his words of support for the victims of Weinstein’s abuse is sincere and encouraging — but Damon worked as a producer on the Academy Award winning film Manchester by the Sea, which starred Casey Affleck.
Casey Affleck collected over a dozen awards, including the Oscar for Best Actor, for his role in the drama when seven years ago he was accused of sexual harassment by two women. In 2010 Affleck worked on the film I’m Still Here with Joaquin Phoenix; one woman working on the film said that Affleck climbed into bed with her without her consent while she was asleep. Another woman said he pressured her to stay in his hotel room and when she refused he “violently grabbed [her] arm in an effort to intimidate her into staying.” Furthermore, on set he belittled them and ordered a man working on the film to expose himself to the two women.
Both women sued him and the cases were settled outside of court that same year. Though Affleck has continuously denied the women’s accusations, he failed to follow through in countersuing them as he once claimed he would.
When the story began to regain momentum in 2016, as Manchester by the Sea was gaining award’s season buzz, Affleck released a dismissive statement saying, “It was settled to the satisfaction of all. I was hurt and upset — I am sure all were — but I am over it,” he wrote. “It was an unfortunate situation — mostly for the innocent bystanders of the families of those involved.”
Casey Affleck’s name has not been mentioned during the Weinstein scandal, but the fact that Matt Damon says he would never work to kill stories about sexual abuse but produced a film starring Casey Affleck who is Damon’s close family friend, a man sued twice for sexual harassment, leaves Damon’s reputation tarnished.
Matt Damon is not the only celebrity being pulled into Weinstein’s scandal, nor is Casey Affleck the only Affleck accused of sexually harassing women.
Since Weinstein’s scandal has broken two women have tweeted their discomfort with Ben Affleck having inappropriately groped them at industry functions.
A fan tweeted actress Hilarie Burton that the fan remembered when Ben Affleck “grabbed Hillarie Burton’s breasts on TRL once. Everyone forgot though.”
Hilarie Burton responded, “I didn’t forget.”
As the fan sent words of encouragement and support Hilarie continued to tweet her reaction to Affleck’s inappropriate actions, “Seriously, thank you for that.” Burton said in response to the fan’s kind words, “I was a kid.”
Burton then linked to a clip of TRL which included the 2003 incident where Burton discussed Affleck tweaking her breast. Above the clip she wrote, “Girls. I’m so impressed with you brave ones. I had to laugh back then so I wouldn’t cry. Sending love.”
Affleck responded with a short tweet saying, “I acted inappropriately toward Ms. Burton and I sincerely apologize”
Ben Affleck’s behavior seems to stem from sexist ideals like the problematic saying “boys will be boys.” His apology is an admission that he “acted inappropriately,” as if he hadn’t realized that when he was tweaking a 19-year-old woman’s breast at age 29 on television.
While his apology to Burton was short and sweet, the actor has yet to respond to makeup artist Annamarie Tendler, who sent out a series of tweets detailing Affleck inappropriately touching her as well.
“I would also love to get an apology from Ben Affleck who grabbed my ass at a Golden Globes party in 2014,” Tendler tweeted on Wednesday, after he apologized via twitter to Hilarie Burton.
“He walked by me, cupped my butt and pressed his finger into my crack,” Tendler continued to tweet, “I guess he tried to play it like he was politely moving me out of the way and oops touched my butt instead of my lower back?”
“Like most women in these situations I didn’t say anything but I have thought a lot about what I’d say if I ever saw him again.”
Tendler’s tweets were met with support from many women who agreed that shocked silence and paralyzed inaction is a common response to sexual harassment, especially from men in higher standings. Affleck has not yet responded to Tendler’s accusations.
The double Academy Award winning actress Emma Thompson summed up the industry’s compliancy with sexual assault beautifully in an interview with BBC2’s Newsnight, earlier this week. She was asked about Weinstein, but her succinct and eloquent quote truly touches on the larger issues that explain, not excuse, the psychology behind this systemic sexism and abuse.
“I don’t think you can describe [Harvey Weinstein] as a sex addict, he’s a predator. That’s different. He’s at the top of, as it were the ladder of, a system of harassment and belittlement and bullying and interference,” Thompson continued, “This has been part of our world, women’s world, since time immemorial.”
“So what we need to start talking about is the crisis in masculinity, the crisis of extreme masculinity which is this sort of behavior.”
When pressed if Weinstein’s scandal was a unique one in Hollywood, or if there were other predators with such a long list of victims Thompson was quick to respond, “Does it only count if you have done it to loads and loads of women, or does it count if you have done it to one woman, once? I think the latter.”
Thompson’s words truly touch on the venomous truth that these abuses have been commonplace for women since the beginning of time, but reaffirm that this is something we can adjust if we address the correct issues. The fragility of masculinity, the hatred for femininity, and the pressures to conform to gender roles are just the start of these issues.
Moreover, we as a society need to continue to question the unfair double standards in the world. Is it fair that Polanski and Allen are still directing, both Affleck brothers are working and winning awards, but Kathy Griffin was put out of work for simply taking distasteful photographs with a fake-Trump head? Griffin didn’t injure anyone, she didn’t break the law, she didn’t even infringe on anyone’s rights — but she lost work and sponsorship opportunities, while men who have confirmed their own guilt of sexual assaults are still working in the most idolized industry in the world.
As is, Dickens’ famous line “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times” comes to mind in regards to these scandals. The stories of abuse being revealed in Hollywood are disgusting, abhorrent, and devastating proof of the sexism in the entertainment industry that has been ignored for decades and that women have been dealing with in every industry since the beginning of time. However, the bravery of these victims has started a firestorm and opened a conversation that will hopefully obstruct future injustices from occurring and will incite true change.
There is no quick solution to systematic sexism, but the amount of awareness raised in the past few days far surpasses any awareness of abuse in the industry discussed in the past decade — and for that alone these women deserve our full trust, support, and gratitude.
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