Patriarchy and the role it plays in sexual harassment

graphic by John Liang

Our entertainment industry is deceptively golden, as we often ignore the darker side involving the abundance of sexual harassment that occurs. Hollywood isn’t all pearly white smiles, especially not when the camera neglects to capture laudable figures such as Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, who have been committing barbaric acts such as sexual harassment for decades. After an October New York Times article detailed all the previous allegations against Weinstein, many women in the entertainment industry stepped forward as victims of Weinstein. Subsequently, the allegations and later consequences regarding Weinstein have ushered in an unprecedented movement of men and women publicly coming forward with charges of their own.

There is an undeniable patriarchy in the industry, as seen by the decades it took for some women to come forward with their stories about Weinstein in fear of the power he held over their careers. As one of Weinstein’s victims, actress and writer Brit Marling, wrote in The Atlantic about her experience and those of others, “It’s important to think about the economics of consent. Weinstein was a gatekeeper who could give actresses a career that would sustain their lives and the livelihood of their families.”

So many similar cases in the past have simply faded away in the past, and it’s important that it doesn’t happen again. Take Mel Gibson for example. Despite having been caught on tape telling his wife that she deserved to be gang-raped in 2009, it only took eight years for Gibson to rise to prominence again, as he returned to the fold this year with an Oscar nomination for directing Hacksaw Ridge. It is crucial to address these structural issues in the entertainment industry that have allowed society to forgive and forget. Since the entertainment industry is so widely recognized, dealing justice for sexual harassment would set a precedent in other industries as well. Going back to Marling’s statements, “It’s not these bad men. Or that dirty industry. It’s this inhumane economic system of which we are all a part [of].”

As these underlying patriarchal and hierarchal issues with sexual harassment persist, many men and women and men have come forward with sexual harassment allegations against other well-known figures such as Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K, and a host of others. People in other industries are starting to speak out as well. For instance, Alabama’s Republican Senate Candidate, Roy Moore has been accused by six different women of sexual harassment and assault. Amongst the allegations against Moore, one of the most serious is by Leigh Corfman, who claims that Moore made inappropriate and illegal sexual approaches towards her when she was a minor of 14 years old. Again, news reports state that no legal action is being taken against Moore. It is heartening that women and men alike are coming forward with their stories of sexual abuse, but it is disheartening at the same time to see how wide of influence sexual abuse has.

If sexual harassment is to be thought of as a contagious disease that persists in many large industries, the solution can not simply be a remedy – it must be a vaccine. Even pursuing legal action against those that have featured in news headlines for being perpetrators of sexual harassment is not enough, as work has to be done to prevent sexual harassment from happening before it does. Most importantly, figures of power (especially men) need to learn not only to denounce sexual harassment once it has occurred, but also to police it amongst themselves. It is a call to arms for these people to stand up and report what they see, creating an environment in which sexual harassment cases are more readily controlled and diminished. The entertainment industry has already begun this process, as Dawn Hudson, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, proposed in a recent Industry Leader Panel that a confidential hotline should be put in place exclusively for sexual harassment claims in Hollywood.  She stated that the Academy was already discussing a code of conduct that would make explicitly clear how the organization would handle such complaints going forward. The Academy has already expelled Weinstein, but others should follow. While it was good to see that Weinstein faced consequences for his actions, 28 other high profile people have been accused as well. Weinstein should not merely as a scapegoat, his fallout should continue to act as a catalyst, leading to serious and legal action for anyone who commits these crimes. If real solutions are put into play in the entertainment industry and enforced, there is hope that perhaps other industries will watch and learn to resolve the systemic issues of sexual harassment that persist today.

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