It’s rare to see men of “power” brought to justice for their misdeeds. Particularly if those misdeeds have been for bad acts committed against comparatively “powerless” women.
From the beginning of time, women have been mostly silent or silenced when they have been harassed, assaulted, abused, raped, or otherwise violated by men of power. It has been an “unwritten” rule that men of power could take license against men and women who had no power. That men of power could make or break people, careers and livelihoods. And that those they hurt or ruined had no recourse.
For more than a decade, Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein dined with senators, dignitaries and the powerful. He was photographed and praised by women like Hillary Clinton and Oprah. Not just in Hollywood, but in the highest social and power circles across the globe, Weinstein had a reputation as a “ladies man” despite his frumpy stature, and not-so-good looks. Men admired his sexual prowess with some of the world’s most desirable women. It was legend. But women who knew better, feared him. They loathed him. And in many cases, they were silenced by him for fear of having their careers and their lives ruined. That is until a Twitter hashtag #MeToo that was started years ago by women’s activist Tarana Burke in 2006, got new life breathed into it by angry Hollywood actresses like Rose McGowan, Alyssa Milano, and others who wanted Weinstein held to account. Their Twitter campaign took the world by storm and changed the landscape around sexual harassment forever.
On Friday, March 25, 2018, their efforts paid off: Hollywood mogul and kingmaker Harvey Weinstein was arrested and charged with a series of sex crimes, including rape that allegedly took place as far back as 2004. Weinstein pleaded not guilty. His jail bond was set at $10 million dollars, and he immediately posted bail with a $1 million dollar cashier’s check in the Manhattan court room where he was arraigned.
No matter how this case turns out in a court of law, this is a huge win for the women who started the now world-famous #MeToo hashtag and subsequent #TimesUp legal defense fund. What these brave women have done is give voice to the voiceless and put men of power across industry sectors on notice that it is no longer acceptable to harass, demean or abuse women sexually or otherwise.
I think that there are some powerful takeaways that we as women, and men alike, need to take from the horrific acts of men like Weinstein, Steve Wynn and Bill Cosby. And I also think we need to start a focused national dialogue in and out of corporate America and industry that begins to define the acceptable and unacceptable behavior of men of power, and men who you may meet at the grocery store, or in an airport. This dialogue in now critical in the wake of more allegations that surfaced over the past few days about Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman and women he is alleged to have harassed or at the very least been inappropriate with. Morgan, now 80 years old, is like many men of his generation, and later generations who never had to acknowledge or be concerned about boundaries around their conduct with women.
How do we change the behavior of men like this and help them to grasp that the game is up?
I think it is here that our discussions around sex, power, and what’s not okay should begin. In a piece about Freeman, I argued that we have to begin to make distinctions about men who flirt, ask single women on dates, give compliments, ogle women with their eyes, or even come off as creepy or inappropriate, as compared to men who are clear sexual assaulters and, worse, closet rapists.
If we do not begin to define what is and what is not acceptable norms in the age of #MeToo, good men, who need some clear boundary training will find themselves swept up with the bad ones who know exactly what they are doing and who have no such remorse or shame for their unlawful acts. I do not want to live in a world where men cannot say, “that dress is pretty.” Or, “You look lovely.” No woman does. But, we also do not want to be stalked or approached by men who do not know how to not cross “the line.”
To me, the real important takeaways from the Weinstein scandal are as follows:
1. Women have changed the game. And they have empowered a new generation of women to raise their voices, and not shrink back when they are harassed or assaulted by men.
2. Men of power (and otherwise) should be put on notice that if you go down this path of abuse, or if you have done so in your past, you will be exposed, and the result could be your personal and professional ruination.
3. All corporations, and industries must take the issue of sexual harassment and assault seriously and make boundary training and protocols a top priority that is rigorously enforced and updated.
4. Other men need to hold abusive men to account. There were many men in Hollywood who knew of Weinstein’s abuses. It was apparently the same with casino mogul Steve Wynn, who is facing a slew of misconduct allegations. Yet they said nothing and did not protect the women being blackballed. This must change going forward if women are to truly be safe in our modern society.
In the final analysis, by taking Weinstein down, women have truly changed the rules of engagement around how men of power can determine their earnings and opportunities if they do not comply with unwanted sexual advances, or worse. It is my sincere hope that other men, though, will step up and raise their voices — that they teach their sons better, and vow to build a world where their daughters can feel safe and thrive all at once.
Sophia A. Nelson, Esq. is an award-winning author and journalist. She is author of the global best-selling book, The Woman Code: 20 Powerful Keys to Unlock Your Life (2014). Follow her on Twitter here.