How do you solve a problem like Harvey Weinstein?
Well, if you're The Weinstein Company, the film studio Weinstein co-founded with brother Bob in 2005, you fire him. If you're the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization behind the Oscars, you also give Weinstein the boot. If you're France, you announce you're stripping him of an award he received in 2012. If you're one of the dozens of women whom he allegedly assaulted, raped, groped or otherwise behaved inappropriately towards during his decades-long reign of terror in Hollywood, you add your name to the growing list of people publicly calling him out for this behavior at long last.
And while all that certainly does solve, or at least address, the problem of Harvey Weinstein specifically, I am asking a slightly different question - how do we, as a society, solve a problem like Harvey Weinstein, that is, the problem of powerful, wealthy men using their power and wealth both to sexually assault women and shield themselves from consequences for years or even decades? Because while it's great that these allegations have finally come to light, and Weinstein is finally facing some consequences for his actions, if history - and Bill Cosby, Bill O'Reilly, Roger Ailes, Woody Allen, Donald Trump, and their ilk - has taught us anything, it's that this is not the last time we will hear about a powerful, influential man abusing and violating women, and that those around him were complicit, either through direct action or silence, in aiding and hiding the abuse.
Wouldn't it be great if, instead of hearing about this monstrous behavior after that fact, instead of punishing the perpetrators with lawsuits, firings and public humiliation, instead of forcing countless women, men and non-binary individuals to suffer the physical, mental and emotional ramifications of their abuse, the abuse just didn't happen in the first place?
Can you solve a problem like Harvey Weinstein?
What struck me the most while I was reading Ronan Farrow's New Yorker piece about Weinstein - besides the cringe-inducing casting couch cliche rendezvous Weinstein arranged with his victims - was how many people apparently knew something was amiss, and yet chose not speak up, mainly out of fear of retaliation. According to Farrow, one former TWC employee who was interviewed for the article said, "If Harvey were to discover my identity, I'm worried that he could ruin my life."
Wow, I thought as I read the article, I am so glad I don't work in an industry where being a compassionate human being, speaking up against inappropriate behavior and protecting fellow human beings, would lead to retaliation so great it would 'ruin my life.'
But that's not exactly true, is it? Sure, objectively, the world of regional theatre may not be as high-stakes or cutthroat as Hollywood, but to the people living in it, working in it, making sacrifices and putting lots of time and energy into succeeding in it, the stakes are high, and the knowledge that one wrong move, one bad impression or professional mis-step with an influential person may cost opportunities and advancement, is very, very real.
The same is true for pretty much any career in our society, because that's how we've set it up - an individual, or small handful of individuals, holds the power; everyone else scrambles over each other, asking "How high?" when the person at the top says "Jump." Those who jump the highest are rewarded - this is the promise of the American Dream. If you WANT IT ENOUGH, and WORK HARD, moving toward your goal NO MATTER WHAT THE COST, you will GET YOUR REWARD, and NO ONE CAN TAKE IT AWAY, DAMMIT.
Americans don't just love a good "go big or go home" victory story, we glorify it, we fetishize it. Kerri Strug sticking the landing on her injured leg at the 1996 Summer Olympics, and Curt Schilling pitching Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS with a bloody sock are the first two examples that jump to mind, but we know that scenarios like this exist in all industries. As a society, we're not turned on when someone simply works diligently and achieves their goal. That's not the real American Dream, no matter what your parents may have told you. The real American Dream is being the person who is willing to do anything and sacrifice everything - including their own physical, mental and emotional well-being, or that of others - to get what they want. The up-and-coming actresses who were lured to "meetings" and coerced into unwanted sexual activity know this, the employees who arranged those meetings fully aware of what was happening at them know this, and the Harvey Weinsteins of the world sure as hell know this. It's a system that rewards ruthless ambition, and leaves little room for basic human decency, compassion and concern. It's a system in which predators like Weinstein thrive.
Which means that it's not just about targeting individual perpetrators like Weinstein, Trump or Ailes (although, you know, we should still keep doing that, because fuck those guys). It's about saying collectively that no job, no opportunity, no career is worth sacrificing your own physical, mental, and emotional well-being, or that of someone else. It's about shifting the paradigm so we take care of each other, instead of just looking out for number one. It's about dismantling the structures of power so that one single individual doesn't hold so much influence over so many, and doesn't have the ability to wreak havoc on so many lives. It's about recognizing compassion and courage, not ruthlessness and ambition, as true markers of success.
Is this a realistic solution? I have no idea. Changing the structure of a society from the ground up is a Herculean task, especially in a country as gosh-darn stubborn as the U.S. But we owe to ourselves to give it a try, or else the problem will continue, just with a new name next time.
-Kristen M. Scatton