From Hollywood to Capitol Hill: Masculinity, Power, and Sexual Assault

By Eve Bromberg

Originally, when I pitched this article I was going to write about Harvey Weinstein and the litany of cases piling up against him.

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By Eve Bromberg

Originally, when I pitched this article I was going to write about Harvey Weinstein and the litany of cases piling up against him. Little did I know that the accusations from the New York Times’ October 5th piece had only scratched the surface of a deeply entrenched history of sexual misconduct as a result of abused privilege. Over the past two months, women have come forward with accusations of sexual misconduct against some of the biggest names in Hollywood, Capitol Hill, and beyond. Misconduct in the workplace is by no means a new occurrence.  Men occupying roles of power and abusing this power is prevalent and this dynamic is integral to the continuation of the patriarchal world that we live in. The use of power increases the confidence of the already powerful; within this power are heavy implications of masculinity. Masculinity is perhaps why men are so likely to abuse their power. Power and masculinity are inseparable, really.  What now seems most significant about these accusations is the attention that they’re getting. People are listening, and identifying and questioning this age-old power dynamic.

The accusations that started this whole onslaught were those against Harvey Weinstein, longtime movie producer and head of the production company, The Weinstein Company. Weinstein was accused of years of misconduct towards his personal staff and actresses. Weinstein was known to hold his business meetings in various hotel rooms. Upon arriving to these meetings, Weinstein would try to initiate some sort of physical contact, usually in the form of a massage. Weinstein has also been accused of assault towards multiple women, including actress Rose Mcgowan. Around thirty women have come forward with accusations against Weinstein. He has been fired from his company, and there are rumors that the Board might change the company’s name.

Charlie Rose, journalist and longtime host of the Charlie Rose show, was accused just last week of years of sexual harassment towards his female staff. Rose would request that staff members work at his private residences, oftentimes asking them to spend days in his home with just him. While the staff members were working in his home, Rose would attempt sexual advances on them. Most of the women who have come forward moved on to different jobs after reporting  the misconduct to their supervisors. Those women never had the opportunity to discuss their experiences until now. Charlie Roses’ show has been suspended.

Jeffrey Tambor, after accusations of harassing two transgender cast members of the Amazon series Transparent, is leaving the show. Kevin Spacey was meant to play the role of John Paul Getty in Ridley Scott’s film All The Money In The World, but after numerous men stepped forward accusing Spacey of sexual assaulting and harassing them when they were young, Christopher Plummer replace him.  Both the cases of Tambor and Spacey are examples of how victims of assault are not only women.

In the case of Louis CK, there was an arc to the accusations against him surfacing. Rumors of his misconduct existed for years and earlier this year while in Toronto for a premier of his film “I Love You Daddy,” (which, ironically enough, deals with a relationship between an 80-something year old director, and a 17-year old girl), he was asked about those rumors. He responded by saying that he refused to comment because, “they’re rumors.” Weeks later, when five women stepped forward accusing him of harassment, he couldn’t afford to be quite so particular. In his November 10th statement in The New York Times he both admitted the stories were true, and acknowledged the dynamic at play, “The power I had over these women is that they admired me. And I wielded that power irresponsibly.” He had more power than them. These women both admired him for his work and feared repercussions if they didn’t acquiesce. That he knew what he was doing is emblematic of the whole problem. A person with power has the privilege to use it. “I Love You Daddy” will no longer be released in theaters.

The consequences of these men’s actions are not limited to their individual punishments.  Hollywood, production companies, and television providers like Amazon and Netflix have taken a stance.  Misconduct will not be tolerated and those accused of misconduct will be held accountable for their actions. This is great progress, seeing as before the reality of this misconduct existed only as a well-known secrets within the industry or as comedy material for hosts of the Oscars. Implicit in this progress is acknowledgement that sexual misconduct is not a “women’s issue.” Where issues of power and equality are concerned, we all have to take part in the conversation. The responsibility is not just on those directly impacted by these abuses of power, and to discuss assault is not a taboo. But where do we go from here? Do we finally have the answer to the long wedged debate of whether we can separate the art from the artist? Is the answer no? Should we, now with knowledge of Weinstein’s actions, stop watching films he produced prior to the release of The Times’ article? Are we heading into a time where we view power and money more critically? Are we heading in a direction where we must relearn how to be an ally? How will men act to support women? There is a large discrepancy of female directors within the industry. Will we now see a trend of more women making movies? While researching for this piece I couldn’t help but notice that most of the articles written about the misconduct of these well-known men were written by women. It is also worth noting that on the whole the victims of these cases  have mostly been wealthy, white women. The focus on instances of rampant assault within the entertainment industry are out of touch with the larger effort to make conversations of gender and identity more intersectional, and more inclusive. I would say it’s because so many of these accusations are from years ago (some of the accusations against Weinstein are from as long thirty years ago), when conversations of feminism weren’t as progressive. But there are new accusations surfacing daily.

It is clear the accusations that have come forward are starting a conversation. It is clear the trends of abuse will no longer continue as easily, simply because we are all becoming more aware of the grave threat power allows. It is also clear this kind of abuse exists not just in the entertainment industry, but in all industries, particularly politics. I hope these conversations have an impact on male politicians (on both sides of the bench) with questionable past conduct. If a politician whose political work and commitment is deeply admirable, can we continue to think highly of this person in light of accusations? Or to be more frank, is it hypocritical of liberals to continue to support Al Franken in light of accusations of past misconduct towards women when he was working as a comedian. Is it ok to excuse his groping as part of a comedic act?

It will be interesting, and very important, to see what these “revelations” lead us to as a country and a world. I hope progress will come about, that the sheer magnitude of abuse will allow this problem to be taken more seriously, and that the problem will be a concern for everyone, not just women. I hope these accusations against mostly white men lead a larger range of people to acquire power, and push those with privilege to use their privilege for good. To a world where we can question oppressive and aggressive notions of masculinity. All that being said, it takes a lot of courage to come forward and describe an instance of assault, especially given the effort that has been made for these accusations to never be known. We should, above all, commend and have great respect for all of the people who have stepped forward despite all efforts to silence them.


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