Why the Weinstein Story Has Been So Huge

Until we confront rape culture as a whole, the #MeToo testimonies will continue.

Susan J. Douglas October 30, 2017

People, mostly women gathered in Toulouse, France on October 29th 2017, to denounce sexual harassment after the Harvey Weinstein' scandal. (Photo by Alain Pitton/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The Har­vey Wein­stein scan­dal hur­tled like an aster­oid into Plan­et Media, with debris still fly­ing. Fired from the com­pa­ny he found­ed, stripped of his mem­ber­ship in the Acad­e­my of Motion Pic­ture Arts and Sci­ences, vehe­ment­ly cas­ti­gat­ed by var­i­ous A‑listers as well as act­ing aspi­rants, and prompt­ing a mas­sive, extra­or­di­nary social media cam­paign, #MeToo, Wein­stein has become a dark hole into which so many are pour­ing so much out­rage. Why has this sto­ry been so huge? It goes with­out say­ing that his decades-long behav­ior has been despi­ca­ble, but then we had a pres­i­den­tial candidate’s boast about grop­ing women at will dis­missed as lock­er-room talk,” and he’s now pres­i­dent. And while the Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly harass­ment scan­dals were major sto­ries, they were noth­ing like this. What has made this scan­dal blow up? And when the dust set­tles, will any­thing have changed?

Arrogant, bullying, entitled and totally abusing his power, Weinstein is a perfect piñata to bash with our 'impeachment now'-embossed shillelaghs.

First, it wasn’t just women; reports sug­gest that many men suf­fered ver­bal abuse from Wein­stein and are lux­u­ri­at­ing in schaden­freude. On a plane about 10 years ago, I met a man who had worked with Wein­stein and described him as a total prick.” Accounts have emerged of his pub­licly humil­i­at­ing men, which bred keen, fes­ter­ing resent­ment. If it had just been women who had been harassed, assault­ed and humil­i­at­ed — while men had been treat­ed with respect, even def­er­ence — would the sto­ry have had the legs it did?

Then, of course, there is one-upman­ship in the media (print win­ning the day over a timid NBC), as well as over­com­pen­sa­tion for years of ignor­ing or alleged­ly spik­ing sto­ries about this open secret.” Remem­ber that, despite the increased num­bers of attrac­tive young women in sleeve­less dress­es on the cable news chan­nels, the news media remains dom­i­nat­ed by rich and pow­er­ful white men. Maybe, too, there was shame in hav­ing picked up plant­ed smear sto­ries about those who threat­ened to expose Wein­stein. Ronan Far­row, author of the bomb­shell New York­er sto­ry, which includ­ed far more detail than the ini­tial New York Times exposé, says that he first pitched the piece to NBC, which declined to pur­sue it. Far­row not­ed the ser­i­al man­ner in which Wein­stein used legal threats to sup­press neg­a­tive sto­ries. Now, with the courage of so many women as a shield, those out­lets that were cow­ards, or com­plic­it, can trum­pet their out­rage and act like they’ve been cham­pi­oning women all along.

But per­haps the biggest rea­son for the pub­lic flog­ging of Wein­stein is that he is a sur­ro­gate for Trump, the self-admit­ted preda­tor we couldn’t keep out of the pres­i­den­cy. Yes, Wein­stein is rep­re­hen­si­ble, but Trump-the-preda­tor is using his ill-begot­ten office to sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly attack immi­grants, the LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ty, peo­ple of col­or, women and peo­ple who need health­care, while ignor­ing dis­as­ter vic­tims in Puer­to Rico, pil­lag­ing the envi­ron­ment, and tak­ing us to the brink of war. And for the moment, we can do lit­tle to noth­ing about it. Wein­stein is the dis­gust­ing dirt bag onto which we can project our fury and frus­tra­tion. Arro­gant, bul­ly­ing, enti­tled and total­ly abus­ing his pow­er, Wein­stein is a per­fect piña­ta to bash with our impeach­ment now”-embossed shillelaghs.

While the main­stream media, with their focus on indi­vid­u­als and celebri­ty, is wait­ing to see which woman will come for­ward next and which man can be the next punch­ing bag, more than 4 mil­lion peo­ple on Face­book, as of this writ­ing, have post­ed #MeToo. These peo­ple, most of them women, don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly care which famous guy is next. They are tes­ti­fy­ing to what’s been left out of the cov­er­age: the utter nor­mal­iza­tion of sex­u­al harass­ment and assault in our soci­ety, and the rape cul­ture that per­mit­ted Trump to get elect­ed. So yes, it’s sat­is­fy­ing to exco­ri­ate Wein­stein and use him to sym­bol­i­cal­ly exor­cise Trump, but until rape cul­ture ceas­es to be a gov­ern­ing ele­ment of our soci­ety, all too many women will still be say­ing, Me, too,” Me, too,” Me, too.”

#MeToo seeks to trans­form such behav­ior from nor­mal,” to being seen as weird, per­verse, pathet­ic — and action­able. And to tar every­one who does it with our new term of oppro­bri­um: a Weinstein.” 

Susan J. Dou­glas is a pro­fes­sor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan and a senior edi­tor at In These Times. Her forth­com­ing book is In Our Prime: How Old­er Women Are Rein­vent­ing the Road Ahead..
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