Sexual Harassment’s Great Wall of Silence

Not to belabor a point, but we are still swimming in the polluted pool of sexual harassment that opened when accusations against Harvey Weinstein went public for the first time. Over the weekend I read an article by Claire Potter in The Washington Post about the two positions on sexual harassment and rape culture held by the late feminist Andrea Dworkin: (1) It requires collaborators to succeed; (2) The men always know.

What allows the harassment to continue is the Great Wall of Silence.

The Collaborator’s Network

sexual harassment, Wall of silence, Graffito of woman in brick wallIn “Harvey Weinstein and the Problem of Collaborators” Ms. Potter states that, “Hundreds of people conspired to conceal his predatory behavior.” She uses the word “conspired” quite intentionally because, as we now know, hundreds of people knew about, excused, denied, or actively participated in his harassment and abuse of women for over 30 years.

Many of those people now sound like Germans after World War II, claiming they knew nothing, saw nothing, heard nothing about something that everyone knew was going on.

Men, focused on their own success, their own careers—and their own survival—found it easy to deny or minimalize what they heard. Unless it was their wife or girlfriend getting groped by the Big Hairy Spider in the terrycloth bathrobe, they had no skin in the game—literally. Quentin Tarantino says he knew about Mr. Weinstein’s conduct toward his girlfriend, Mira Sorvino and another woman and wishes he had, “done more.” Given that he did almost nothing and continued to work extensively with Harvey Weinstein, he should have said that he wishes he had actually done something about what he knew.

Women, isolated, marginalized and threatened, kept silent to protect themselves from further harm. Those who say, “why didn’t they speak out?” should know by now that women who speak out about male abuse are often penalized by a media network and legal system dominated by men. They had little to gain but everything to lose by going public. As they say in the vernacular, “bros before hos.” (I prefer “chicks before dicks” myself.)

The United Male Front

The result was, of course, to protect the predators, further enable them, and tacitly condone their activities through a cover up that depended on a united male front. What happened in Hollywood stayed in Hollywood. Meanwhile, Harvey Weinstein is becoming a synecdoche for the entire sexual harassment/rape culture :

  • The perpetrator pays off victims and witnesses through his lawyers.
  • Lawyers make money by settling cases over and over again.
  • Settlements prevent victims from going public—or warning other women.
  • The press either turns a blind eye willingly or is bullied into killing stories.
  • The legal system decides that it lacks sufficient evidence to indict.
  • Men who know minimize the offense or look the other way entirely.
  • Women either acquiesce or risk losing jobs and having their careers ruined.

The United Male Front has been very successful for decades. Even now, the movie stars who come forward every day to admit it happened to #MeToo often won’t name the men who molested or raped them. Very prominent and wealthy A-list stars talk about the “director,” the “crew member,” or the “agent” but won’t specify who that man is. The wall of silence holds, even among the victims.

Pornography as User Manual

The second point Ms. Dworkin made was that pornography presents men with a hands-on guide to abusing women—promoting the myth that women enjoy (or deserve) being abused. That has only grown worse since her day.

HBO, The Deuce, pornographyBack then, pornography existed in magazines and books that were sold in seedy bookstores or kept behind the counter. Generations of boys hid their bootleg copies of Playboy under the mattress.  Men had to travel to their local red-light district to see skin flicks.

Now it’s all available on the internet anytime, anywhere, to anyone. Comics like Bill Maher joke about pornography as though it’s just another recreational activity that everyone watches all the time. (Note to Bill: Women don’t watch this garbage. And we’re 52% of the population.)

Worse, HBO is now running a new series called “The Deuce,” which “explores the rough-and-tumble world at the pioneering moments of what would become the billion-dollar American sex industry.”  What? How did a violent and vulgar business that exploits women become simply “rough and tumble?”

And we need this why? Are we supposed to believe that turning whores into porn stars so that men can make money from their bodies is empowering for women? Or is HBO just using women’s bodies to make more money?

Refusing to Watch Sexual Harassment

HBO, Confederate. logoI refuse to watch this show because :

  1. To make a show about an industry that degrades women you must glorify degrading women;
  2. I have no interest in the pornography industry in any way, shape or form; and
  3. It just makes pornography more mainstream—accepted as a valid industry by everyone who watches it.

A female friend who watches The Deuce said that it doesn’t glorify the people involved. So what? This show takes the whole industry out of the shadows and makes it look okay.

Exploiting Blacks — Not Okay; Exploiting Women — Okay

It says something about our society that a planned HBO show, “Confederate” is being protested at the same time The Deuce is running without comment. “Confederate,” you see will be an alternate-history show that depicts what the U.S. would have looked like if the South had won the Civil War and slavery had remained legal. They promote it with the HBO logo over the Confederate battle flag. Many people in high places find giving attention to this idea completely unacceptable.

But it’s just fine to put women out there as whores and porn stars because, you know, women. It’s the same reason every action or mob movie has an obligatory strip-club scene that is totally unnecessary to the plot, the characters, or the story arc. It’s there because, you know, women. Not only is no one protesting, The Deuce is getting critical raves. HBO profits off exploiting women without comment.

The Great Wall of Silence that has protected predators for decades across multiple industries is breaking down but it has not yet fallen. It will not go away until police, lawyers, judges, reporters, and editors believe the women who go public. Then they must follow up with consequences for the predator and his enablers. We still have a long way to go.