How Hollywood and a culture of silence perpetuates abuse
Harvey Weinstein has dominated the news cycle for a few weeks, and for good reason. With numerous allegations coming to light about his misuse of his powerful position in Hollywood to sexually abuse aspiring actresses, the public cannot help but be mortified.
However, what’s not being addressed enough, and should be, is how Hollywood, and pop culture generally, enable Weinstein-style abuse on a regular basis, and how Harvey is just the most publicized case of abuse of power to date.
The term “casting couch” originated in Hollywood in 1910 where producers would proposition aspiring actresses. Producers and casting directors would make use of couches in their offices to exchange sexual favors for opportunities in the industry. Since the origination of that term in 1910, there have been a plethora of sexual abuse allegations. One notable example is Shirley Temple’s claim that a producer exposed himself to her when she was 12.
Why they get away with it
One might wonder why Hollywood, and people like Harvey Weinstein, can get away with sexual abuse for so long. Part of the problem is a sense that a victim must “suck it up;” that a sexual exchange is expected in the industry. Victims might be told to deal with it because that’s what they need to do for an opportunity.
Further, people might be so afraid of retaliation from powerful people like Weinstein, that they don’t share their story. They might be threatened and accused of slander and their careers ruined. Fear of losing a job keeps both victims and accomplices quiet. So, as with the case of many women in Weinstein’s case, victims just dealt with it and live with the pain. And, unfortunately, many more women were subject to his victimization as a result.
You might also wonder why other people in the industry don’t ostracize him for his actions. Why did other powerful people ignore the accusations and obvious problems? When people like Weinstein wield power, it’s easier to ignore the misconduct when it happens behind closed doors, and ignore the victims if they do happen to speak out, than face retaliation resulting in the loss of a job or ending of a career.
Enabling the CEO pimp
People like Weinstein, and people who don’t hold him accountable along the way, enable the CEO pimp. Women and young girls who are hoping to make it in Hollywood, modeling, and the music industry, might come across a man claiming he can take them to the top, as long as they do a little extra sexual side-work to get there.
Pop culture becomes an easy model for the CEO pimp to say “other people do it too,” so that a desperate girl allows herself to be taken advantage of. She might start off with stripping to make extra money to pay her “agent” (pimp) for headshots or acting classes. And then she gets dragged deeper into porn or prostitution. Ultimately, with threats of physical violence from her pimp, she feels unable to leave and doesn’t have anyone to turn to, to get out. The pimp may threaten violence toward her family members, as well as to her, leaving her feeling helpless and responsible.
What we should do about it
Whatever industry you are in, abuse of power should not be tolerated. We need more courageous people to not do business with abusers. We need to make it okay for victims to speak out so that more people do not become victims. And we need to put pressure on Hollywood to show respect to women through the movies and music it produces.
Abuse proliferates when it’s enabled, and when it isn’t exposed to the light revealing its ugliness.