Editor’s Note: Kate Maltby is a regular broadcaster and columnist in the United Kingdom on issues of culture and politics and is a theater critic for The Times of London. She is also completing a doctorate in renaissance literature, having been awarded a collaborative doctoral degree between Yale University and University College London. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.
Wherever we come from, all women know a Harvey Weinstein, writes Kate Maltby.
She says the cynical politicization of the Weinstein case deflects the outrage away from its target: sexual exploitation of women by men in power
Viewers of Saturday Night Live noticed something missing this weekend. NBC’s late night sketch show sets out to skewer the cultural zeitgeist. And what showbiz story captured the cultural zeitgeist this week better than the tale of Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood titan who has (finally) been accused in print of decades of sexual harassment?
SNL’s executive producer Lorne Michaels explained that the show had not made any jokes at Weinstein’s expense this week because Weinstein’s influence is “a New York thing.” Which is funny, because here in London my friends and I had logged online eagerly on Sunday morning to catch up with what SNL made of America’s most famous new alleged predator.
Michaels was serving up flat-out nonsense about our interest in the case, of course, but also about Weinstein’s influence. Weinstein wasn’t merely one of the most powerful men in New York, or in California; his sway was spread across the planet.
The women who have accused him of appearing to require sexual contact for career promotion include actresses and other women in the movie business from Italy, Britain and New Zealand; all looked to the US film industry, as so many others like them do, to make their living.
But wherever we come from, all women know a Harvey Weinstein. He’s the guy a few tiers up from us at work – usually a few decades older – who offers to help talk up our promotion prospects in-house as he puts a hand on our knee. He’s the politician who asks if we’ve ever fancied being a candidate, then insists we meet somewhere very private to discuss it.
He may even boast of being well-versed in feminism (Weinstein, for example, produced and promoted “The Hunting Ground,” a movie celebrating the work of activists against campus rape), yet when confronted, claim to be an old-fashioned guy caught out by confusing new rules.
Worst of all, the version of this guy we all know often has male friends collaborating to ensure we end up in dangerous situations and that our voices are then dismissed.
The model Zoe Brock alleged this week that she’d only agreed to go to Weinstein’s hotel room because a large number of friends would be carrying on an after-party there with them. The friends never showed and she was left alone with Weinstein, she told the New Zealand Herald. She ended up fleeing into the bathroom to avoid his advances, she said
The entertainment reporter Sharon Waxman alleges that she worked on a Weinstein exposé for the New York Times in 2004, only for actors Matt Damon and Russell Crowe to contact the paper and “vouch for” Weinstein’s alleged procurer of women in Italy. She asserted in an article on the website “The Wrap” this weekend that her “expose” story was gutted and buried on an inside page in the paper. (Her former editor at the Times, now a Bloomberg editor, Jonathan Landman, dismissed Waxman’s claims, and told Politico it was “pretty unlikely that it ever happened as she relates it…”).
Women well know and understand men who enable. So it’s particularly disappointing to see Weinstein’s alleged predations become the stuff of US partisan politics. The avowedly conservative National Review magazine this week used Weinstein as an excuse to run an article reminding us that Bill Clinton was also “a sexual predator.” Fox News ran a story highlighting Weinstein’s links to Democrats, and questioning President Barack Obama’s decision to allow his daughter Malia to take an internship with the Weinstein company.
Hillary Clinton has been pilloried for taking his money. (Clinton, a woman who has suffered very publicly as a result of male sexual rapacity, has a funny way of being blamed for men’s mistreatment of women.)
The Democratic-Republican competition for sexual virtue was exemplified by a Twitter exchange between late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel and Donald Trump Jr., son of the President. Trump Jr. sarcastically said that he was looking forward to Kimmel’s monologues on the subject of Weinstein’s sins.
After Michaels’ “New York thing” excuse for giving Weinstein a pass on SNL jokes, Trump Jr. tweeted “Out of curiosity where is @realdonaldtrump from??? Seems like there could be more to that pass than this nonsense.”
He was picking up on the criticism of SNL, and the widespread perception that liberal-aligned showbiz stars have been reluctant to criticize Weinstein, a major Democratic donor. Kimmel responded with the infamous “Access Hollywood” clip of Trump Jr.’s father, captured on tape discussing with Billy Bush his own penchant for sexual predation.
Does it really matter, however, that President Donald Trump is also a self-avowed exploiter of power for sex? (“If you’re a star, they let you do it.”) Yes, insofar as it reminds us that sexual corruption remains entrenched at the highest level of most of our societies. But it’s not remotely an excuse for any Democratic supporters to equivocate on the subject of Weinstein.
I can only speak for the women outside America, for whom Democratic-Republican affiliations are a foreign dichotomy. We’re not interested in who gives money to whose political campaign, or whether a sexual predator is revealed to wear blue or red underpants. What we are interested in is the United States as an outsized influence on societal norms – across the planet.
We see Democrats reluctant to denounce an alleged sexual predator in Hollywood. And Republicans reluctant to denounce an admitted sexual predator in the White House.
What this tells us is that sexual predation doesn’t cause nearly enough outrage in its own right. The sexual blackmail of women as a requirement to appease powerful men should be a more burning societal issue than any Congressional divide. (It has the potential to affect the careers and lives of 51% of the population.)
The women exploited by men from all political parties deserve more than to become pawns in someone else’s political game.