- Harvey Weinstein’s success and wealth gave him power over the careers and livelihood of his alleged victims.
- Women who speak up about sexual assault and sexual harassment face many risks and challenges, including financial ones.
- It’s a pattern that replays itself in cases such as those of Bill Cosby and Roger Ailes.
As details continue to surface regarding Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s years of alleged sexual assaults and harassment, a clear theme has emerged:
Harvey Weinstein had a lot of power.
Power over the careers of young actresses and models trying to make a living in Hollywood. Power over their money and their opportunities. Power over their silence.
Weinstein’s alleged victims were early in their careers — no match for an established Hollywood heavyweight. Many of his accusers have become household names today — Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Cara Delevingne to name a few — but everyone starts somewhere.
And when you’re just starting out, going head to head with a man worth millions is a financial fight you can’t expect to win.
“I am a 28 year old woman trying to make a living and a career. Harvey Weinstein is a 64 year old, world famous man and this is his company. The balance of power is me: 0, Harvey Weinstein: 10,” wrote former employee Lauren O’Connor in a 2015 memo addressed to executives of The Weinstein Company and obtained by the New York Times‘ Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey.
Harvey Weinstein’s company raked in billions of dollars
The Weinstein Company, which produced movies such as Django Unchained and The King’s Speech, grossed billions of dollars in the past two decades alone. With a net worth of $US150 million, Weinstein himself fits solidly into the top .01%.
Weinstein’s nine-figure net worth still eclipses that of most of his accusers, even those who have gone on to achieve success of their own. It’s an imbalance of power — and account balances — reminiscent of other media moguls accused of similar behaviour, such as Bill Cosby and Roger Ailes.
Wealth can be used in positive ways. It often is. But Weinstein’s immense wealth, and his alleged victims’ financial dependence on his favour, created a power dynamic that made it nearly impossible for anyone to speak up against him.
For many of Weinstein’s alleged victims, keeping silent was their only financial choice.
“I really felt scared, like he was in this all-powerful position, and I was clearly never going to work again if I said anything,” Katherine Kendall told Michael Barbaro on Wednesday’s episode of The Daily podcast from the New York Times.
“Once you’ve got some of these people with a ton of power, like a Harvey Weinstein or someone like that, they have so much power, and so many cronies that are going to support them, that it’s so hard to go against them because you’re almost always going to get retaliated against,” Stephanie Gironda, senior associate in employment law at Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer, told Business Insider. “It puts people in a really tough situation.”
Money is power — until the numbers are no longer in your favour
It would seem, as recent examples have shown, that the only thing more powerful than money is numbers. Support for the accusers — and condemnation of the accused, whether Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, or Harvey Weinstein — grew as the number of women coming forward with allegations mounted.
Weinstein has denied many of the allegations, and in a statement provided to the New Yorker said he “believes that all of these relationships were consensual.”
He’s not the first person to believe that unwanted advances were consensual, when women have said otherwise.
Donald Trump, who owned the Miss Universe pageant franchise before selling it after becoming president, admitted to walking into the dressing rooms when contestants were changing. Some were as young as 15 at the time, Buzzfeed News reported last year.
“I’m allowed to go in, because I’m the owner of the pageant and therefore I’m inspecting it,” Trump boasted to Howard Stern in recordings released by CNN. “And you see these incredible looking women, and so I sort of get away with things like that.”
Women who speak up put their career and livelihood at risk
Many of the women who have come forward to accuse Weinstein publicly are now financially independent. For victims of sexual assault or harassment who are not, speaking up means putting a lot on the line.
“I thought it would be a ‘He said, she said,’ and I thought about how impressive his legal team is, and I thought about how much I would lose, and I decided to just move forward,” a woman who alleges Weinstein forced himself on her “sexually” told Ronan Farrow for the New Yorker.
Cara Delevingne, who has also accused Weinstein of sexual harassment, wrote in a statement, “The more we talk about it, the less power we give them.” It’s a hopeful message.
But to truly shift the balance of power, we also need a system that protects the vulnerable before their numbers grow so large that we have no choice but to believe them. The high school student who accuses the National Honour Society president of rape, or the 20-something intern who claims her boss groped her at the holiday party, deserve the same level of support we reserve for the victims of Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby.
Until that support becomes the norm, speaking up will continue to be a risk for victims who do not have the power of money or numbers on their side.
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