Workers shouldn’t have to tolerate a culture of sexual harassment
If there is one bit of solace we can take from the Harvey Weinstein saga, it’s this: The punishment is starting to fit the crime. We still live in a time when you can be caught — on tape — bragging about grabbing women’s private parts and still be elected president of the United States.
But some men in powerful positions are finally losing credibility, jobs and money for their alleged lecherous ways. (See Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly at Fox News, Jian Ghomeshi at the CBC or Roy Price at Amazon.)
Weinstein, the famed movie mogul, was fired from his own company. But he wasn’t fired for his inappropriate behaviour, he was fired because he was publicly outed by the New York Times.
His firm didn’t oust him after he reached at least eight different settlements with women — including sexual harassment and unwanted touching. Instead, it gave him an employment contract that essentially gave tacit approval ot, and attached a price tag to, sexual misconduct.
If Weinstein “treated someone improperly in violation of the company’s Code of Conduct,” he was required to reimburse the costs of judgment or settlements to the firm, according to TMZ.
But the contract went even further — outlining penalties of $250,000 for the first instance, $500,000 for the second, $750,000 for the third and $1 million for each additional instance. It’s like the company knew Weinstein couldn’t control himself around women, so it attached escalating fees for each assault. It also means his firing was — unbelievably — potentially illegal.
One of the most interesting — and sad — parts of this story has been the proliferation of the #metoo hashtag on social media. Actress Alyssa Milano reportedly started it by saying, “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”
On Oct. 16, I was flooded with posts that contained #metoo. Close friends posted openly to not only confirm they had been harassed or assaulted, but detailed the circumstances.
A former colleague spoke of a time she was working in Hong Kong as a jazz singer. Hotel management showed her the poster that promoted the band during her tenure — “It was a caricature of me in a tight, low-cut green dress with a tag line ‘Voice so sexy, even the lobsters are red, or cooked!’” she wrote.
She was told it was part of her job to mingle with guests, and most nights were enjoyable. But one man, an official with a foreign government, visited often and went out of his way to speak with her. One night, he began asking inappropriate personal questions that she refused to answer.
“(He) threw a pile of $100 American bills on the table and said, ‘Answer my questions now.’ I stood, said I couldn’t be bought and started to walk away. The man gripped my arm, tried to yank me back down, and said loudly, ‘Everyone can be bought.’ I stood there, in the middle of a packed restaurant, crying and trying to pull my arm away from a man twice my size who felt I owed him a conversation about sex (and lord knows what else).”
That nightmare is one story in an ocean of bad behaviour. Just hours after it began, #metoo had been used more than 200,000 times, according to the BBC.
Sarah Polley outlined her encounter with Weinstein in a column for the New York Times. The Canadian actor and director was pulled out of a photo shoot when she was 19 and summoned to Weinstein’s office, with her publicist, who refused to leave her alone with him. Polley wrote: “A famous star, a few years my senior, had once sat across from him in the chair I was in now. Because of his ‘very close relationship’ with this actress, she had gone on to play leading roles and win awards. If he and I had that kind of ‘close relationship,’ I could have a similar career. ‘That’s how it works,’ I remember him telling me. The implication wasn’t subtle.”
Turned off, Polley went behind the camera. One idea she began working on was a comedy about the craziest and worst experiences a group of successful female actors in Hollywood ever had on set.
“We were full of zeal for this project. But the stories, when we told them, left us in tears and bewildered at how casually we had taken these horror stories and tried to make them into comedy,” said Polley. “They were stories of assault... it was impossible to reframe them any other way.”
Weinstein pointed out he “came of age in the ’60s and ’70s when all the rules about behaviour and workplaces were different. That was the culture then.”
This is the culture now — women are more comfortable standing up to this behaviour. We’re doing a better job with the next generation in teaching them that they shouldn’t have to tolerate this kind of behaviour. If we can’t trust men in powerful positions to have common decency, we can at least show them there are serious ramifications for acting like Weinstein.
Maybe they’ll think twice.