Why are women being blamed for the Harvey Weinstein scandal?

Are we laying the blame at the wrong door with regards to the Harvey Weinstein scandal? [Photo: PA/Getty/Yahoo Style]
Are we laying the blame at the wrong door with regards to the Harvey Weinstein scandal? [Photo: PA/Getty/Yahoo Style]

Another day, another horrific allegation of sexual assault pinned to Harvey Weinstein (Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow have both now claimed they were sexually harassed by the producer.)

Even his wife has announced she is leaving him after more details about the scandal emerged.

In a statement to People magazine, fashion designer Georgina Chapman described her husband’s behaviour as “unforgivable”.

“My heart breaks for all the women who have suffered tremendous pain because of these unforgivable actions,” she told the publication.

“I have chosen to leave my husband. Caring for my young children is my first priority and I ask the media for privacy at this time.”

Though Weinstein has “unequivocally denied” any allegations of non-consensual sex, the fact that his wife has left him, he has been fired by the company he helped to set up and he himself has admitted enough about his behaviour for us to conclude that he is not a good man.

You’d think therefore that the response to the scandal would be somewhat straightforward. Sexual harassment and assault are quite obviously wrong and the anger and upset should quite rightly be laid at the door of the person responsible for committing them.

You’d think.

While to a certain extent that has happened with many speaking out against the movie mogul and his alleged abhorrent behaviour, there have been some other responses, which have once again muddied the blame waters.

A couple of days ago Donna Karan was forced to issue an apology after appearing to insinuate that the women Weinstein reportedly attacked put themselves in the position to be sexually harassed or assaulted because of how they dressed.

“How do we present ourselves as women?” she told Daily Mail.

“Are we asking for it, by presenting all the sensuality and all the sexuality? And what are we throwing out to our children today about how to dance and how to perform and what to wear? How much should they show? I don’t think it’s only Harvey Weinstein … We have to look at our world … And how women are dressing and what they’re asking by just presenting themselves the way they do. What are they asking for? Trouble.”

The fashion designer said that her words were taken out of context, but it is difficult to imagine the context in which the concept of victim blaming could be explained away.

The other blame-game is landing at the door of other Hollywood actresses for not speaking out sooner about their own experiences or concerns about Weinstein. And this is far from OK either.

The allegations against Harvey Weinstein go back almost three decades, but some victims are only choosing to speak out now. And they are finding themselves getting berated because of it.

“Why didn’t you come forward sooner?” “You might have prevented this happening to other women?” the headlines implore.

Though their words are dressed up in concern, chastising victims for not speaking out sooner is tantamount to saying it’s their fault: either that they got harassed in the first place, or that other women got attacked afterwards.

But there are untold reasons why someone might not want to speak up about their experiences.

Yolanda Moses, a professor of anthropology at the University of California, Riverside and a consultant/trainer for preventing sexual harassment and sexual assault told Live Science that the fear of being blamed can have an impact.

“People ask victims questions such as, “Why were you in that place at that time?” and “Why did you go to that person’s room?” Such questions can shift the blame to the victim rather than the perpetrator,” she said.

Then there’s the fact that speaking out about sexual assault and harassment can be very painful and/or embarrassing.

“When a person speaks out, he or she has to relive the event over and over again, by telling the story of the assault to police officers and juries, for example,” Moses continues.

Moses says that is particularly difficult if a victim is accusing a high-power individual in society, or someone who has power over their life. Like a Hollywood producer for example?

Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism project, told The Guardian that a concern about the impact on their lives can also determine whether a victim chooses to report an incident. “When women do report sexual harassment, the outcomes are terrible,” she says.

“Over two-thirds of young women are experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace now, today. Eighty per cent of them felt unable to report it, but three-quarters of the ones who did said that nothing changed afterwards, and 16% said that the situation got worse.”

Blaming other prominent Hollywood actresses for not either spotting what was going on or speaking out to condemn Weinstein is yet another example of the double standard reactions to the scandal.

Meryl Streep, alongside other female stars have been publicly criticised for waiting days to issue a statement on Weinstein.

“Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and Gwyneth Paltrow, who have all won Oscars for starring in Weinstein films, have made no public comment,” one Daily Mail story asked.

“The three women have also been happy to provide interviewers and reporters profiling Weinstein with sound bites and quotes about their affinity for the exec.”

Thankfully though, a number of female celebrities, activists and writers are clapping back at the comments.

Sharing a tweet about the issue, Jessica Chastain wrote: “I’m sick of the media demanding only women speak up.

“What about men? Perhaps many are afraid to look at their own behaviour…”

Clapping hands emoji.

[Photo: Twitter]
[Photo: Twitter]

But while Hollywood’s women are having to defend themselves about their failure to come forward, notice what was going on or publicly condemn it all as wrong (er, no brainer!), the abhorrent behaviour of the actual person who committed it is getting somewhat dummed down.

The point is that blame should always lie with the person who carried out the harassment, no matter who that person is, no matter who their victim is and no matter who has or has not condemned it. And any other form of blame acts as a mere distraction from the real issue at hand.

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