#MeToo: Why Harvey Weinstein story makes women feel like victims all over again

Harvey Weinstein in his element on the red carpet at the 2017 Academy Awards.

The infuriating news about the years of sexual harassment women suffered at the hands of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein hits home for women everywhere.

A show of hands of how many women have ever been on the receiving end of unwanted sexual attention from men would likely yield unanimous results. It’s no surprise that #MeToo started trending on Twitter and was widely shared on Facebook as women in every walk of life shared the fact that they had once been victims.

That’s not saying all men — not by a long shot. And the harassment many women have experienced might not be as abusive or as creepy as the behavior Weinstein inflicted on his victims. The end result might not have been as unfair as the outcomes suffered by the women whose careers were cut short when they turned down Weinstein’s propositions. But some degree of such harassment and assault is likely true for most, if not all, women.

It’s a pattern propagated by too many men in positions of power, no matter their profession: Weinstein, Casey Affleck, Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Donald Trump. And those are just a few of the most recent examples.

The oppressor need not be someone famous. It could be a boss, a coach, or a teacher. It might be a health worker taking advantage of a female patient or a police officer with the power to write or withhold a traffic ticket. It may be a cashier who makes a suggestive remark when ringing up a sale or a car salesman who stares a little too long, eyeing a potential female customer up and down with a smirk on his face. It could be strangers on the street making lewd catcalls or men at a bar giving unwanted physical sexual attention under the guise of “being friendly.” Women have been kissed, groped, and worse by total strangers as well as by men they know and fear retaliation from.

The Harvey Weinstein tale is a story about the victimization of women. The sordid details are titillating enough (masturbating into a plant? Ewww) that they’ve been reported on widely. Plus, there’s an audiotape of Weinstein pressuring a model to watch him shower and more.

So, of course, Republicans and some in the media have turned all of this into a story about Democrats, Hillary Clinton, and wondering why those women victims didn’t speak up sooner.

Sexual harassment is usually defined as an unwanted sexual advance or as an unwelcome request for sexual favors. Here’s what the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says about sexual harassment (luckily the Trump administration hasn’t tried to rewrite this yet):

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and to labor organizations, as well as to the federal government.

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to the following:

  • The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.
  • The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
  • The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
  • Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.
  • The harasser’s conduct must be unwelcome.

It is helpful for the victim to inform the harasser directly that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. The victim should use any employer complaint mechanism or grievance system available.

All of that sounds pretty straightforward, yet any woman subject to such behavior knows that reporting it can backfire. Those in power might not believe her, dismiss it as minor, or come up with an ineffective response. The perpetrator might make the victim’s life even more unpleasant. Just the act of reporting harassment can limit career advancement as women become “tainted.”

As the Weinstein story unfolded, with reports of 30 years of harassment, alleged sexual assault, and payouts, dozens of women came forward to tell their stories. Those same women were blamed for not coming forward sooner. Yet they feared repercussions. As a story on Vox described it, “Most of the women Weinstein allegedly targeted were young and had little institutional power, and they say they were afraid to speak out afterward for fear that he would ruin their careers.”

Weinstein was generous in his donations to Democrats and progressive causes. After this story broke, Democrats quickly started steering those donations to charity, yet in the eyes of some in the media (especially Fox News), this was now a Democratic scandal. Yes, the cable news station with millions of dollars in settlement payouts to its sexually harassed female employees because of the behavior of Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and Eric Bolling now says this whole situation is a Democratic problem, especially Hillary Clinton’s.

CNN wasn’t alone, but it blared on the front page of its website for days that Hillary Clinton and the Obamas were “mum” about Weinstein. Let’s ignore the fact that they weren’t the ones who committed these acts and think about this: Barack and Michelle Obama had sent their 18-year-old daughter to work for Harvey Weinstein as an intern during her gap year before college. They obviously had never experienced this kind of sexual harassment treatment from Harvey Weinstein. Now, if you were a parent in those circumstances, your first instinct would not be to issue a public statement. It would be to make sure that your daughter was okay and hadn’t suffered a similar fate.

When the infamous Access Hollywood tape was released a year ago with Trump’s “grab-them-by-the-pussy” remarks and other confessions of sexual assault, many women experienced not-so-fond memories of harassment and assaults they hoped would stay buried. The Harvey Weinstein reports, while more graphic, are having the same effect. At least Weinstein is out of a job, while Trump is still president. (As John Pavlovitz wrote on his blog, Weinstein’s “only viable option right now might be to fire off a hasty apology, state his opposition to abortion, his love of handguns, to claim he’s found Jesus—and then run for the Republican nomination.”)

And despite the claims that “it was just locker room talk” and “no Trump accusers ever came forward,” there are lists of those accusers. And now the Trump campaign is being subpoenaed by lawyers from one of the women who accused Trump of sexual assault for “all documents concerning any woman who asserted that Donald J. Trump touched her inappropriately.”

Samantha Bee, in her typical no-holds-barred style, gave Weinstein the full BEE-ting down. She offers an added lesson on sexual harassment in one of those “not safe for work” videos:

Many Hollywood actresses were traumatized enough when Weinstein was committing his acts of sexual harassment and assault. Having to talk about it years later isn’t easy and dredges up old memories.

The same is true for any woman who has ever been subject to this kind of behavior.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Oct. 15, 2017.

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