It was a cliche: the producer’s sofa. The backdrop of so many film plotlines, the implied setting of so many scandals. A Hollywood Babylon, the proverbial title of the two volumes by Kenneth Anger devoted to the Golden Age of the major studios, like in the rest of the world, including Cinecittà in Rome.
Now reports have come out of famous actresses, like Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie and Ashley Judd, leveling accusations of sexual assault against Harvey Weinstein, the powerful Miramax producer who has continued the old-fashioned Hollywood way. And they say that it is true, that stories always tell the truth. The king is naked. And that’s how Weinstein faced his prey — naked, or wearing a bathrobe or a dressing gown. I consciously use this word, prey, because this is the point of view of a serial sexual attacker.
This is a man who eschews courtship, using power directly. If you’re about 20 years old, you have a plan, a dream, and you are facing a powerful man, he can either be your resource or wall in your path. Right now we’re talking about the world of cinema, but we should say workplaces of any kind. Moreover, based on what has been printed, he harassed not only his “actresses,” but also those women who worked in the offices.
I would like to be clear: Talking about “prey” has nothing to do with victimism. Rather, it is a descriptor of power relationships. The accusations, which are compounding day by day, clearly illustrate what happens. Different behaviors share in common the humiliation, silence, a memory that will never go away.
And that brings me to the most thorny point, the one that raises most controversy: Why didn’t they report it before? Why did it take 20 years? It should be kept in mind that it is the same accusation that has been addressed to victims of pedophile abuse. In short, the victims are always blamed for the violence they suffer.
It takes strength. Not only that physical strength which allows you to oppose the predator, it also requires that symbolic, collective strength, which allows you to not feel like a pariah, or a liar. Strength to not feel tarnished by the violation. Time changes things. Now, fortunately, one can complain. And if those older, earlier victims come out, they free the youngest, the most exposed.
Moreover, people did file complaints against Weinstein in recent years, and newspapers, like the New York Times, shelved them.
There is a painful Italian connection. Also Asia Argento is among the complainants. She does so with her typical ruthlessness. She vividly describes the attack and her subsequent subordination to the molester, induced by shame and weakness, as she herself says, until she was able to get away. And this makes her the target of every sort of blatant accusation. Still, she clearly tells us that violence, the effect of male dominance, has many aspects. It isn’t just about the violation of the body but also about the feelings, the sense of self, the dignity. Abuse of power is not just blackmail and a slap. The reality is difficult to understand, and it really engulfs women. It humiliates, it hurts. Then you can get on with it, even turn the tables. Sometimes.
Sexual blackmail is a reality that most young women, in any context, have been and are still subjected to. It can be accepted, even used by women, but this is about exercising power.
Girls accuse the feminists of my generation: You fooled me. I was convinced that in workplaces it was no longer required to be available in order to make a career. That’s why Gwyneth and the others must be thanked. They open a way forward.
It would be great if each one of them decides to list the incidents of harassment they suffered aside from those by Weinstein. Are these the signs of changing times?