Here in 2017, most people seem to know better than to respond to rape or sexual assault accusations with “Well, look what she was wearing, she was asking for it.” But since the truth about Harvey Weinstein broke, I’ve heard more than one man — self-described Progressives, for the most part — argue that Weinstein’s victims, at least some of them, share the blame.
I’ve seen several variations on this argument.
The first is pretty old fashioned: “Women should know better than to take a private meeting in a producer’s hotel room.” A variation on the classic “What was she doing in that [alleyway/part of town/bedroom],” this one suggests that young female actors, invited to meet with the most powerful producer in Hollywood, should have dictated the terms of that meeting by insisting on meeting in a public space. In doing so, it completely ignores the power imbalance that is core to Weinstein’s whole strategy.
The second is related to the first, but more subtle: “These women took those meetings because they wanted to advance their careers.”
Well, yes. Why else would a young actor — or anyone else in Hollywood — take a meeting with a mega-powerful producer? Of course they wanted to advance their careers. So did all the men who took meetings with Weinstein — but chances are the men weren’t invited to a private hotel suite and asked to watch Weinstein shower.
This argument relies on commodification of a woman’s body, a misogynist tradition alive and well in modern America. Instead of viewing Weinstein’s duplicitous ultimatum, “Your body or your career,” as a crime (which it is), this argument chooses to view it as a transaction — a woman purchasing career opportunities and paying with sexual favors. It’s a more-polite way of calling the victims prostitutes.
But this isn’t how sexual assault works. When an accountant is groped by the CEO, and keeps quiet because she fears retaliation, no one accuses her of trading on her body for career advancement. In those circumstances, people see more easily (some people, apparently) that assault is about power. Weinstein is no different — in fact, he posed a greater threat than most CEOs because his power in Hollywood went beyond his own company, and a woman who refused him had reason to believe she might never work again.
[This argument also ignores the experience of Lauren Sivan, and others Weinstein attacked in public or semi-public settings, who couldn’t possibly have anticipated an attack— but this doesn’t make them “more victimized.” Weinstein’s victims are all victims, period.]
The third variation on the “women share responsibility” argument, which I find the most troubling, is “Those women who went along instead of refusing him reinforced his behavior by giving him what he wanted.”
Let’s use an analogy here. A sexual predator is a criminal. He takes something (sex, or something like it) from an unwilling victim through threats or duress. This is not unlike a mugger, who takes something (money) from an unwilling victim through threats or duress.
Very few people, if anyone, would claim that a mugging victim reinforced the mugger’s behavior by giving him what he wanted. In that circumstance, we all recognize a crime with a clear victim, and a clear perpetrator. When the threat is “Give me your money or I’ll hurt you,” we all understand and sympathize with the victim. But when the threat is “Give me your body or I’ll harm you,” apparently some people have trouble recognizing that dynamic.
What do all of these arguments have in common? The assumption that it’s shameful for women to have sex, of course. Even under duress, even when threatened.
I’ve heard numerous men ask “What about the women who turned him down, and because of that never got famous? Shouldn’t we be praising them?” And certainly, any woman whose career was damaged because she refused to sleep with Harvey Weinstein is also a victim — if not of assault, then of harassment and extortion and an illegal and immoral quid pro quo — but these arguments always have a note to them as if these women had some purity, as if the women who went on to career success were enjoying ill-gotten gains. They are the nameless virgins, the ones who chose chastity.
But that, of course, implies there was a choice.
Let’s be clear: No woman who was victimized by Harvey Weinstein bears any responsibility for her victimization. Not one fraction, not one percent, not one iota. They are victims of a powerful, exploitative predator, and that’s all they are.
One man I argued with (in text) went so far as to accuse me, in all-caps, of ABSOLVING THESE WOMEN OF ALL RESPONSIBILITY. And yes, that is exactly what I’m doing. Because they have no responsibility.
Weinstein is the one who exploited his power to assault, harass, and rape women.
Weinstein is the predator.
Weinstein is the criminal.
The women he exploited are victims. Nothing more, and nothing less.