Woody Allen, director of the new film "Vicky Cristina Barcelona", poses with Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of The Weinstein Co., at the film's premiere in Los Angeles August 4, 2008.
(photo credit: FRED PROUSER/REUTERS)
The shocking allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein have set off an unprecedented wave of accusations of sexual harassment committed by men in a variety of fields.
Weinstein has been virtually declared persona non grata in Hollywood, but he’s far from the only one suffering the consequences of his actions.
Earlier this week, journalist Leon Wieseltier lost his job and issued an apology for “offenses” against female colleagues after multiple accusations of harassment. Chef John Besh, the famed New Orleans restaurateur, stepped down from his company after many accusations from former employees of workplace improprieties. Amazon Prime Video head Roy Price was put on suspension and then resigned over similar allegations. Just on Wednesday, journalist Mark Halperin was accused by multiple women of assault, which he has denied. The NBC analyst admitted to “inappropriate” behavior in his pursuit of colleagues, and said is said to be leaving his position with the network.
It is impossible not to note the many stories emerging shortly after the bombshell of Weinstein’s decades of misbehavior.
The publication of his many transgressions – including sexual assault, sexual harassment and alleged rape – gave strength to dozens of women to come forward.
At first, stories poured out of the woodwork about Weinstein and his decades of repulsive behavior. But soon women came forward to speak about the “Weinsteins” in their own fields, the powerful men who have gotten away with inappropriate behavior for too long because nobody was willing to speak up.
The sense of empowerment many of these women – some of whom have kept quiet about being victims for years – feel is something to be applauded. In a comment I penned two weeks ago about the Weinstein scandal, I expressed the hope that such an environment would emerge as a result of this sad saga, and it certainly seems to be happening.
But there have also been several recent accounts that have drawn a more critical or hesitant response.
On Wednesday, actress Heather Lind accused former US president George H.W. Bush of assaulting her while they posed for a photo. Another actor, who was present during the photo- op, backed up her claim. In response, Bush’s spokesman said that the arm of the wheelchair- bound 93-year-old “falls on the lower waist of people with whom he takes pictures. To try to put people at ease, the president routinely tells the same joke – and on occasion, he has patted women’s rears in what he intended to be a good-natured manner... To anyone he has offended, president Bush apologizes most sincerely.”
Lind was subject to some ridicule for her claim, which many viewed to be overreacting or unfair against the ailing ex-president.
And last week, a woman named Jenny Listman said that the late Elie Wiesel “grabbed my ass” at an event in 1989, when she was 19. Listman self-published her account online, and many news agencies were hesitant at first to pick it up. Newsweek spoke to Listman’s then-boyfriend and now ex-husband, who said he didn’t witness the event but recalled his conversation with her on the night in question. The Elie Wiesel Foundation, meanwhile, said “we utterly reject this spurious accusation,” adding: “At no time during his long career has anything like this ever been suggested.”
And since he died last year, Wiesel can make no statement of his own about that evening, when he was 59 years old.
Wiesel has long been held up as an icon and legend around the world, a Holocaust survivor, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, celebrated author and activist. Listman noted in her account that for years she felt the need to stay quiet “for the sake of all Jews, for the sake of the world.”
I have no way of knowing with any certainty the truth behind the accusations against Wiesel, or Bush, or for that matter any of the other men mentioned here.
When so many women come forward with similar stories about one man, their pattern of abuse becomes clear even to outside observers. But when there is one woman making the claim, the situation is hazier. That doesn’t mean, however, that the allegations are not true.
I have heard from more than a handful of both men and women that they view the recent “me too” movement with some skepticism. That the abuse can’t truly be that widespread, that some women are likely elevating minor events, that people are conflating incidents of harassment with assault and undermining the message.
Israel’s leading women’s activists told me last week that they see real hope in the current era of outspokenness. Orit Sulitzeanu, executive director of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, said “there is a revolution giving more legitimacy to breaking that silence.”
It is undeniable that the past month has seen a tremendous bump in women speaking up about past assault. And among those there may be stories that don’t ring true, that seem to be exaggerated or could perhaps even turn out to be false.
Without all the facts in question, which may be impossible to obtain, we might never know the truth about some claims. But this changes nothing about the imperative to take every man or woman’s account of harassment or assault seriously. Even if you don’t want to believe it.