The Weinstein effect: It’s time to pause

Social codes and behaviors change over decades or centuries, not in the time it takes to draft equality legislation.

December 5, 2017 21:52
4 minute read.
Woody Allen, director of the new film "Vicky Cristina Barcelona", poses with Harvey Weinstein, co-ch

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)


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Full disclosure: I think that sexual assault, unwanted sexual advances and groping and non-consensual advances of any kind – verbal or physical – are all bad. Wrong.

I also think that this expose-and-publicly-shame mentality that has gripped North America – kicked off in earnest by the Harvey Weinstein episode – is beyond Orwellian.

Last week’s marquee targets were Matt Lauer and Garrison Keillor. They, and others, have been accused, tried and convicted, in the mass media, in a New York nanosecond, of various degrees of sexual impropriety. The allegations against others are much more serious.

And who knows, they may all be guilty as charged. Or not. In light of the fact that the media has become the arbiter of truth and liability, these questions may never be answered. Reputations, and lives, meanwhile, are left in tatters.

This is not a “blame the victim” rant. It is more of a reality check.

Until the Harvey Weinstein moment triggered a mad rush of celebrity accusers, Western societies – certainly North America – were quite content to carry on with the duplicitous standards regarding sexual appropriateness and treatment of women. Which also reflects how we value women. How we assess their abilities.

For more than 30 years I have worked professionally, almost always with male colleagues and clients. Like all women, I learned early – very early – that unwanted sexual advances, leers, gropes and comments were something I had to manage. With no support from colleagues or society at large.

As a young lawyer, dancing at a firm Christmas party, wearing a long, loose-fitting blouse and pants, I was dismayed when a very senior partner came at me, groin to groin, in front of everyone, and started doing what came to him at the moment. I pushed away. He taunted me. I left the party.

The next day, my male colleagues (all of whom were my superiors) made light of the incident. I liked and wanted to keep my job. Truth is, had I resigned in indignation, it would have been like a tree falling in the forest. These weren’t bad people. They were living by the accepted mores of the time.

Last year, my daughter was studying in Mechina in Jerusalem. Her peers were half Israeli, half American, primarily from the New York-New Jersey area. Most were modern Orthodox. All were staunch Democrats. When Donald Trump was elected president, they went into mourning.

In the run-up to the presidential election, my daughter came home one weekend, disgusted – and rightly so – about the Trump “pussy grab” story. I reminded her that when in office, president Clinton was being serviced, quite fully, by an intern in the Oval Office.

Both Clinton and Trump are in the gutter, in my view. More accurately, they each reflect the unwritten social code of Western, progressive societies and how we regard women.

Women are more emancipated than they have ever been, but we are still constrained by deeply ingrained prejudices. We do not earn as much as men, no matter how good we are. We are still kept in place by glass ceilings. We are chronically dealing with the Goldilock syndrome: we’re too tough; too emotional; too this; too that. We’re never quite right.

I tried to help my daughter understand that we are all – men and women – products of the social rules we construct and accept together. That change is more incremental than we might like. I told her that, in the ‘80s and ‘90s, if we dared to utter a peep about non-consensual sexual interactions in the workplace, we, the complainants, were always blamed. It was always our fault. We must have encouraged the male. Perhaps we were inappropriately attired. Our perfume. The way we walked.

Of necessity, we learned to internalize our rage and forge ahead. Humor, hard work and resilience were essential survival traits. As a child of the ‘60s, I have always considered myself extremely fortunate; benefiting from the trailblazing early feminists and emerging as a young adult into a world that was at least beginning to consider such issues in a remotely serious manner.

I also understood that expectations must be managed. Social codes and behaviors change over decades or centuries, not in the time it takes to draft equality legislation.

I have no doubt that Harvey Weinstein and countless others should be held accountable for their lewd, and perhaps criminal, conduct. But I fear a society that embraces such extreme swings in behavior without pause. There will be some people who will be wrongly smeared in this current witch-hunt, whose lives will be ruined, just like many of ours were.

This relentless chorus of condemnation, accusation and immediate acceptance is a very dangerous trend.

The author, a former ambassador of Canada to Israel, is a businesswoman residing in Tel Aviv.

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