Was Harvey Houdini? Or Were his Female Followers Feckless?

OK, the damn dam finally broke. In the last week, a torrent of accusations has submerged movie mogul Harvey Weinstein who, it seems, has been getting away with sexual harassment and, possibly, sexual assault for years.

What gives? How is it possible that this man was permitted to go on his wicked way for so long? His wrongdoing was, we now know, an open secret. Lots of people knew he was a repeat offender – lots and lots of people, not only the women who were his victims. Yet neither they, nor the countless others in the know about Harvey went public with their story. Instead they shut up – as if hypnotized by Harvey. Hypnotized by his power and hypnotized by his money.

Why? Why were so many so complicit for so long? More particularly, why were the women who he in some way attacked effectively silent until now? An article in today’s New York Times answered the question this way: “More established actresses were fearful of speaking out because they had work; less established ones were scared because they did not.”

What the hell kind of an excuse is that?! OK, I’ll buy the line about “less established actresses.” But why would someone with some measure of success stay silent? Why was it that only when multitudes came forth did individuals finally speak up?

There are of course several reasons – one of which is breathtakingly simple: While we’re big on teaching good leadership, real big, we’re nowhere on teaching good followership. Teaching people how to speak truth to power. Teaching people how to step up when there’s a wrong to be righted. Teaching people how not to be cowed – not even by those apparently mightier than they.

A 2016 study in the Harvard Business Review suggested several solutions to the problem of sexual harassment, including making people aware of the problem; teaching them that when there’s a problem they should step in; and telling them how exactly they might effectively intervene.

This is not exactly rocket science. But if women want to empower themselves they, we, must stop making excuses. We must be bolder and braver in the future than we have been in the past.

Gwyneth Paltrow has finally, years later, admitted to being harassed by Harvey Weinstein. Her excuse for staying silent for more than two decades? “I was a kid. I was signed up. I was petrified. I thought he was going to fire me.”  Bull! First, she was not “a kid.” She was 22 years old. Second, she had all the resources in the world to back her up, should she have stepped up. Her mother is the renowned establishment actress, Blythe Danner. And her father was Bruce Paltrow, highly successful in his own right as a director and producer. Would Gwyneth have had to eat dirt if she had told on Harvey? Hardly!

So let’s get real here. This stuff persists because we permit it to persist. If we, we women, want our victimization to end, it’s up to us to end it. The days of the proverbial casting couch have long been over. The time is now for us to put our money where our mouths are!

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