I came down from a mountain snowshoe excursion Monday afternoon to the news about the felony sex crime and rape conviction of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. I found this strangely serendipitous because, years ago, I also came down from hiking a mountain to find out that Canada had just discovered Jian Ghomeshi was a creep and an all-around sexual abuser.
Maybe the universe has deemed that while I’m convening with nature, criminals are getting their comeuppance. I can live with that bizarre possibility.
My first reaction upon finding that Weinstein is facing 25 years in prison was surprise; my second, satisfaction. It’s the first reaction that saddens me to my very core.
It took a village
More than 100 women came forward to accuse Weinstein of a litany of reprehensible acts. It took over 100 women to share their highly personal and often-humiliating stories of abuse and rape, of career derailments as punishment and retribution, for justice to finally tip in their favour and for the movie mogul to face consequences for his heinous crimes. Six of these women had to rehash it all for the trial, re-traumatize themselves while testifying on the stand. It took five years for justice to be served, while the Hollywood “mover and shaker” got to sashay around town like nothing was at stake.
He thought he was untouchable.
It took the entire MeToo movement to galvanize and a sweeping momentum of women coming forward to publicly spill their guts so those who might be so quick to judge, question, doubt, ridicule and victim-blame could perhaps listen this time. The procession of victims had to share their personal pain and expose their gaping wounds for the public to finally understand that no perfect victim exists, and that sometimes the abuser is also the benefactor; that when a victim lives and works in a world where an abuser yields power and influence, they can’t always expose their abuser immediately out of fear.
It took an army of women’s advocates — Time’s Up, MeToo, pussy-hat women’s marches and beyond — to push the needle forward just an inch; just enough for society to start comprehending the amplitude of harassment and sexual abuse in this world, and how it’s so commonplace in so many women’s lives that we routinely exchange stories in private about our traumas the way kids exchange hockey cards.
Shielding the predators
It took all of that for this to happen. And despite the satisfaction, despite the relief, despite the joy for the victims, what bothers me is my surprise. I didn’t expect a Weinstein conviction. Many women I know didn’t expect a guilty verdict either. That says everything about how consistently the justice system lets women down, how it quashes any hope of healing and justice rendered, how it repeatedly breaks women down and demands they perform their trauma again and again, only, too often, to be denied any real resolution, closure or justice.
It also says a lot about how privilege shields predatory men like him from consequences or even societal ostracization. Weinstein was, like Bill Cosby, French writer Gabriel Matzneff and Jian Ghomeshi were, protected by privilege for years and years. Even when it’s right in front of our very eyes; when it’s whispered like gossip or a cautionary tale among employees; when they willingly divulge how they like to prey and abuse children in the books that they write, we somehow look the other way. We allow it, tolerate it, excuse it away, claim “we don’t know” when, deep down, we know.
We err on the side of caution and power, and we give them the benefit of the doubt because they produce such exquisite movies and write such beautiful prose and make us laugh with their quintessential all-American dad act, and appear so casually progressive and cool on the radio. We don’t want to believe victims and what they expose, but we so desperately want to believe the ones we’ve raised above us. How bad can they be if they’re also so great?
Predators and serial abusers often hide in plain sight. We’re blinded by their genius, their contributions, their popularity, their generosity. We turn a blind eye so we can maintain the status quo, maintain the idols we love to worship. We refuse to knock down those pedestals made of clay because we already suspect one tiny nudge would collapse our entire world view.
Yes, Weinstein was finally convicted of a criminal sex act and rape in the third degree. But he was also acquitted of three other charges, including the two more serious charges of predatory sexual assault, which could have carried a life sentence. Over 100 women had to come forward for a serial abuser, who wielded his power and position for decades, to finally face consequences. It’s vindication and progress and a landmark victory for the victims and the MeToo movement. But only two charges sticking is also so incredibly little in the larger context of things.
One of these days I hope that if I come down from a mountain and find that a rapist was convicted, I won’t be surprised. I hope that I’ll feel like a rape conviction is exactly what the outcome of rape should have been. Imagine that. In the meantime, enjoy prison, Harvey. ■
See more editorials by Toula Drimonis here.