Weinstein story needs to move beyond egregious acts of a single predator

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The Weinstein story was flavour of the week. Institutionalized inequality is not.


First Published on Monday, Oct. 16, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—The ignominious end to Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein has all of us in agreement.

This predator got what he deserved.

But the larger question remains. How did he get away with it for so long? How was he able to assault so many women with so much impunity? Why did so many people say nothing for so long?

Tut tut, we say. What a shame that the entertainment field is so full of these types of characters. Would that the problem were so isolated.

This is not a casting couch problem. This is not even an American problem. It is a power imbalance as old as the story of Adam and Eve.

Even in biblical terms that parable casts Eve as the seductress while innocent Adam is the guileless guy who can’t resist the allure of a snake and a strumpet.

Men have often been excused for assaulting women while women have been portrayed as simply getting what they were asking for. Society confers upon the male of the species a power to attack without owning the consequences.

We shudder at the comments of American President Donald Trump, who publicly justified groping, leering, and unwanted sexual advances because his star status placed him in the untouchable stratosphere.

Notwithstanding all the misogynistic comments taped and replayed in broadcast interviews, Trump was elected president of the United States. In the end, his bald admission of sexual harassment did not really matter to the American voters.

Trump’s despicable interview with shock jock broadcaster Howard Stern, where the two chuckled over women’s body parts and their alleged desire to be treated like “doodoo,” was just the tip of the iceberg.

As owner of the Miss America franchise, Trump made it his business to go into the dressing room while the contestants were disrobing, and pageant organizers even encouraged participants to rush up and fawn all over him.

The current president’s behaviour was explained away in the last election, as simply locker room talk. Boys will be boys, was the answer when Trump was quoted as saying he could simply walk up and kiss any woman he wanted, and then grab them by the pussy because he was a “star.”

So now that the Weinstein story is fading away, how do we get to the basis of deeply rooted societal acceptance of sexism?

There are still many places in the world where women do not enjoy basic freedom of movement. Life partners are chosen for them, and they cannot even leave their homes or travel without the permission of a male family member.

The right to drive an automobile is limited, and while we welcome the recent change in Saudi Arabian policy on this issue, it was a tiny step in the path toward equality.

Role models are great predictors of what the future might hold. When it comes to the entertainment industry in particular, the white, male-dominated hierarchy repeats itself.

One is hard pressed to name five female directors of note and the discrepancy in salary ranges between male and female actors has been well documented.

Classical guitarist Liona Boyd stated publicly last week that the issue of sexual harassment for women in the record business was eerily similar to the situation facing Weinstein’s victims. She spoke about “predators” in her business and the casting couch mentality that permeated the music industry as well.

The field of politics is rife with stories of sexual harassment. Sexual transgressions in worlds of media, education, and finance also periodically rear their ugly heads.

So while Weinstein’s transgressions made front-page news for a few days, they will soon recede into the background. The story needle needs to move beyond the egregious acts of a single predator.

Societies promote sexual violence by commission and omission. Objectification of women in advertising, anonymous social media misogyny, consumer support for companies that ignore gender balance all contribute to the problem.

Power imbalances vary in different parts of the world.

The changes in Saudi Arabia are a sign that one of the most patriarchal societies on earth is committed to turning over a new leaf.

But when young Canadian women are still paid only 87 cents for every dollar earned by men, inequality is not just sexual, it is also economic.

Some blame educational levels for the lag, but when university-educated, postgraduate females are counted, they still make 10 cents less than every dollar earned by a man.

The Weinstein story was flavour of the week. Institutionalized inequality is not.


Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.