As dozens of women come forward with pages and pages of accounts about Harvey Weinstein’s life as a sexual predator, the conversation has taken its usual turn: Why did these women wait to come forward? Why didn’t they speak up immediately? If all of this is real, why didn’t they behave the right way? This line of questioning moves the conversation away from the perpetrator of these crimes and attacks the victims. Survivors of sexual violence choose not to come forward for a number of reasons.
Victim blaming may be as old as sexual violence itself. The issue is twofold. First, it is the case of potential perpetrators (often but not always white men in positions of power) asking what the victim did to deserve what happened to them. For example, a rape survivor might be asked what they were wearing at the time of the attack or what they were doing in that situation in the first place. The implied correlation between provocative clothing and sexual attacks does not actually exist, but the concept of victim blaming relies on it. Many people questioned how the women who accused Harvey Weinstein why they went to his hotel room, or what they were doing to invite his behaviour. This in turn makes them question whether they’ve done something to ‘deserve’ what has happened to them. They might then choose not to speak out for fear of the repercussions.
The second aspect of victim blaming is the virgin/whore dichotomy. Potential victims separate themselves from actual victims by comparing lifestyle choices. That person was attacked instead of me because I am not that kind of girl, for example. Fashion Designer Donna Karan questioned the message other women were sending when they were attacked. Karan, who designs women’s clothing chose to separate herself from ‘other women’ by suggesting that she would never make such a mistake.
However, the problem of power is much stronger than victim blaming. People like Harvey Weinstein wield a disproportionate amount of power in their field. Weinstein himself is rich and powerful and has a significant say in who works in his movies and who doesn’t. Getting on his bad side could potentially have negative effects on the career of a young actor. People have questioned why a young Gwyneth Paltrow or Angelina Jolie would choose to keep their experience to themselves, passing information through word of mouth to other women rather than through a police report. Weinstein held all the power at the time. While these women may be powerful in their own right now, they may not have been at the time. Publicly calling out a powerful man like Weinstein could have doomed their career forever. They might find themselves ostracized for coming after someone with so much power, or because people may believe they slept their way to the top, a common attack on powerful women.
The list of monsters who walk free is growing every day. When you think about their crimes, try to remember they are the ones who committed them, not the people they hurt. Speaking up is a difficult, personal choice. Sometimes it takes hearing someone else speak out before you can find your voice.
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