When I saw the news today that Harvey Weinstein had been found guilty of two charges involving two separate women (committing a criminal sex act in the first degree, and rape in the third degree), I immediately thought, “GOOD.” Duh. Of course this is good news.
But I didn’t feel a strong reaction in my body — no sense of relief, no ecstatic feeling of justice being handed down, no impulse to pump my fist in the air in victorious celebration.
So now I’m wondering, what’s going on there? Why not a stronger emotional reaction? Why don’t I feel more encouraged by the Harvey Weinstein verdict?
I have a couple theories.
It’s just a drop in the bucket
It would enrage me if Harvey Weinstein was not convicted of ANY sexual crimes, because it would send a message to predatory men (especially the powerful ones) that they can get away with sexually harassing, abusing, and exploiting women with minimal accountability or consequence. It would very likely make the problem much worse.
But the amount of damage done by a “not guilty” verdict is not equal to the amount of healing provided by a “guilty” one.
It feels like a bullet was dodged, in the sense that we avoided a situation where sexually abusive men would feel they’d been given license to continue their selfish and reckless behavior with impunity.
But it doesn’t feel like progress was made.
It may be sending a message to highly visible, powerful, wealthy men that leveraging their influence to sexually exploit others is no longer an assumed perk of one’s status, and that there is real risk now of being publicly humiliated and facing legal consequences for that behavior.
But what about the vast majority of sexual predators who are NOT in the upper echelons of the Hollywood elite? Are they taking note? Should they be? Are they affected by this in any way?
I honestly don’t know, but my gut feeling (for whatever that’s worth) is that this Harvey Weinstein Found Guilty of Sex Crimes moment feels kinda “meh” because its impact on the future occurrences of incest, frat party blackout-drunk rape, and sex trafficking are… dubious.
Less sexual harassment and exploitation in Hollywood is awesome, don’t get me wrong — but it would also be nice to see that someone who beat and raped a homeless woman was also convicted and going to prison for a couple decades. Men and women of every social status need to see their sexual abusers being held accountable.
Also keeping me from feeling more thrilled is the fact that he could be serving only 5 years in prison at minimum (as many as 25). For a man who was only convicted of 2 charges while there were DOZENS of women who came forward with similar allegations, paying the consequence for just two instances feels like “a drop in the bucket” in two ways: (1) he is paying the price of a drop for a bucket of the negative impact his own gross behavior has caused, and (2) sending one rapist to prison is a drop in a bucket of countless more who will never even face charges.
It just feels like a symbolic victory more than an event that will have a tangible impact on the problem #MeToo has been trying to address. And that’s fine, as long as we use this symbolic victory to motivate ongoing action, and don’t confused it with real progress.
It’s a reminder of how difficult it is to convict a person of sex crimes
I was convinced early on that Harvey Weinstein was guilty of everything he was being accused of, because of the combination of the sheer number of women who have come forward, the way toxic masculinity incentivizes the objectification of women, the corrupting influences of power, and Harvey Weinstein’s general vibe.
But I don’t know for sure. Of course I don’t.
And the fact that sexual crimes are so hard to prove makes a lot of people — myself included — really uncomfortable and nervous around the topic.
An MSN Entertainment article notes that “the case, heard in State Supreme Court, was an unusually risky one for Manhattan prosecutors, who had little or no physical or forensic evidence to support the women’s allegations. The trial turned into a battle over the women’s credibility.”
Holding people accountable for sexually abusive behavior is too important to rely on something as subjective as credibility, but I don’t know what better alternatives to offer. That’s what makes me so uncomfortable and anxious about the future of sex crimes and how we bring perpetrators to justice.
It reminds me of when Brett Kavanaugh was being confirmed to the Supreme Court and Christine Blasey Ford faced backlash by people trying to discredit her. Around this time, someone very close to me re-tweeted a meme of Blasey Ford passed out at a pool party surrounded by empty beer bottles, with a caption suggesting that a woman “like that” can’t be trusted.
As significant as it is to see someone like Harvey Weinstein be held accountable to his crimes, the Harvey Weinstein headlines also just remind me how rare this kind of justice is, and how numerous the crimes have to become before any one accusation is taken as seriously as it should be.
Let’s Celebrate Anyway!
I do want to celebrate this, though. Even if it’s not enough, it is definitely something.
I want to enjoy EVERY SINGLE WIN we can get when it comes to creating a social environment that has zero-tolerance for sexual harassment, abuse, and violence (while also demonstrating compassion and patience for those who are sincerely struggling to understand what forms of masculinity are respectful and respected).
This is a big deal. I wish I felt more encouragement on a visceral level around this, but because of the reasons above, I just don’t.
And if that’s your experience today too, I just want you to know it’s okay, and you aren’t a bad feminist, or a bad ally, for having complicated feelings about it.
If all you can muster are three half-hearted fist pumps to celebrate this #MeToo victory right now, that is enough.