Harvey Weinstein is 64 years old, smack in the middle of the Baby Boom generation.
He didn’t grow up listening to Frank Sinatra sing “The Lady is a Tramp.” He grew up listening to Helen Reddy sing “I Am Woman.”
If the accusations that have surfaced this week about the Hollywood mogul are true — that he used his powerful position to sexually prey on many women over three decades — he is not “an old dinosaur learning new ways,” as one of his lawyers would have you believe. He is a creep.
Time and again, powerful men caught abusing their position to strong-arm women for sexual favors have fallen back on this rot about how the rules had changed but, gee, they didn’t know it. It was part of Bill O’Reilly’s defense before he was forced out at Fox News. It was part of the defense, as well, for his boss, Roger Ailes, who was forced out. Innocent flirting, they say, has been recast as sexual harassment, but they never got the memo.
Oh, please. For all their feigned ignorance, none of these men are clueless relics of a bygone era. They grew up in a blossoming age of feminism and gender equality, especially in the workplace. They do know better.
Weinstein was 11 years old when Betty Friedan published “The Feminine Mystique” in 1963. He was 14 when Gloria Steinem founded the National Organization for Women in 1966. He was in high school when efforts to pass the Equal Rights Amendment were at full throttle. He was in college when Title IX of the Higher Education Act was amended to require full gender equality in school sports and other programs.
“I came of age in the ’60s and ’70s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different,” Weinstein said in a statement Thursday, apologizing for his behavior. “That was the culture then.”
True enough. But it was a lousy culture, as plenty of harassed women would tell you even then, and the rules were changing fast. If Weinstein failed to notice, he was willfully blind.
Weinstein’s now-former lawyer, Lisa Bloom, has asked the public to understand that Weinstein was “an old dinosaur learning new ways.” She says she had to “explain to him that due to the power difference between a major studio head like him and most others in the industry, whatever his motives, some of his words and behaviors can be perceived as inappropriate, even intimidating.”
That is false. Bloom, who announced Saturday she is no longer representing Weinstein, did not have to explain anything. Hollywood’s famous “casting couch” — a producer or director bedding an actor in exchange for a role in a film — is a disreputable tradition as old as the movies. Weinstein certainly knew it was wrong when he allegedly asked Ashley Judd to a “breakfast meeting,” greeted her in a robe at his hotel room door and invited her to watch him take a shower. He had to have known it was wrong when he allegedly offered to boost the career of another actor, Emily Nestor, in exchange for sex.
Whatever is old comes around again, and we feel like we’re reliving the ’70s.
In June, a series of news reports revealed how Silicon Valley tech executives routinely engage in sexual harassment of female colleagues and subordinates. On Wednesday, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton questioned the professional abilities of a female sports reporter — just because she is a woman. He made a snarky comment that, to his credit, he later sincerely apologized for.
And now we’re back to Hollywood casting couch tales.
The common denominator is that, in each instance, ignorance is no excuse. Things have changed. Get with the times or get lost.
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