As more and more women come forward with allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, we wring our hands again: how can we put an end to systemic gendered abuses of power, for good?
A few guys on Twitter had a brilliant idea. Maybe this was the time to revisit Vice President Mike Pence's rules of never being alone with a woman other than his wife. A refresher: For 12 years while in Congress, Pence refused to dine solo with anyone possessing XX chromosomes, other than wife Karen Pence. If he was working late with an aide, that person had to be male.
Pence's rules were a quaint strategy for affair-proofing his marriage. The underlying thought process was this: Women are a problem. To prevent bad things from happening, men should barricade themselves against their siren call. Since men have no personal agency, physical isolation is probably a good idea.
Maybe if Weinstein could've somehow avoided women altogether, these men of Twitter wondered aloud, there might have been no bathrobes slipped on during business meetings, no random demands for massages, no naked, Satyr-like chases around hotel rooms and no torpedoing of careers for actresses reluctant to participate.
Of the many infuriating reactions to the Weinstein story, this was surely the most willfully blind. Mostly it was just absurd: "I propose we put all women inside plastic zorbing bubbles and roll them around the workplace," British writer Stephanie Boland responded.
After Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes and Bill O'Reilly, we are again staring down the extensive predation pattern of a powerful man. And again, the societal glare shifts away from the perpetrator and onto the women damaged in his wake. Why did they go up to the hotel rooms? Why didn't they speak up sooner? Why did some work with him a few years later?
Beyond victim blaming, we have seen a wider outsourcing of responsibility to women in general in the Weinstein case. After The New York Times published its investigation last week, culpability was rapidly cast on women far and wide. What did it say about Hillary Clinton that she palled around with the Miramax co-founder and took his campaign money? Having survived the sexual toxicity of her own husband Bill, Hillary was now responsible for Harvey, too.
There would be more questions for women about Weinstein: Why had Meryl Streep not swept in and done anything? Surely Hollywood's godmother knew. What about Dame Judi Dench, whose career Weinstein has long championed? Would the 82-year-old actress be getting the tattoo she'd reportedly inked on her rear end for him ("JD loves HW") removed now? If not, why not?
Culturally, it remains easier to look to women for answers about men's predatory behaviour than to perpetrators themselves. Why zoom in on abuse of power and toxic masculinity when you can zoom out to Hillary instead?
The outsourcing began with Weinstein himself. The day the story broke, the Hollywood mogul had already delegated his serious issues to the women in his life. His wife Georgina Chapman would stand "100 per cent" behind him, Weinstein told Page Six. Women's advocate and lawyer Lisa Bloom would be tutoring Weinstein in Sexual Harassment 101: "He is an old dinosaur learning new ways," Bloom explained to The New York Times. Chapman and Bloom would be tasked with "kicking my ass to be a better human being," Weinstein announced rather hopefully last week. It wouldn't go exactly as planned: Bloom quit mere days in and Chapman dumped her husband this week, acknowledging the "tremendous pain" his targets suffered.
Women also deflected responsibility for Weinstein onto other women. During a red carpet event last Sunday, fashion designer Donna Karan winkingly told her interviewer, "It's not Harvey Weinstein. You look at everything all over the world today, you know, and how women are dressing and what they're asking by just presenting themselves the way they do. What are they asking for?" That slut-shaming pablum didn't work out too well for Karan: an international boycott of her brand is underway. Apparently women can be dinosaurs too.
As the tentacles of this story spiral out, another blame-game has emerged. Readers have been sifting through tabloid photographs of Weinstein hugging various smiling starlets at Hollywood parties – in essence work events – parsing the images as forensic evidence of actresses' complicity in transactional relationships. There's Jennifer Lawrence, Sienna Miller and Cameron Diaz: Why are they standing so close? Why is Emma Watson letting Weinstein wrench her arms back that way after a BAFTA-awards gala? Is that a death stare on Kate Beckinsale's face as the producer gets too close for comfort, or is it "SEXUAL TENSION," as one guy on Twitter analyzed it for me?
Actress Gretchen Mol, long the target of such distorted rumours about her and Weinstein, got fed up on Tuesday, penning a scathing piece for The Hollywood Reporter. "The consistent implication was that actresses were eager for the bargain, that we wanted fame and fortune so desperately that we would make this kind of nauseating concession," Mol wrote. "This is another kind of misogyny, and blame-shifting."
Also by Tuesday, the misplaced focus on women momentarily swung as far as daughters. As Matt Damon fended off claims that he had helped quash a 2004 New York Times exposé on Weinstein, the actor grew defensive: "As the father of four daughters, this is the kind of sexual predation that keeps me up at night," Damon told Deadline. The comment drew howls for its suggestion that women only matter if they're related to you. Just why was a father footnoting his daughters in a story about male predation?
Even as giants like Cosby, Ailes and O'Reilly meet their demise – be it in their professional reign, in court or in the public eye – we continue to redistribute men's problems to women. With each fresh sexual abuse saga, it's a tired cycle we writhe through, seemingly learning nothing.
In all the chatter about women, few are talking about how men like Weinstein become the way they are. "What we need to start talking about is... the crisis of extreme masculinity, which is this sort of behaviour," actress Emma Thompson said in an interview with BBC Newsnight on Thursday.
The focus does need sharpening. As Glenn Close appealed in one of the few thoughtful statements issued from a Hollywood celebrity in the past week, "The time is long and tragically overdue for all of us in the industry, women and men, to unite – calmly and dispassionately – and create a new culture of respect, equality and empowerment, where bullies and their enablers are no longer allowed to prosper."
As stories of systemic sexual abuse continue to emerge from every industry, we need to start fixing our gaze on two parties and two parties alone: predators and those who aid them. Everything else is dangerous distraction.