Why I’m fed up with the Hollywoodgate rhetoric.
On sexual harassment, Hipster Feminism and the Gentrification of trauma.
I remember the 5th of October. I remember waking up in an astonished world. The Pandora Box had been opened and The Big Bad Wolf (of the day) chased in his luxurious dungeon filled with Persian carpets and fed to the bloodthirsty technocratic crowd.
In the following weeks, more than 70 women accused Harvey Weinstein of a worrying variety of sexual misconducts, from unwelcome massages to rape.
And thereby hangs the tale, everybody knew and everybody seemed completely shocked at the same time. Harvey Weinstein, one of the most powerful men in the entertainment industry abused pretty much any single woman he came across with, Asia Argento, Lupita Nyong’O and, as recently confirmed by her post on Instagram, Uma Thurman among many, too many others.
In the following weeks, predominant personalities such as Kevin Spacey and Louis CK “suffered” the same destiny. Careers have come to an end, and reputation were ruined.
As fast as they used to glorify them, production companies and platforms sacked them in a blink, and that scary amorphous entity which is The Internet became Judge, Jury and Executioner.
The man must (virtually) die. This is unacceptable. Look at those old filthy rich men. Look at those poor women.
For many commentators, from newspapers to the World Wide Web, Hollywoodgate represented the apex of an unstoppable Campaign for Justice, the proof that the world is changing and the approach towards sexual harassment have reached its highest peak.
Well, it is not. And that’s why:
- Demonisation and Victimisation come easily in a situation like this: blaming the perpetrator and pity the harmless victim. The poor woman who needs protection. This rhetoric of extremes is unhealthy and shallow. Don’t get me wrong, women are constant victims of sexual harassment, to the extent that the hashtag #metoo spread like a plague throughout social media at an alarming rate. But by simplifying a complex and multi-layered reality like abuse erases the systematic structure of it. The “personalisation” of the perpetrator and the annihilation of the victims, reduce them to Capital Letters and abstract collective nouns, failing to recognise that sexual harassment is not the degenerate act of a sick man towards harmless women, but a structural and social plague that needs to be addressed everywhere. By demonising those men we failed to recognise the pervasiveness of sexism and sexual misconduct, the typicality and danger of it in our everyday life.
- Don’t blame Hollywood, sexual harassment is a structural phenomenon and hides in plain sight everywhere: I was sitting in a café the other day, in one of those massively gentrified areas in London where Fish & Chips and fried chicken shops sit uncomfortably next to Starbuck’s and Waitrose. While trying to sip my quite boujee soya Flat White without burning my tongue I overheard a conversation between a middle age couple sitting next to me. “It must be very rewarding being a woman nowadays” said the husband, his salt and pepper fresh haircut and middle-class-on-the-verge-of-retirement reassuring appearance to underline the scorn. “You just cry “RAPE!” and everybody supports you because otherwise you’re called a Sexist or a Pervert or whatever comes to mind” his wife seemed conflicted between a remissive silence and the need to look informed. She opted for a formally moderate opinion: “I’ve always told you that those places are full of drugs and perverts. Hollywood? If only we knew about all the dirty things that happens there…”. The problem with blaming the toxic environments in which those abominable acts were committed, same as condemning the fashion industry for eating disorders, is that we are missing the pervasiveness of it; sexual harassment is not the product of a degenerate environment, it’s a screenshot of our society as a whole. It is an economic and socio-political problem, it’s the very basics fuel of our contemporary society. Slut-shaming and victim-blaming are only a couple of phenomena we can easily identify in our way to manage gender and sexuality issues. Same as with domestic violence and police brutality, instead of asking why a person in a position of power abused so freely and unnecessarily of that power, we ask why the victim never left or denounced the abuses, or what the victim “did” to deserve it. Long story short: nothing.
- The gentrification of trauma: Yes, we are so lucky now, if we are famous actresses molested by an equally famous personality we get to see them crucified. Maybe. Or maybe not. On the Internet, for sure. By glorifying the wave of righteous rage surrounding Hollywoodgate, by demonising Harvey Weinstein and his peers and reducing a structural problem to an environment-related one, we’re sealing sexual harassment in a specific frame and we’re cleaning our consciences of all that dirt. We glorify those women who courageously came out with their accusations and blame the women who didn’t. Our neighbours, colleagues, friends, students or teachers. The sale assistant in the shoes shop, the dentist, the nurse, the cleaner. Those women, who are not the gatekeepers of sexual harassment, are not benefiting in any way from the recent wave of punishment. We keep failing to add the notions of class, race and power to the equation. Sexual harassment works and thrive not because Hollywood or the showbiz are intrinsically rotten and devious, but because of the victims’ lack of power and visibility, because the cons of denouncing their molesters are always more than the pros. Because if your name is not Uma Thurman and your abuser is not Harvey Weinstein, and no press get interested in your story, your trauma not only gets unnoticed, but it becomes your abuser’s tool. Your voice doesn’t get to be heard if you speak up, but if you don’t people question the reasons why you didn’t. And power is related with race, gender and sexuality. Harvey Weinstein’s spokesmen disputed Lupita Nyong’O allegations, Lena Dunham supported her friend and colleague Murray Miller when Aurora Perrineau accused him of rape. And last but not least, Black women’s voices were systematically ignored throughout the years regarding R.Kelly’s sexual-misconducts allegations. Transgender people get killed at an alarming rate, and shocking stories like Cyntoia Brown’s dominate our screens and newsfeeds. They get ignored until they’re not. But the system that perpetrates the injustice gets rarely questioned. This gentrification and spectacularisation of trauma and sexual harassment entitlement is one of the many consequences of both the lack of intersectionality and systemic racism that permeate our perception of culpability.
- Hollywoodgate is men’s moral masturbation: Women, as often happens with the xenophobic narratives around migration and crime, are often nothing more than the excuses men employ to demarcate the line between decency, security and danger. In the night between the 4th and the 5th of October, and probably throughout the days, months and years beforehand, someone decided whether or not Harvey Weinstein’s misconduct was worth an article. Then and only then, when men’s sense of entitlement and moral compass embraced the scandal and used it to separate a good man from a sick one, the welfare of those women became pivotal. Women don’t get to be listened to and believed until the problem becomes succulent enough for men to talk about it, or to care about it. It’s only when violence and trauma can maintain the power balance in the universe that they get addressed. It is only when a couple of thunders and storms guarantee visibility to a certain kind of frame and the consequent preservation of the status quo that men meet punishment. It is only when sexual harassment can be classified as someone else’s problem that men allow us to talk about it. The infamous hashtag #metoo was invented 10 years ago by Tarana Burke, a Black woman who wanted to address the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and racism and the intersection of them, but it is only alongside Hollywoodgate that it started its journey into public consciousness. It is only when it’s about Good Men VS Bad Men, Healthy VS Unhealthy Environment, capital letters, blame games and scapegoats. It is only when the names are well know and the right shade of white guarantees them to be heard and “protected”. It is only when the 99% of men can justify themselves and point fingers, because sexual harassment is not their problem. It is only when they can separate themselves from the pervasiveness and structural entity of abuses that men decide it’s time to talk about sexual harassment. And even then it seems to be a male privilege the one to punish.
As long as men get to decide what trauma is, what sexual harassment is, female bodies and freedom will be legitimate only by male standards of conduct. As long as an unwelcome massage can be labelled as “harmless” and only rape and physical abuse get boxed into the category of trauma, we’ll keep failing the victims, we’ll keep failing to recognise the legitimacy and necessity of education and male awareness about the policy of consent and power.
As long as we keep debating about the “reasonable” doubt, the behaviour of those women, and the “timing” of those allegations, we keep failing to get to the point: and the point is that we are depriving the victims from their right to be the subjects of their narratives.
Nor The Internet nor the Righteous Gatekeepers of the Middle Ground get to decide what’s fair to be called sexual harassment and what’s not. To what extent trauma is valuable and what’s not. Whose trauma is valuable and whose not.
The victims are the gatekeepers of their trauma. Not you. Not us.
The problem with Hollywoodgate is that its rhetoric created a distorted lens through which we read sexual harassment, a shallow polarised lens where women are either liars or victims but never entitled to re-frame themselves and tell their own stories without men’s blessings. Problematic is that we organise our morality into dichotomies and extremes, and we’re so prone to judge and condemn because we’re to scared to address the real issues therein. And the real issue on the table is that sexual harassment is the story of women, all women, and Hollywoodgate failed to give those women a voice, exploiting the fame and visibility of those who already have power, exposure and credibility. Hollywoodgate framed sexual harassment in the field of exception instead of opening a conversation about the pervasiveness of it.
Hollywoodgate is problematic because keeps perpetrating the same stereotypes ans misconceptions around gender, sexuality and race relations, systematically eradicating power from the equation.
Hollywodgate is problematic because it’s about picking sides and blaming THE MAN, instead of questioning all the men, toxic masculinity and the culture of rape in which we all live and only men thrive.