Harvey Weinstein And The Danger Of Performative 'Wokeness'

Emma Gray
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and producer Harvey Weinstein attend the TIME 100 Gala, TIME'S 100 Most Influential People In The World, cocktail party at Jazz at Lincoln Center on April 24, 2012 in New York City. (Larry Busacca via Getty Images)

Over the last 30 years, Harvey Weinstein has positioned himself as a left-wing political champion ― a feminist, even.

He fundraised for Democratic politicians like Al Gore, Barbara Boxer, Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Elizabeth Warren and Barack Obama. He helped endow a Rutgers chair in feminist activist Gloria Steinem’s name. His company distributed “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary on the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses and the hell victims go through when they try to seek justice. He participated in a Women’s March in Park City, Utah this past January. (Scroll down for photographic proof. A befuddled-looking Weinstein is in the center.)

But according to the New York Times, while he was publicly championing films about women and fundraising for woman politicians, privately he was allegedly requesting massages from his female underlings while in the nude.

On Thursday, the NYTimes reported that Weinstein has reached monetary settlements with at least eight women over three decades, including actress Rose McGowan, and that many more women allege that they have experienced sexual harassment or misconduct at his hands. Ashley Judd told the Times that Weinstein had “appeared in a bathrobe and asked if he could give her a massage or she could watch him shower” during a breakfast meeting. A former temporary employee of Weinstein’s described being offered a career in exchange for accepting his sexual advances. And a 2015 memo written by another former employee, Lauren O’Connor, calls the Weinstein Company “a toxic environment for women.” Over the last 24 hours, more stories about Weinstein’s interactions with young women have begun to emerge.

This juxtaposition ― between an outward-facing promotion of women’s rights, experiences and gender-based injustices, and then alleged private predatory behavior ― is a narrative that has long followed Weinstein. The gap between his professed values and his behavior is staggering, if not surprising. Hollywood (and Silicon Valley... and DC...) are littered with public progressives who are alleged to be private creeps; men who use their “feminist cred” to excuse or conceal the ways they treat women like dirt. 

Director and screenwriter Joss Whedon, who has long been praised for his “strong woman characters” and feminist speeches, was recently put on blast by ex-wife Kai Cole for “preaching feminist ideals” publicly, while privately gaslighting and deceiving her. According to Cole, Whedon went so far as to blame his marital failings on the patriarchy. 

And on Thursday, a BuzzFeed report on right-wing ideologue Milo Yiannopoulos and Breitbart revealed that several established, mainstream male journalists had been in correspondence with Yiannopoulos, encouraging him to target feminist writers and activists. One of those journalists was Mitchell Sunderland, who has written for Vice’s women’s site Broadly about topics like Amber Rose’s SlutWalk and Scottie Nell Hughes’ alleged rape. BuzzFeed reported that in May 2016, Sunderland emailed Yiannopoulos about author Lindy West. “Please mock this fat feminist,” he wrote. (Sunderland has since been fired from Vice.)

Hollywood (and Silicon Valley... and DC...) are littered with public progressives who are alleged to be private creeps; men who use their “feminist cred” to excuse or conceal the ways they treat women like dirt.

Even “good guys” are not inoculated from doing very bad things. But a “good guy” persona both increases the likelihood that a woman will let her guard down, and decreases the likelihood that she will be believed if she says something. After all, how could the feminist creator of “Buffy” who claps back at misogynists online be a philandering creep? How could good ol’ Cliff Huxtable be a rapist? How could a film executive who raised thousands of dollars for Hillary Clinton take advantage of the women in his professional orbit?

Male allies are few and far between, so it can be difficult to let the dream of one die. It’s why just three weeks after Kai Cole’s essay was published, I got a press release from women and girls’ rights organization Equality Now listing Joss Whedon as creative director of their 25th anniversary gala.

This is the danger of tying the project of gender equality too closely to its most public male champions. Public-facing “wokeness” does not necessitate a private follow-through on those values. When we pretend it does, we inadvertently offer cover to men who don’t deserve it. 

After the NYTimes story broke, actress Constance Wu, star of ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat,” tweeted about how common stories of harassment at the hands of Hollywood “good guys” are. 

“It’s happened to me a lot,” she later told me, clarifying that she had never interacted with Weinstein and was speaking more generally about Hollywood producers. “Thing is, the men often don’t even realize that they are private creeps. They fool even themselves. Delusion is strong.”

She also pointed to the way these powerful men tend to use that lack of self-awareness as a defense when they are called out for acting inappropriately. 

″[They] attempt to say that because their ‘intentions’ were good or unaware, their actions are therefore exempt? It’s a horrible cycle,” said Wu. “It gets even muddier when you’re a woman of color talking about a man of color doing it.”

Thing is, the men often don’t even realize that they are private creeps. They fool even themselves. Delusion is strong. Constance Wu

The delusion Wu references is apparent in Weinstein’s response to the allegations made against him. In the statement he released following the Times report, Weinstein blamed the fact that he “came of age in the ’60s and ’70s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different” for his behavior. Apparently, until the last year, he couldn’t grasp why it might be unacceptable to be naked in front of his young, female employees or ask actresses to watch him shower. 

In fact, Weinstein was supposedly so divorced from the reality of appropriate professional interactions with women that he needed to hire attorney Lisa Bloom to “tutor” him on the ins and outs of treating women with basic human dignity. In her initial statement on the matter, Bloom characterized Weinstein as “an old dinosaur learning new ways.” Someone should let Bloom know that even old dinosaurs can be incredibly vicious.

And, of course, Weinstein couldn’t help propping up his own righteousness while apologizing to the women he has hurt.

“I am going to need a place to channel that anger so I’ve decided that I’m going to give the NRA my full attention,” he wrote, immediately plugging a movie he is making about Donald Trump and a foundation he is setting up: “One year ago, I began organizing a $5 million foundation to give scholarships to women directors at USC. While this might seem coincidental, it has been in the works for a year.” 

What a #WokeBae. 

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  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.