Written by Tomi Tunrarebi
As news of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault broke over this last month, I found myself locked in a discussion with my aunt. She, once again, was voicing concern about my decision to pursue a career in the film industry. She was worried—terrified actually—of what it means to be a woman in this industry; terrified of what I might experience as I try to find success. This was a conversation we had had before, but this time there was a sense of urgency to it that stemmed from the fact that I had expressed to her how it is was a dream of mine to work for the Weinstein Company. My aunt was so worried, she asked if I wanted to change my major. I told her I was sure that this is what I wanted to do; and though, I spent thirty minutes trying to assuage her worries, she sounded more scared at the end of our conversation than at the start. It was at the end of this conversation that something dawned on me.
When we discuss diversity in the entertainment industry we talk about it from the perspective of studios and executives being unwilling to open spaces for women. And while this a perspective is worthy of discussion, we often don’t think of it from the other side. We often don’t consider that there may be some talented women who are unwilling to enter the industry because of its reputation of rampant sexual assault.
When I first told my family I wanted to pursue a career in film, the pushback was immediate and fierce. The main concern that came up was sexual assault. My aunt sat me down one evening, and we had a heart to heart. She told me that she was worried about my decision because she was scared what it would mean for me as a young woman trying to break into the industry. This was a woman who heard stories of powerful men in Hollywood sexually assaulting women since she had arrived in the States in the 70s. She had seen Roman Polanski escape justice, had seen Hollywood turn a blind eye to accusations against Woody Allen. She had heard numerous actresses opened up about being assaulted as they tried to make a name for themselves. This wasn’t a life she wanted for me. She told me that she was scared of the things I would have to do in order to succeed. Her fears mirrored exactly what Harvey Weinstein’s accuser, Dawn Dunning, said happened to her. Dunning’s story of having three acting contracts offered to her only under the condition that she have sex with Weinstein is a story straight out of my aunt’s nightmares. She felt obligated to warn me away from this path.
This is not a fear unique to my family. Many people are apprehensive of the entertainment industry especially when it seems like every month there is a sexual assault scandal. The same New York Times article that houses Dunning’s story calls Harvey Weinstein’s abuse an “open secret” and describes the film industry as a place where “sexual assault has long persisted,” and we have to wonder how many women see this and chose to follow a different path. How many women have looked at the entertainment industry, have read the stories about Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Roman Polanski, Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes and many more and have decided that it wasn’t worth risk? How many promising new voices has Harvey Weinstein’s story turned away?
The women who chose not to pursue a career in the entertainment industry due to the rampant sexual assault are valid in their decisions. The parents and family members who actively try to convince their daughters to pursue a different field are valid in their concerns. It has been well documented that there is a problem with how women are treated in the industry. And while people distance themselves from Harvey Weinstein, there are others like him, still working and gaining prestige in the industry. Patricia Arquette also accused Oliver Stone of sexual harassment.
Even if every predator in Hollywood was revealed, the consequences they face pale in comparison to the crime. For decades of sexual abuse, Harvey Weinstein has been expelled from The Academy and BAFTA. For the countless women he has preyed on, violated, and traumatized, he is ultimately forced into an—albeit disgraced—early retirement. He faces no criminal charges or jail time. There hasn’t been any talk of a law suit or any form of retribution for the victims, however many there may be. But the victims are left with the scars, no matter how faint. The victims that have spoken out are harassed, called liars, forced to defend themselves and their actions, when they did nothing wrong. It seems like in this industry, even when women win they still lose. So how can we advocate for more women in Hollywood when Hollywood is a hostile environment for them? We ask women to live in fear of being sexually assaulted, never knowing in which meeting they’ll encounter their Harvey Weinstein.
Yet, every time my aunt asks me to switch my major, I tell her no. I tell her no because the Bureau of Justice estimated that there are 43,000 workplace rapes and sexual assaults a year, and a recent Cosmopolitan survey found that 1 in 3 women have experienced sexual harassment. I tell her no because as word of Harvey Weinstein spread, women from all different fields came forward with tales of sexual assault. There is a Harvey Weinstein in every industry. In every meeting, no matter the field, women run the risk of meeting a Harvey Weinstein; because, there is no workplace immune to sexual assault. So I tell my aunt no, because changing my major doesn’t lower my chances of being assaulted. I tell my aunt no, because I refuse to let powerful men who don’t respect women stop me from pursuing my dream. I tell her no, because I truly believe that the only way things change is if I find the courage to push forward and change them. The only way to rid the industry of the Harvey Weinsteins of the world is for women to be in positions of power and to find the strength to expose these men and then make sure their punishment fits the crime. The only way for the industry to change is for me and other women to change it.
So I tell my aunt, no I don’t want to change my major. I’m right where I’m supposed to be.