Weinsteins claim of an age of innocence about sexual abuse is pure fiction | Jonathan Freedland

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Weinstein was in Course when America went in sexual harassment” Says Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland

Tthis is a lot to condemn about Harvey Weinstein, but let us focus on the opening paragraph of this announcement he published in reaction to the New York Times’ disclosure of his sequential sexual harassment. “I came of age in the 60s and 70s, when all of the rules about behavior and workplaces were distinct,” he wrote. “This was the culture, then.”

Most reaction to these words has focused, rightly, on the ridiculous implication that there was ever a time when it was okay for a person to abuse girls how an ever-expanding group of individuals — and a covert audio recording — say Weinstein mistreated them.

But let us concede that there was really a time when Hollywood studio bosses regarded young female celebrities as individual props that they possessed and at whim, catch and humiliate could prod. Even in the event that you give way on that point, it does not assist Weinstein. For this earlier age that he invokes in his defence, an era of the demand that men refrain from treating women an aid to take into the shower — does not include the period when his alleged offenses were being committed by him.

The New Yorker has interviewed 13 girls who say “that, between the 1990s and 2015, Weinstein sexually harassed or attacked them.” For that opening announcement of the or her make sense, Weinstein wants us to believe that “all of the rules about behavior and workplaces were distinct” then. Nevertheless, they were not.

On the contrary, this interval came immediately after two events that between them functioned as a long, mass-audience lesson in sexual mores — and which, even at the time, were seen to have triggered “a seismic change in societal values” that aided “specify the significance” of sexual harassment.

The best understood of these was the 1991 battle over the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the supreme court, and the testimony of Anita Hill against him. A aide, she stated that after she had rebuffed Thomas requests that they proceed to a date, he spoke such as hardcore pornography and his own sexual prowess, at work. Thomas denied her claim and forced it to the supreme court but it was through these senate hearings that the thought that a “hostile working environment” comprised a form of sexual harassment entered the language and the American cultural bloodstream.

But the episode with much greater relevance for Weinstein is the Bob Packwood affair. Like Weinstein, Packwood was a liberal with an progressive record on women’s problems even though a Republican senator. In November 1992, the Washington Post printed the evidence of 10 girls former aides, who all said that the feminist senator from Oregon had abused and attacked them.

Their stories made enormous news. The details: how Packwood had ambushed girls, catching them forcing his tongue yanking their hair back, tearing at their underclothes equally appalled and riveted the country. Until he resigned under threat of expulsion in October 1995 from the senate, the Packwood affair dragged on for three years.

I lived in these years in the US and I recall the effects of both episodes nicely. Packwood became the continuing butt of this late night TV comedians, as did senators that had indulged them’s boys club. As did the question of sexual harassment, the popular culture was permeated by these events. New lines were drawn. Publicly, at least, it became apparent and known to everybody what counted as acceptable behavior in work situations — and what didn’t.

That is why it is so ridiculous for Weinstein to assert that the current criteria didn’t apply in the period when he told girls to rub him or her watch him. The Thomas and Packwood affairs were a quarter of a century ago. He was about when they happened. Weinstein was in course when America went in sexual harassment through its lesson: he was not listening.

So Weinstein cannot predict the defence some in Britain deployed to describe the inaction over other 1970s entertainers and Jimmy Savile: that the culture was different back then. Weinstein can assert innocence or no naivete. America lost its innocence long ago, if it comes to the abuse of girls by strong men. Which makes him more guilty.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

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