Why Focusing on #HarveyWeinstein #Harassment is a Problem
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I am a 28 year old woman trying to make a living and a career. Harvey Weinstein is a 64 year old, world famous man and this is his company. The balance of power is me: 0, Harvey Weinstein: 10. ~ Lauren O’Connor (memo)
Power and violence are opposites; where the one rules absolutely, the other is absent. Violence appears where power is in jeopardy, but left to its own course it ends in power’s disappearance. ~ Hannah Arendt
Currently, the USA public is caught-up in the spectacle of media mogul, Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused of sexual harassment and rape. His antics apparently had gone on unchallenged by those who may have had the clout to intervene and curtail such behaviors. These stories are currently on the front pages of our news and conscience now so that a collective public can pass judgment on the Hollywood entertainment industry. Many seemed shocked by such stories. However, we may all be better served if we took a closer look around ourselves, the professionals who work in our chosen industry, and most importantly, its leadership. Such atrocious behaviors are not reserved for only (distant) Hollywood elites. Harassment and bullying are well known and established to be significant workplace health and safety hazards. Workplace bullying, which often refers to harassment of a non-protected class, is also referred to as the hidden epidemic. So, the most essential question is, how can these two realities coexist together within industries which extoll such high commitments to workers health and safety, equality and social responsibility? Where are the champions of social justice and civility in the workplace? The answer is simple: people benefit when they align with power, corrupt or otherwise, and look away from its indiscretions. According to recent data, 75% of those who report harassment are retaliated against. Said another way, these brave targets of abuse who speak out often lose their incomes and standing within their industry – whatever that industry is. Most current management systems discretely sanction harassment, plunder and violence through the decisions from leadership who detach themselves from accountability or rebuke. Until this dynamic is changed, abuse of power, and the fallout from it, will remain rampant. Harassment must have severe consequences for its perpetrators and enablers both. But, it must be accompanied by a just and fair process. Only then will it be truly eradicated.
Something so common place must have a socially systemic origin. It is known that toxic and low trust workplaces are in the long-term bad for enterprises productivity and the bottom line. Moreover, it is also known that workplace harassment, bullying, and mobbing are associated with long-term financial loss and health-harming impacts on their targets. It also exacerbates workplace wage gaps dividing enterprises into a worker class and management class. Most will recommend that it is up to leadership and management to make certain their commitment to a safe and productive work environment. Leadership, or more to the point, how enterprises and industries are led, is oft lauded as the solution. And of course this is true. Leadership defines workplace culture through the policies and processes they enact to optimize the product or service which they provide. Leadership and management is the workplace culture. Therefore, it is in the commonly practiced method of leadership and management where the core problems reside. Systems create predictable outcomes that may differ from the intended result dramatically. In my view, the root of the problem is corporatocracy whereby authority, power, and resources are concentrated at the top of organizations which is allowed to internally govern without oversight. More simply, it is the abuse of power and authority where most problems rest. The adage absolute power corrupts absolutely does not necessarily imply an individual, it can apply to gangs of executives holding onto power and enabling, condoning and reinforcing certain behaviors too. It can corporate boards and executive teams or political parties who misuse their authority toward the self-interests of the group. With so much power, resources, and capital to internally govern, abuse of power and corruption is almost assured. It is seen everywhere around us, if only we bother to care and look.
Weinstein’s bullying and harassment were well known and not only sexual. Survivors who worked around Weinstein recall “Harvey would eat the fries off your plate, smash them in his face, and wash them down with a cigarette and a Diet Coke”. They recall of Weinstein that he was funny; he was grotesque, a boisterous, boorish, outrageous, gluttonous caricature of a man. Weinstein’s transgressions were known about enough so that the company power structure accommodated his behaviors which may have lead to legal civil or criminal liability. Weinstein purportedly had a clause written into his contract protecting him the loss from sexual harassment claims. Firstly, is such a clause even legal? Regardless, it shows a concern about protecting bad behavior rather than putting internal processes and mechanisms within the workplace that both allow claims to be made, but also require a standard from claimants to avoid an assault of frivolous lawsuits. The board and executives were accommodating bad behavior and not protecting the abused through such a contract. The survivors of the Weinstein Company culture said that people who left Miramax either ended up running enterprises in Hollywood or became social workers. Weinstein had great influence – positive or negative – on the futures of those people who he interacted with. Within the microcosm of most people’s professional lives, beyond the glitters of Hollywood star-makers and dream breakers, the nefarious mechanisms of abused power consume the potentials in every profession and industry. Unfortunately, the current legal settlement process is a big broad avenue for the corrupt abusers of power to get away unscathed. While it’s currently popular to at least discuss how to bring sexual harasser’s to justice, what about other powerful predators who destroy lives by non-sexual workplace violence?
Forcing victims of sexual harassment into secret arbitration proceedings is wrong because it means that nobody ever finds out what really happened. ~ Gretchen Carlson
They like to get you in a compromising position. They like to get you there and smile in your face. They think, they’re so cute when they got you in that condition. Well I think, it’s a total disgrace. ~ John Mellencamp, Authority Song
Years ago, as a young man, I shared a carpool with a woman who was a professional within the male dominated profession which we both worked. (I am certain that she faced challenges and impediments which I never did.) At some point, we discussed rape. She stated that women would not lie about rape. Then, what will women lie about, I queried? For years there have been weak processes and protections for victims of harassment, abuse and rape. In the hyper-aware environment, powerful men are being outed as sexual harasser’s and summarily being fired. They may all deserve this. But, we cannot have confidence in a system which first suppresses the voice and condition of targets of abuse and then without due process amplifies their voice whether it’s bona fide or not? This is not a path toward justice nor equality. We pivot back to my question, what will women lie about? And if we believe in the central equality of people, we know people will lie to avoid the immediate ramifications of revealing the truth. The lie may conceal truth of their fear, jealousy, spite, resentment, revenge, rage, or even harassment and rape. We cannot over-compensate over allegations of any kind. There needs to be a fair and legal process that allows for the truth and does not anticipate or conclude a popular outcome. Truth is, some vindictive people will accuse powerful people of transgressions which they never committed for a number of selfish reasons. To deny this truth will not cure the epidemic of abuse of power, which is at the root of the problem, but rather feed it. The biggest hurdle to justice is suppressing the voices of the abused by not having such a fair and prudent process that serves everyone, regardless of gender, race, religion, and age, etc. Call it, a systems approach to management.
Ashley Judd has been one of the actresses who has recently described being a victim of Weinstein’s transgressions. I am not someone who really follows Hollywood, but I did especially enjoy cinema for a time and followed Judd’s rise to stardom following her performance in Ruby in Paradise, which came out in 1993. I knew Ashley Judd as the daughter and younger sibling attached to the successful country and western female duo The Judd’s. Ashley has recently related a story about her meeting Weinstein in 1997 and having to deal with his request for a massage and for her to watch him shower. She tamed his aggression through agreeing to satisfy his request only after she received an Oscar. Ashley Judd, because of her relationship to the famous duo, probably had more clout and power than many budding actresses in a very competitive industry. However, even Judd did not challenge or speak out about this behavior until after Weinstein has essentially been disempowered through articles printed in the New Yorker magazine and New York Times newspaper. Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades was published 5 October 2017 in the New York Times. The New Yorker magazine followed their initial article by publishing, Harvey Weinstein and the Impunity of Powerful Men, which was published 30 October 2017. Judd reached her apex of notoriety in the late 1990s. So, it has been nearly twenty years that we now have to reconcile these “he says, she says” conflicting narratives. If it were not for the sheer numbers of abused speaking out, even Judd’s voice would likely not resonate powerfully enough to change the culture of power and reward that revolves around a reality that some women actually do make the Faustian bargain for fame and notoriety, especially when they see the consequences of speaking truth to power. Many witnesses and even targets of abuse chose to speak no evil, hear no evil, and see no evil about the industry the work in – until twenty-years after the event.
Ripe with enthusiasm to right all past wrongs, visible men (especially) in power are being made susceptible to having to explain allegations of past indiscretions perpetrated even decades ago. This overlooks the fundamental problem of harassment. The problem of harassment is cultural and systemic. It is all around within all hierarchical paternalistic organizations where power, influence, and money are concentrated at the top. Harassment is mostly about power and control. The voyeuristic approach of revealing and shaming prominent men through public allegations is counter-productive. There needs to be processes that allow voices of all targets to be heard and not suppressed. There also needs to be a community that does not tolerate such behaviors. At the same time, it must be realized that most people benefit by appeasing power. The travails endured by those who speak-out and speak truth to power is usually seen through lost opportunities and isolation. The other reality is that some who do speak out have ulterior motives. Targets of abuse will be taken more seriously if they speak out in a timely manner. But, there must be a community and transparent processes that listen, support, and then take action in a timely manner. This is not the case now, and it is unjust and does not serve anyone: alleged victim or alleged perpetrator, and even bystanders. A system is needed that treats accusations and denials with the same objective lens focused on the arriving at the truth. Also, the system cannot rely on personal relativism to dictate whether or not behaviors are appropriate. If one person is be offended by some behaviors while another is not. This cannot be the measure of whether the behavior is appropriate. The behaviors that constitute harassment have to be better defined. This must be combined with clearly defined channels to rectify the situation. Individuals must be empowered to employ these processes and the processes need to produce a just outcome. It is imperative that processes of investigation and resolution be carried fairly and objectively. None of this ever happens within corrupted systems where authority and money overwhelm, and too often unduly influence the outcomes to favor the powerful structure and hierarchy.
The agenda in sexual activity, whether it’s appropriate or not, has to do with lust, affection, passion, love, but the agenda in sexual harassment is not any of that. It is power, control, dominance. The tool is the same on both, but the agenda is completely different. That’s what distinguishes the two. ~ Claudia Kennedy
I’m through with doubt. There’s nothing left for me to figure out. I’ve paid a price, and I’ll keep paying. ~ Not Ready to Make Nice, Dixie Chicks
Harassment is a theft of dignity and opportunity for the target and a theft of unsanctioned power and authority for the perpetrator. Harassment is corruption, and it needs to be treated as such. A person involved in a short-term or single traumatic event of disempowerment, such as rape, assault, natural disasters, or accidents, may develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). However, targets exposed to prolonged periods of stress from workplace harassment, bullying, and mobbing may develop a variation of PTSD referred to as Complex PTSD. Some common symptoms of PTSD and Complex PTSD are hypervigilance, irritability, sleep disturbance, exhaustion and chronic fatigue, poor concentration, joint pains, muscle pains, and importantly, an overwhelming sense of injustice and a strong desire to do something about it. Only a small fraction of mobbing targets lash back at their abusers, or “go postal” – retaliating in a violent rampage, openly and indiscriminately murdering co-workers. However, studies have determined that most of the people who do “go postal” have been mobbed in the preceding months or years before lashing out. Workplace harassment, bullying, and mobbing are serious health and safety issues that every enterprise needs to take much more seriously. The harmful health issues from such workplace violence has prompted targets to commit suicide and/or harm others while in the throes of their PTSD. Abusers of power also need to be held accountable and punished much more severely. It should be intrinsic to the enterprise management system that management be held accountable in providing a dignified workplace as a condition for running such an enterprise legally and profitably.
The current systems in place to deal with harassment and bullying are dysfunctional. This leads to problems for both the targets of abuse, as well as those accused of abusing. Wells Fargo Bank management blackballed employee whistle blowers for revealing corporate fraud. This retaliation robbed opportunity, income, and livelihood from those seeking justice. Yet, top-tier management escapes any and all accountability and receive both legal support, salaries, and bonuses. There is something very wrong in a system that allows such inequities in treatment of enterprise agents based on hierarchical position. But, let’s not fool ourselves. Other banks and their leadership cooperated with the illegal black balling efforts, as is too often the case. Weinstein’s influence could impact the careers of professionals within the entertainment industry. In other words, there is agreement by the upper-management and boards in a multitude of industries which protects unethical, corrupt, and illegal behaviors perpetrated in the top-tiers of any enterprise. Wherever power and money is concentrated, the abuse of power will always be nearby. The solution resides in reigning in the abuse of power and only allowing agency power to be exercised through external oversight from the governments which sanction enterprises in the first place. This means that the inappropriate behavior must be defined and suitable processes in place that are directed toward justice. Too many corporate boards and executives are exercising power never given to them by the governments which allow their creation or the shareholders whose money they employ. In many respects, boards, and their guides in enterprise compliance, work on their own set of rules. The “oversight” tends to be enterprise policy statements, publication of enterprise core values, or some unmeasurable socially responsible “act.” However, such objectives can only be achieved with authoritative power in conjunction with disciplined intentional practices are guided by core principles. All of these elements are required to force systemic change. Such discipline can never reliably be achieved internal to the enterprise.
The dysfunctional systems that are behind the harassment and bullying epidemic are bad for everyone. The only way to change the behavior of paternalistic hierarchical management structures is to add an authoritative power to oversee it. There has to be top-tier accountability for destructive management practices. There is a wide body of knowledge establishing that toxic management is bad for all stakeholders excepting the toxic managers! This means government oversight from the body that allows incorporation needs to be created which collects and processes harassment and bullying complaints in a neutral manner. It should not be controlled by those with authoritative power in the organization unless such power is adhering to the legal agency allowed, the internal policies of the enterprise, and of course the laws applicable to the enterprise operation. If authoritative power does not abide by all these criteria, they are by definition corrupt and should not be able to buy their way out of accountability through self-serving settlement contract agreements. Also, the employment contracts for key enterprise executives need to be public record to again ensure authoritative power is being employed in a contractually legal and binding way. The only way to reign in the abuse of power is to have mechanisms, checks, and balances which are transparent. We should all be outraged by sexual harassment, or all forms of harassment. The only way to change a system is through constraints which make unwanted behaviors detectable and punishable. The only way to eradicate the abuse of power is to empower whistle blowers, targets of abuse, and those who witness abuse with a reliable avenue to justice. And that avenue cannot only run through Hollywood.
Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power. ~ Oscar Wilde
Recognizing power in another does not diminish your own. ~ Joss Whedon