When Harvey Weinstein shuffled unsteadily into court, pushing a Zimmer and forcing a valiant smile for the cameras, he could have been mistaken for a vulnerable and benign old gent.
The arrogant man who regularly told staff “I am superman and you are not. I’m a genius and you are all clerks” was nowhere to be seen.
Just as painstakingly as a robber wipes all fingerprints from the scene of his crime, Weinstein had removed all vestiges of the power he used and abused. His physical prowess, his wealth, his position, his prestige, and his gender – all erased or neutralised.
This story represents different things to different people: Abuse, gender politics, the importance of female unity to force change – but at its heart, it is a story about power.
Weinstein claimed he ran his town. The fact the two most serious charges he was accused of were dismissed is a concern to many.
But his partial conviction at least signals that the secret conspiracy of power, where institutions and individuals uphold each other’s advantages because in doing so they protect their own, is crumbling. The weak can challenge the mighty.
Importantly, the case has really forced an examination of the more subtle nuances of power. When it comes to sexual violence, we prefer our casualties to be uncomplicated.
There is a hierarchy of victimhood ranging from the young virgin attacked by a stranger – which provokes clear condemnation – all the way through murky, dubious assessments of drunken victims, provocative victims, victims who, apparently, “brought it on themselves”.
This conviction says your relationship with your attacker may be complex and ongoing – but you still know what non-consensual sex is.
Apple television’s award-winning drama series “The Morning Show” covered many of the Weinstein issues with its own fascinating take on gender politics.
A morning TV host, Mitch Kessler, is removed because of inappropriate relationships with female staff. He insists the relationships were consensual, but he embodies all the elements of a powerful man using his position to get what he wants from mainly young women.
Those around him collude by remaining silent, protecting themselves rather than his conquests. Every system, after all, has its victims. Until someone breaks ranks and reports him – a young woman who can’t live with what happened to her at his hands. Kessler wouldn’t call it rape because she neither says no, nor violently resists.
The scene divides viewers. Some shout, why didn’t she just push him off? Those who understand the dynamics of gender power imbalances are more empathetic. The drama cleverly captures real life in all its complicated, messy, confusion. The viewer sees everything Mitch Kessler doesn’t.
His victim is scared. She’s overwhelmed by his position. She’s uncertain how to say no and keep her job. He doesn’t see because he doesn’t care – just like Weinstein.
But it would be sad if the Weinstein case were reduced to simply a gender war. There are those who dismiss the Me Too movement as some loony ladies’ online convention. But this isn’t, essentially, a war of women against men. It’s a war of people who are decent against those who are not. A war of people who hate to see power abused against those who are willing to wield it to their advantage.
So, this is about power not gender – it’s just that men still hold power more often than women. Mitch Kessler’s co-host, played by Jennifer Aniston, is almost an honorary member of the boys’ club until an epiphany unites her with co-workers. Until then, the system has worked for her because she is queen bee, playing men’s games better than they do.
She wouldn’t have difficulty saying “no” – and indeed says “yes” to Kessler on an equal footing – because she, too, has power. Just like Weinstein’s female lawyer, Donna Rotunno, who claimed she wouldn’t be a victim because she wouldn’t “put herself in that position”. Like Weinstein, it seems, Rotunno is arrogant enough to think she always controls her environment.
Rotunno is female but of little use to other women. Her cross-examinations of witnesses aped male aggression and attitudes.
Weinstein’s long-standing male accountant, on the other hand, Irwin Reiter, supported and contributed to the prosecution case.
“It’s time for men who witness bad behaviour to step up and bear witness to it,” he said. He’s right. Men challenging other men in the secrecy of the male locker room – both literal and metaphorical – will bring bigger change, faster.
Never forget, Reiter said, that these abused women could be your daughter.
Post-Weinstein, partial change is already here – the security of the powerful to do what they want, when they want, has gone.
Weinstein, we were told, was “stunned” by his conviction. He thought he was invincible. Roger Canaff, a former New York City sex crimes prosecutor, says this is a milestone in how important men will now be held accountable.
When one young actress victim refused a threesome with Weinstein, he lost his temper. Didn’t she get it? This was how the system worked, he yelled.
Well, not any more.