Harvey Weinstein scandal: Behind the jokes there was a horrible truth about men

After comedian Seth MacFarlane read the names of the women nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category at the 2013 Oscars, he cracked a Seth MacFarlane joke: "Congratulations: you five ladies no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein."

"Ha yes, that old casting couch line," viewers who had even a glancing acquaintance with 20th-century popular culture would have thought. What next, Seth? "Take my wife – no seriously, take her"?

The audience of Hollywood insiders laughed, too. For some it would have been an "Uh-oh, this is awkward" kind of laugh, while for others it would have been infuriating, because the joke told a horrible truth: Weinstein has been a shameless sexual predator for three decades, as both and have revealed – and plenty of .

There is little doubt that the allegations against Weinstein are true: his own production company has fired him; his wife has left him; and he has fled the US to seek treatment for sex addiction in Europe.

Horrific behaviour

The Los Angeles Times has published with details of what each woman says he did, and reading it will make you cringe. Weinstein's modus operandi was straight out of an adolescent male fantasy about easy sex – invite young woman to hotel room/Hollywood mansion/other location to discuss role/script/Oscar campaign; parade around in a bathrobe (sometimes with an erection); demand a massage/chase young woman around room/put her hand on your erection/ask her to watch you take a shower.

Picturing it is embarrassing (rage-inducing if you're a woman): as if merely flashing a woman is enough to get her into bed (though what Harvey was flashing was his power).

But this was more than a bit of terry-towel carry-on: by performing forced oral sex on her; made aspiring actor Lucia Stoller perform oral sex on him; and had Fox News host Lauren Sivan watch while he jerked off into a potted plant.

If the women objected, he told them it would be good for their careers to play along, and that other women did it all the time. If they told anyone, he said, there would be trouble. That's exactly what sexual abusers always tell their victims.

The pity card

Sometimes he played the pity card: You don't like me because I'm fat. Pathetic, but not deserving of pity.


We now know that Weinstein spent his career abusing his position. He may have slunk off to Europe for sex addiction treatment, but sex is not the point, it's power: the power of forcing another person to submit to you sexually.

Women he harassed have spoken of being "Harveyed". All kinds of people from executives to personal assistants who worked with Weinstein enabled his behaviour, covered it up and sought to mollify his victims. It was an open secret in Hollywood, and that's a problem for Hollywood: it puts Hollywood the institution in the same position as other institutions that have tolerated and covered up sexual abuse (hello organised churches in various parts of the world).

When Hollywood tells a story, a social truth underpins it. The social truth underpinning stories of sexual abuse by powerful men now has a face: Harvey Weinstein's. But we shouldn't let Weinstein's personal drama obscure the bigger narrative arc – that men in positions of power continue to abuse that power, with too many others getting a credit for their role as supporting actor.