What Makes Men Like Harvey Weinstein Capable of Harassing?

Harvey Weinstein is by no means the first celebrity to get tangled up in serious allegations; in recent years, Oscar Pistorius was found guilty of killing his girlfriend, Jimmy Saville was accused of endless counts of pedophilia, and even Jay-Z is known to have stabbed someone in the past. What do these people have in common? First off, they’re all men. Second of all, and more relevantly, they’re all in positions of power.

What does research into power tell us about people in positions of control or supremacy? Well, it’s been found that power seems to affect everyone, even if only temporarily. A study using ordinary people assigned each of them to a level of power. Those in the most powerful positions seemed to do things they’d never dream of doing at any other point. They were happy to do things that aided them, even if it meant the distress of the person their actions affected.

In one variation of the study, those in power were also happy to take sweets from a young child. For the experiment, they’d made their power seriously. The results suggested that those in the position of power could not feel sympathy for those they lorded over, and they were unable to see from their point of view how their actions affected them. So what does this tell us about Harvey Weinstein?

It explains a lot. Harvey Weinstein has been accused of preying on women of a ‘lower rank’ to him. Many of the women involved were looking for fame and for a chance to perform when Weinstein offered them the parts. The only catch? They had to sleep with him. If he had been of a lower rank, the women would have had no reason to accept the offer, knowing they didn’t stand to gain anything from it. Studies have shown that power amplifies a man’s perception of how desirable they are, which makes a lot of sense in Weinstein’s case. Why else would Harvey Weinstein believe so many women wanted him? What he viewed as a good time was him preying on people who weren’t interested in his advances.

It’s all too common in the workplace, not just in Hollywood rings. Men seize opportunities to abuse their power by sexualizing each situation they approach with women. They translate every move as an invitation for sexual activity, even when it’s most inappropriate. This is the reason there are so many horror stories on the news about priests, athletes and influential creatives getting involved in sex scandals – they use their power to gain them more than they should get. Even after it becomes clear that the acts aren’t consensual.

It should also be noted that people in power can influence the decisions of those of a lower rank to them. A study by Milgram found that when told to by someone above them in status, people were willing to direct shocks of electricity into individuals they’d never met. This can perhaps explain why no one was willing to speak up about abuses of Harvey Weinstein earlier – they were intimidated and controlled by his illusion of supremacy. Many have criticised the company workers who kept quiet about what was happening under their noses, but the truth is, science suggests that each of do the same.

Of course, there’s a reason why women have become so much more vulnerable to this in an industry like Hollywood. With significant pay differences between male and female co-stars, women are already treated as secondary citizens in film circles. Add to that the percentage of female directors – a mere 4% in comparison to 96% of men – and it’s easy to see how women fall victim to power-hungry men like Harvey Weinstein. If the balance were tipped, perhaps women would be the ones getting caught in scandals as Weinstein has. But for now, that’s not the case.

Now that people are becoming more outspoken on these issues, how will this change things? It can only be theorized. Many think this will be a turning point for victims everywhere, but it can be hard to believe when so many powerful men have got away with so much for so long. For things to change, society needs to change too. Stigmas that enable men like Weinstein to play out their abuses with no consequences need to be tackled with force. That might be a while off yet, but time will tell.

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Hayley Anderton

Hayley Anderton is a Creative Writing graduate from Liverpool. She’s a freelance writer and the self-published novelist of the LGBT YA book, Double Bluff. She doesn’t go anywhere without a notepad and has been writing ever since she can remember. Her other interests include baking, talking about politics and feminism, and snuggling up with her cat. She has dreams of traveling the world with her best friends, and of being a well-known author someday.

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