September 16, 2019 | 77° F

COUTO: Weinstein case shows that there is power in voice, numbers

Opinions Column: Through the Looking Glass


By the time these words have been published, almost everyone with or without an internet connection will hear about the scandal regarding Harvey Weinstein. I am not writing this as “just another feminist” claiming that men are the bane of our existence. I am writing this as a woman who sympathizes with women who choose to remain silent, specifically the victims of Weinstein’s advances. Although I am fortunate enough to say that I have never experienced sexual assault, I think it is pretty hard — or rather, impossible — to go through life as a woman without being subject to sexual harassment at one point or another.

I had debated with myself for days on whether to write about this topic, but upon reading Lupita Nyong’o’s op-ed for The New York Times regarding her own unpleasant encounters with Harvey Weinstein, I knew it was never a question of “whether” I would write about this topic, but rather “when” I would muster up the courage to do so.

I have a friend who was once sexually assaulted, but she did not choose to press charges. Some people were furious with her for not doing so, yet others — like myself — can understand why she chose to keep quiet.

Nyong’o writes that the reason women “don’t speak up” is due to their “fear of suffering twice”: first by the abuser and then by the “abuse (of) not being believed and instead ridiculed. That’s why we don’t speak up … for fear of being labeled and characterized by our moment of powerlessness.”

Women may have made great strides toward equality in the last century, but do not let that progress fool you: the world we live in is still very much a patriarchal society. In other words, when women choose to fight back against men who have wronged them in one way or another, it is often a losing battle, one that typically ends with the destruction of the woman’s reputation.

If there is anything to be learned from the recent developments in Hollywood, it is that there is power in numbers. As of last week, more than 40 women have publicly accused Weinstein of sexual harassment or assault. Ashely Judd was the first to speak up, thereby opening the door for the others that followed, which includes celebrities, such as Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, Rose McGowan and much more. Judd’s statements were made public on Thursday, Oct. 5, and over the next several days, more women who had been victims of Weinstein’s sexual advances began to do the same. By Sunday, Oct. 8, Weinstein was “fired from the company that bears his name,” and lo and behold, his legacy and career have been effectively tarnished.

Nyong’o goes on to make an interesting point: “I did not know that there was a world in which anybody would care about my experience with (Weinstein) … I was entering into a community that Harvey Weinstein had been in, and even shaped, long before I got there … he told me, ‘This is the way it is.’ And wherever I looked, everyone seemed to be bracing themselves and dealing with him, unchallenged. I did not know that things could change. I did not know that anybody wanted things to change. So my survival plan was to avoid Harvey and men like him at all costs, and I did not know that I had allies in this.”

As women, we are told to take extra precautions, to endure unwanted forms of attention by men because “that’s just the way men are.” But most importantly, we are taught to keep quiet about things that make us feel uncomfortable because who would believe us or stand up for us? And is it really worth the risk of putting our careers and reputations on the line? Yet despite all this, I am not suggesting a call to more silence but rather an end to it. If we all speak up, we cannot and will not be ignored, and the Weinstein case proves that.

Hence, in the words of Lupita Nyong’o, “Now that we are speaking, let us never shut up about this kind of thing. I speak up to make certain that this is not the kind of misconduct that deserves a second chance. I speak up to contribute to the end of the conspiracy of silence.” Moreover, “by speaking up, speaking out and speaking together, we regain that power. And we hopefully ensure that this kind of rampant predatory behavior as an accepted feature of our industry,” and society as a whole, “dies here and now.”

Ana Couto is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in English and journalism and media studies. Her column, "Through the Looking Glass," runs on alternate Mondays.

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Ana Couto

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