18 Oct Harvey Weinstein and the Industry Culture of Wilful Blindness
It took one journalist to write one article with testimonies from a group of women whose voices had been silenced for years, to open the lid on the culture of sexual aggression led by Harvey Weinstein in Hollywood.
His subsequent downfall has been swift as he was sacked from his own company, and his wife and brother have disowned him.
However, now the attention and discussion has turned to those who were complicit, turned a blind eye, might have known or should have known – the executives, the movie and casting directors, the assistants, producers, the actors, the peers of the victims who continued to work with Weinstein directly or indirectly in some of the most successful movies of the past twenty years.
The wall of silence around Weinstein’s actions which had built in the movie industry followed a culture of casting couches, sexism and power of executives going back to the silent era. As the floodgates have opened with more and more stories by well known and not so well known names, it has become clear that this culture has continued until the New York Times published its investigation.
The players in Hollywood at every level had contributed to a culture of silence. Weinstein’s power was significant – over individual careers, movie projects getting the green light, and even influencing reviewers to give glowing or scathing reviews. The victims who had tried to speak up were silenced by being paid off and losing their careers. People at all levels of the industry feared they could lose their careers.
So a culture of silence continued. A culture of Wilful Blindness was established. In a blog earlier this year, Martin Wright explored the subject of wilful blindness with reference to Margaret Heffernan’s book. Individuals and groups blindly follow attitudes and behaviour in their culture because it is deemed to be the “accepted” or “norm” instead of questioning evidence and taking that step to stand up and speak out.
On our Advance courses, we discuss the “Taxi driver” or our “creative subconscious” which drives our behaviour based on our preconceived beliefs, and the instructions we give him and the pathways we want him to follow in our brain. We suffer from wilful blindness as our “Taxi Driver” leads us on the auto pilot route in our daily tasks at work, ignoring the details of misuse, human error, inappropriate behaviour because we are too busy getting on with our own jobs.
By accepting the leadership of fear and silence of Harvey Weinstein, his peers and employees became wilfully blind to his misconduct to justify their own actions, the success of the movies they worked on, the joint actions of their teams, and their own careers.
However, by remaining silent, being wilfully blind to Weinstein’s power processes, the people of the industry enabled their own powerlessness for themselves and more and more women.
We make ourselves vulnerable when we purposefully choose ignorance. By choosing to see the issue and not accepting it we regain the power.
It took only a very small number of individuals to persevere with their report – to allow The New Yorker to investigate and collate evidence – for others to speak up. The journalist who led the investigation, Ronan Farrow, had the courage to pursue rumours to discover the evidence. He asked the questions no one else would ask through fear. Farrow listened and acted on the stories of the women who questioned the whole power system within the movie industry. Farrow encouraged the women to share their experiences and showed they were valid.
Farrow allowed the women to have a valid voice. How can we be like Ronan Farrow and give a voice to those individuals or minorities who have suffered from oppression?
We must look and see the behaviour which is not acceptable to our own values in our workplace, our community, and any institution where we are involved. Our values determine our attitude, thoughts and behaviours. If we remain silent and wilfully blind to issues in a company culture then we are compromising our own values and authenticity.
On our Advance courses, we examine how our individual values are integral to who we are, what we stand for and how we behave. Our company values where we work or volunteer must also be in balance with our own values for us to be the best we can be, and in turn, build a culture of trust within a team and company – and industry .
To remain integral to our values, we must open our eyes to issues which compromise our values, and we must have the courage to speak up and act on those issues. Our integrity must be placed higher than accepting immoral behaviour for a promotion or a position on a project. No one holds all the power of an industry – anyone, even Harvey Weinstein, can lose their status.
As the women who spoke up to Ronan Farrow opened the door for many other women to take control, we have the power to stand by our convictions and values to make a change in our companies, communities, industries and society.
It takes one person to speak up to change a culture.