The Short Version: Harvey Weinstein
The point of it all is to break down the headlines, determine why an issue is important, and reveal the best arguments on each side of the story. Recently Cleo Abram explored the subject of the gun-related tragedy in Las Vegas, one of the worst mass killing in this country ever, asking if we should repeal the Second Amendment.
This week her subject is Harvey Weinstein and other sexual predators. Cleo asks what can we do to address this problem and prevent it from growing the first place.
A personal note from the author:
“The most important issue this week is the growing list of men accused of sexual assault. At first, I had no idea how to debate it. Because the main topic is so blatantly heinous, every debate I came up seemed like a stretch or a side issue, like legislation in France to combat street harassment (though that one is fascinating, more on it here.
“This is my best attempt to a) actually address the central issue and b) find something genuinely worth debating. I’d love to hear your thoughts, or if you have another suggestion on this important topic. Email me: email@example.com.”
Note: If you have missed any of Cleo’s blogs, just go to our Home Page, type “The Short Version” into Search (magnifying glass icon) and poof, like magic, all her blogs will appear.
You’ve probably also seen the New York Times’ story on decades’ worth of sexual harassment and secret settlements by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.
Before the story broke, cultural norms were arguably already beginning to shift. Women were beginning to come forward with their stories more often in the press, and the number of reports was rising on college campuses. People seemed to be paying more attention to accusations of sexual harassment—though with mixed results. Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and Donald Trump are the most high profile examples: Cosby’s accusation resulted in a mistrial; Ailes and O’Reilly were fired with payouts worth tens of millions; and Trump was elected president.
Afterward, the gates opened. The story sparked a long list of other accusations and contributed to a growing cultural awareness of the issue. Buzzfeed reported on a list that shamed men in media for sexually harassing women. Vox Media (note: where I work) fired one of its top executives for sexual harassment. MSNBC put political journalist Marc Halperin on leave because of similar allegations. The list goes on.
Why is it important?
This flood of accusations is no accident.
First, many industries are structured in specific ways that make abusive behavior possible and hidden for long periods of time. This applies to Hollywood, but also to media, politics, and tech. In each of these industries, there is a large supply of talented people eager to catch their big break. There is a limited number of ways to succeed—roles in big movies, positions of power in politics, access to funding, etc. And there is a subjective process at the gateway to success—movies are art, politics is often personality-driven, seed stage fundraising relies largely on “quality of founder.” Put these things together and you create a power structure that doesn’t make it difficult for people in positions of power (often men) to take advantage of people who aren’t (often women).
Second, social norms are much stricter on what people can say or do than laws are. As a result, socially risky speech often goes repressed—until something causes a crack in the dam. Accusations of sexual harassment have gone underreported for generations and not without reason: a 2013 study showed 75% of employees who report workplace harassment face some form of retaliation. But with a critical mass, social norms can change surprisingly quickly. Researchers call it “unleashing.”
In industries and at moments like those, what might seem like a new movement is really a structure breaking down to reveal what has been there all along.
This is one of those moments for sexual harassment. It’s our responsibility to consider the question: What can we do to address this problem and prevent it from growing the first place?
One option is yes-means-yes laws. Under these rules, your partner needs say yes to your advances, as opposed to just not saying no. Currently, these laws have nothing to do with criminal liability. They are only applied to the way colleges evaluate sexual assault cases internally, most notably in the California state school system.
That said, these rules establish important standards for sexual assault in the rest of society. The rules for consent that we learn in school stick with us (or at least they should). They seep into our understanding of what is and is not sexual harassment and assault. So when women come forward with stories of, say, unwanted advances at work, we interpret that story with a definition of sexual harassment that prioritizes affirmative and enthusiastic consent.
Should we have a yes-means-yes standard for consent?
Why The Short Version on TIO?
Over nine years ago, Telluride Inside…and Out began as a lifestyle webzine. Today, in the full knowledge that Telluride is a window on the world, we continue to bring the “zazz” (short for “pizzazz) of the region to a local, national, and global audience by covering everything from Telluride’s robust cultural economy – major events and festivals – to health and fitness and outdoor adventure. When Telluride travels, we write about places to go, people to meet too. (That’s part of the “Out” part of our handle, the other, obviously, Outdoors.)
And now, this weekly column, “The Short Version,” which offers simple summaries of issues of national and global importance.
“The Short Version” is written by Cleo Constantine Abram, the daughter of Telluride locals Eleni Constantine and Jonathan Abram (and therefore an honorary local and regular visitor) and a digital strategist.
Why “The Short Version”? Because, though we live in Shangri-La, our bubble is not impermeable and the rest of the world is only a click away. Because there is no inconsequential action; only consequential inaction. And because information is power in a moment so many of us are feeling powerless.
More about Cleo Constantine Abram:
Cleo grew up in Washington D.C., lives in New York City, and loves to visit her parents in Telluride. She authors “The Short Version,” a newsletter that explains each week’s most important issue and both sides of the debate around it.
Cleo is a digital strategist now working at Vox, a general interest news site for the 21st century. Its mission is simple: Explain the news. Politics, public policy, world affairs, pop culture, science, business, and more.
Cleo’s work focuses on ways to share, educate, and inform using online platforms. While in college at Columbia University, she guided the school’s entrance into online education through her role as the youngest elected representative to the Columbia Senate, which makes university-wide policy.
She continued her work on online education at TED-Ed, the educational branch of the nonprofit, building new programs and online tools to support high school teachers worldwide.
Continuing her work with TED, Cleo founded and led an early TEDx conference, the organization’s community-specific series.
Recently, Cleo returned to school, studying video storytelling at Columbia Journalism School.
Most importantly, Cleo loves to ski.