Scandals involving influential producer Harvey Weinstein, who was accused of sexually harassing and assaulting a number of women, have rocked Hollywood over the course of this week. One particularly disturbing, yet unsurprising aspect of The New York Times and The New Yorker reports was that beloved male actors like Ben Affleck and Matt Damon — whose careers were advanced by Weinstein — claimed no prior knowledge of his inappropriate behavior. Put simply, the report was a reminder of the consequences of underrepresentation and male-dominated fields and environments.
During this week, USC students were also exposed to two damning reports about sexual harassment from two administrators — Rohit Varma, the now-former dean of the Keck School of Medicine, and David Carrera, USC’s vice president of advancement and health sciences development. According to the Los Angeles Times report the University had launched an internal investigation into Varma following a complaint from a female colleague, leading to “USC formally [disciplining] the dean, Dr. Rohit Varma, in 2003 following allegations that he sexually harassed the young researcher while he was a junior professor supervising her work.”
By no means does the phenomenon of men like Weinstein who seem to feel empowered by their stronger numbers to either A) abuse women or B) look the other way as men they work with abuse women, exist exclusively in the entertainment industry. As incidents at USC — where academic faculty and senior administration are starkly male-dominated — demonstrate, this is also an issue in academia. In politics and government, in American offices across the country, society collectively has a “boys’ club” problem. And while this is an issue that disproportionately and vastly affects women, from determining the way we’re treated to the opportunities we receive, it cannot be our burden to fix it.
On Monday, actress and producer Mindy Kaling tweeted, “Why is it helpful men speak up? that’s what this personality fears most: the disintegration of the tacit male support for this behavior.”
In an ideal world, perhaps we’d trust and respect women enough to believe and support them when they come forward. We wouldn’t need initiatives like United Nations ambassador Emma Watson’s #HeForShe campaign, and feminists wouldn’t need validation and approval from men in order to affect change and improve women’s living standards. But the fact that complaints like those made against Weinstein, Varma and Carrera illustrate that this is not an ideal world. We need men to speak up because, as Kaling points out, the dark and simple truth is that until they do, the male sexual predators they work with could very well assume that they are allies.
That is the nature of boys’ clubs — they are environments where men are the majority and therefore, having grown up with their every misdeed being dismissed with the line “boys will be boys,” they, as men, will be men.
When it comes to Weinstein, the issue at hand is greater than just one man. The mega-star producer was able to leverage not only his wealth and influence but also, ultimately, his popularity within Hollywood’s decades-old boys’ club as a shield for decades.
In 2016, of the top 100 highest grossing films, women made up just 4 percent of directors, 11 percent of writers and 3 percent of cinematographers. At USC, only 15.1 percent of tenured STEM faculty are female, leaving the other 84.9 percent male. What we have on our hands is a systemic issue that is ultimately two-pronged. In the long run, we need more women in positions of power to combat the male dominance that enables a culture of disrespect and harassment of women to exist. But right now, what we need the most is men who are willing to speak up and identify themselves as allies of women, as active opponents of misogyny, rather than mere bystanders.
At USC and in the entertainment industry, we need immediate action and proactive leadership. It should not take damning reports in The New York Times or Los Angeles Times, and years and years after the fact, at that, to spur action. We cannot allow boys’ clubs and their beneficiaries to sweep women and their experiences under the rug. But why stop there, really? In 2017, no longer should we allow boys’ clubs and their shocking toxicity to exist at all.
Kylie Cheung is a sophomore majoring in journalism and political science. She is also the editorial director of the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Grab Back,” runs every other Friday.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this column included statements that mischaracterized the details of Rohit Varma’s behavior and the chain of events that led to his departure. It has also been updated to clarify that allegations of willful misbehavior by Weinstein, Affleck and others have been disputed by them and their representatives.
The Daily Trojan regrets the errors.