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Sexism in Tinsel Town

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As irony would have it, Harvey Weinstein—movie executive, high-profile industry mogul, loutish bully—is abruptly fired by the executive board of The Weinstein Company, the very enterprise that he and his brother Bob founded in 2005. Harvey’s offense? Using his position of power to sexually harass and intimidate women.

Initially, Weinstein was accused only of coming on way “too aggressively and crudely” to a number of reluctant women. But since the scandal broke, things have changed dramatically. Several women have come forward and actually accused Weinstein of rape, which, presumably, means he is now open to criminal charges.

As for the original complaints, because this is Hollywood where things are different, when we say “aggressively and crudely” we mean that Harvey occasionally removed all his clothing and stood before these women bare naked, while touching himself. Perhaps he considered this foreplay. That, or he wanted to make sure these women clearly understood his intentions.

In any event, as repulsive as his behavior was, it’s the resounding hypocrisy surrounding it that drives us up the wall. Indeed, it’s difficult to say which recent news story would be declared winner of the Hypocrisy Sweepstakes. Would it be finding out that Hollywood big-shots (even mid-level and low-level executive wannabes) do, in fact, take sexual advantage of vulnerable women?

Or, citing another recent news story, would it be finding out that prestigious college sports programs, with billions of dollars in TV revenue at stake, regularly and systematically break every rule in the book in order to persuade blue chip high school athletes to sign with them? Again, as egregious and slimy as both of these practices are, it’s the pretending that they don’t exist that enrages us.

Because we’re discussing Hollywood here, it’s appropriate we cite a movie. There’s a pivotal scene in the classic film, “Casablanca,” one that takes place in Rick’s Café Americain. The chief of police, Captain Renault (Claude Rains), suddenly orders the place to be shut down.

When Rick (Humphrey Bogart) demands to know why he is closing it, Captain Renault (himself a regular customer in the club’s illegal backroom gambling den), answers in faux-outrage, “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in there.” Right. Just as we’re shocked to hear that rampant sexual harassment occurs in the movie industry.

When Arnold Schwarzenegger was seeking his first term as California governor, a couple of low-level industry women came forward (anonymously, of course) and accused him not only of engaging in sexual harassment, but of committing sexual battery, which consisted of him “playfully” groping their breasts, buttocks, and crotches. The “LA Times” carried the story.

According to these women, everybody on the movie set knew what was going on, but no one would dare say a word about it. Besides fearing for their jobs, the groping and swinish behavior was viewed simply as “Arnold being Arnold.” Moreover, Schwarzenegger was an established international movie star, and these women, had they complained, were nondescript minions, easily replaced.

There’s another scene in “Casablanca” that’s worth citing. A young newlywed, Annina (Joy Page), wants to find out whether or not the police chief is a man of his word. Apparently, the chief has promised to help her and her husband depart the city of Casablanca, but only in return for sexual favors. Because the couple is desperate, she is seriously considering it.

So Annina politely approaches the world-weary Humphrey Bogart and inquires directly as to Claude Rains’ trustworthiness. “Monsieur Rick,” she asks earnestly, “what kind of man is Captain Renault?”

While Bogart’s answer is both insightful and revealing, it is also deliciously cynical. He takes a moment to think and then replies matter-of-factly, “Oh, he’s just like any other man, only more so.”

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David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

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