“And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything… Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
You’re right, Mr. Trump. Your “locker room talk” is repulsive and actually terrifying (reminder that this is our president speaking), but you’re absolutely right. Power is a weapon, and you know how to fire it.
There are the Donald Trumps and the Harvey Weinsteins of the world – the abusive men at the top of their professional stratospheres whose support and guidance would no doubt score you an interview or earn you a promotion. We can’t forget when Elle Woods was sexually assaulted by Professor Callahan at Harvard Law School in the movie Legally Blonde. At first only seeking to go to Cambridge to reunite with her idiot college boyfriend, and then only interested in earning a prestigious internship to prove herself worthy of his love, Elle works her ass off and becomes a brilliant, hard-working lawyer. Her success in court inspires Callahan to meet with her in his office to “discuss the future of her career” but then he makes a pass on her. With no hesitation whatsoever, Elle has the strength and courage to get up and quit her job. Callahan is fired from the case, and Elle takes over and wins it big for her innocent defendant. She is both the victim and the hero of a story in which a powerful shit head is rightfully – and unrealistically – put in his place.
Legally Blonde was my favorite movie for a long time. I saw the Broadway musical adaptation three times and watched it constantly after we DVR’d it when it played on MTV. I spent most of my childhood wanting to be either a singing and dancing Broadway actress pretending to be a brilliant lawyer, or a real, brilliant lawyer who loves to wear pink and isn’t afraid to show the boys in the room who’s boss. Elle Woods showed women that we can prevail as the smart, beautiful, and powerful human beings we are in spite of the adversity we may face.
Here’s the problem: in the case of Harvey Weinstein’s decades of abusing women and shutting them up, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, and many other real women we look up to have shown us that sometimes, the adversity is far too great to overcome, no matter how strong we are. They have shown us that, when certain power dynamics are in place, it could be impossible to work towards the success we deserve if we choose not to surrender. These women would have risked sacrificing everything they had worked for if they chose to speak, because Harvey Weinstein could have ruined them faster than he could say “give me a massage”. Elle Woods risked it all when she walked out on Callahan and, in the musical version at least, burst into song, but we can’t expect to be as strong as our favorite fictional characters. So to anyone expecting apologies from these women or victim blaming the “hypocritical feminists” who were abused and kept their mouths shut, don’t. They don’t owe you anything.
What can we take away from this scandal? It should serve as a reminder to all of us to check the power dynamics that exist between us and the people we interact with. This could be the people you get notes from when you’re sick, the people you drunkenly hook up with at a frat house, or even the people you’re dating. And no, I’m not just talking to the straight rich white boys who are sick of being yelled at for their privilege. I mean everyone, regardless of your race, gender, socioeconomic class, whatever. Whoever you are, you might be abusing or manipulating someone without even realizing it. You may not be one of the most powerful people in Hollywood, but in one way or another, you have power. So use it–and use it carefully.