One of the most repulsive aspects of the Harvey Weinstein scandal – and, oh, so many to choose from – is the attempted medicalization of evil.
In this convenient, entitled telling, Weinstein’s alleged use of his industry power and physical force to coerce women into sexual activity is not to be understood as inappropriate and very likely illegal workplace behavior. It is not to be prosecuted and punished as criminal sexual attacks. It is to be therapized and counseled away.
From the moment the stories about his predatory behavior broke, Weinstein and his coterie of enablers have used the gauzy language of therapy to explain and excuse his conduct.
“My journey now will be to learn about myself and conquer my demons,” Weinstein said in his initial statement to The New York Times. Weinstein, his spokesman said, “has begun counseling, has listened to the community, and is pursuing a better path.”
‘Very sick man’
The producer’s brother and business partner, Bob Weinstein, called him “obviously a very sick man,” adding: “I’ve urged him to seek immediate professional help because he is in dire need of it.” And when Harvey Weinstein’s wife, Georgina Chapman, announced she was leaving him, Weinstein said, “I am in counseling and when I am better, we can rebuild.”
At which point he jetted off to rehab.
Look, I believe in therapy as much as the next neurotic columnist. And grant Weinstein this – he is a troubled man. But let’s be clear: This is not about journeys or community or demons or rebuilding.
It is about a man who was happy, over the course of decades, to use his power in order to solicit and, allegedly, coerce sex. I initially typed “sexual favors” instead of “sex,” but that prissy formulation whitewashes the ugly reported reality; it feeds into Weinstein’s efforts to diminish the seriousness of his behavior.
Ronan Farrow, writing in The New Yorker, did not hold back. “Three of the women ... told me that Weinstein had raped them, forcibly performing or receiving oral sex or forcing vaginal sex,” Farrow wrote. “Four women said that they had experienced unwanted touching that could be classified as an assault.”
A pattern of assaulting and harassing women – the latest count is 34 – is not something you recover from, like battling cancer, or struggle to get under control, like alcoholism. It is something that you are, or should be, punished for in civil lawsuits or criminal charges.
Except, apparently, if you are the ultimate entertainment industry power broker, or network president, or Silicon Valley tycoon. Weinstein’s behavior was widely known and, it seems, studiously ignored; the Times reported Weinstein reached at least eight settlements with women alleging harassment and misconduct.
Indeed, Weinstein’s employment contract, as detailed by TMZ, seems to have been crafted with future instances in mind. It provides that if Weinstein “treated someone improperly in violation of the company’s Code of Conduct,” he would have to reimburse the company for settlements or judgments and pay escalating fines – $250,000 for the first instance, up to $1 million for the fourth episode and beyond. You could look at this as an effort to deter misbehavior – or simply to put a price on it.
Under the contract, as long as Weinstein writes the requisite check, that is deemed to “cure” his misconduct and he is immune from further punishment. Somehow the Weinstein Co. board’s expressions of “shock” and “dismay” and “utter surprise” ring rather hollow in the face of these reported provisions. This was not a company committed to keeping women safe.
“I got to get help. You know what, we all make mistakes,” Weinstein said last week, repeating his hope for “a second chance.” Help? Mistakes? Second chance? No. No. No. This man may need help, but he deserves consequences, criminal consequences if possible. His casual invocation of “mistakes” only reveals the insincerity of his remorse.
Weinstein is sorry only that he was, finally, exposed. He hopes to buy his way out of the problem, this time not with a settlement and nondisclosure agreement, but with pricey rehab. As James Hamblin wrote on TheAtlantic.com, “The ability to even attempt to sell this narrative is a luxury disproportionately afforded to powerful men – the ones who are not thugs or violent criminals but simply can’t help themselves. ... If there is diagnosable compulsion on display in this case, it seems to be an inability to hold oneself accountable.”
For that malady, there are not enough rehab beds in the world.
Washington Post Writers Group