Those #SheKnew posters actually say a lot about society's problematic tendency to blame women
In the early morning hours of December 19th, posters taunting actress Meryl Streep as a Harvey Weinstein enabler — the words “She Knew” plastered across Streep’s image — appeared in several locations across Los Angeles. The posters feature a black-and-white photograph of Streep next to now-infamous alleged sexual predator, Weinstein. Across the actress’s face is a bright red bar overlaid with white text, an intentional stylistic choice that mimics the work of famed feminist artist Barbara Kruger. The only two words on the posters are “She knew” — an apparent allusion to Streep’s knowledge of Weinstein’s decades-long misconduct.
While it is crucial that we discuss the powerful systems and individuals who enable men like Weinstein, this week’s targeted attack of Streep — and the #SheKnew posters themselves — actually reveal the pubic’s problematic response to abuse scandals. After all the #MeToo movement has taught us, women are still being blamed for the sexual harassment and assault of themselves and other women.
Following publication of The New York Times investigative report on the Weinstein scandal, Streep was one of the first A-listers to speak out against the Hollywood magnate’s behavior. But that hasn’t saved her from heavy criticism by both her peers and the public. In addition to the #SheKnew posters, Streep has received social media backlash for her decision to join other actresses at the Golden Globes in wearing all black to show solidarity with sexual assault victims. Rose McGowan, one of the strongest voices in these discussions about sexual misconduct and a victim of Weinstein herself, called Streep a hypocrite for her public show of support and her purported private enabling of Weinstein. McGowan has since deleted her original critical tweet from December 16th, which read:
While Streep is being publicly dragged through the mud for her supposed silence — something the actress herself vehemently denies — men who are actually coming forward to admit wrongdoing are being celebrated.
Last week, Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson revealed that he did not cast actress Mira Sorvino in his films at the behest of the Weinstein brothers. According to his account, when Jackson brought up Sorvino while on the phone with the Weinsteins, they immediately hung up. Jackson never tried to address the topic again. Jackson openly and freely admitted to enabling the Weinstein machine that claimed dozens of sexual harassment and assault victims, not to mention derailed the careers of actresses like Sorvino and Ashley Judd, and the public’s response was largely positive. In fact, the director was openly praised for his honesty and bravery in retelling the story.
Meanwhile, there is a smear campaign being waged on one of the fiercest feminists in Hollywood because she claims she had no knowledge about the abuse — and, as usual, the public is having a hard time taking a woman at her word.
There is no proof that Steep knew about Weinstein’s behavior. There are no stories from other women in the industry claiming that Steep knew. By contrast, we can actually see the direct effect of Jackson’s enabling: Sorvino was not cast in his films, she was blacklisted by The Weinstein Company, and she was refused work by other directors. Quentin Tarantino, in an interview with The New York Times, also admitted to knowing more than enough to do more than he did (Tarantino, in fact, heard firsthand about Weinstein’s abuse from his ex-girlfriend, Sorvino).
So where are all of the “He knew” posters calling out the legions of men who have helped people like Weinstein build empires on intimidation, lies, and bribes?
Of course, they are nowhere to be found, because women are still held accountable for men’s bad behavior.
The attack against Streep is not by accident. Not only is she a woman, but she is a powerful, successful woman who regularly uses her platform to speak up on behalf of other women. She is a perfect scapegoat for people who want to distract from the fact that, by and large, white men are responsible for the swell of sexual assault accusations in Hollywood. But since Streep, a woman, was supposedly aware of Weinstein’s behavior, she takes on responsibility for it.
Yes, it is crucial we include enablers in discussions about sexual harassment and assault, but focusing on and publicly shaming women like Streep moves the discussion backwards.
Sexual harassment and assault are all about power, and to effectively dismantle the cultural systems supporting abusers, we have to expose the rot right down to the core. That means exposing assailants and those who helped them commit or hide their misdeeds; it’s a crucial part of the process for change. But we cannot draw attention away from the real issue (and real villains) to instead put unwarranted blame where it so often falls: at the feet of victims or other women.
In a passionate statement via People, Streep addressed McGowan’s claims that she enabled Weinstein, but Streep’s words can also serve as a response to the #SheKnew posters, and to anyone accusing her of hypocrisy:
In order to change that dangerous status quo, we need to change how we discuss sexual harassment and assault, starting with who we blame for its destructive consequences. Sexual violence is not a women’s issue that only women can prevent. It’s everyone’s issue, and it’s time we started treating it that way.