Dec 2017

In Defense of Meryl Streep.

By Margaret Gardiner

Being accused of ‘knowing’ when you didn’t, is an injustice because it makes you culpable.

Accusing Meryl Streep of ‘knowing’ of Harvey’s predatory behavior and being culpable in her silence, does not help the cause of rectifying predatory behavior. It doesn’t take into account her long history of speaking out on issues others are complacent about. It doesn’t take into account her outrage that would bubble up as a mother of daughters in the industry, who would go toe to toe with anyone who abused young women. It also does not take into account the real issue of charismatic, powerful people operating and functioning normally at work and society, while behaving like scum with those they choose.

The Blame Game

That is the very power of predatory behavior. You look at these high functioning people and go: ‘I cannot believe it. It must be the woman.’ I cannot tell you how many people bring up women who manipulate men into favors or who trade sex for success when discussing predatory behavior. We don’t live in a fairy tale where women don’t do that. However, that is a totally different issue. Tempting someone is different from forcing. Consensual is different from coercion. If your ability to earn a wage is threatened by someone who feels they have a right to touch your body without your permission, that is not akin to anyone trying to get another to give them favors attached to their physicality. Neither is acceptable, but they are different issues.

Who Knows What When

What else is different, is working with someone and knowing what they do in their private choices. If they do not share, or you do not experience their depravity, you do not know. When I was very young, in front of my family, an older man flicked his tongue into my mouth in their presence. I didn’t understand what had happened. It was so fast that no one was aware of what had happened and to this day I have not shared it with them. They were there and they did not know.

Why Don’t We Know?

I mention this because to the people who are abused the behavior is blatant. How can everyone not know? The answer is that abusers are solicitous in their choices. They are less likely to cross the line with someone who is powerful enough to be believed, or who has the clout to make others question if the victim is telling the truth. A large category of victimized women are younger, starting out in their careers, unsure of how to respond, without the power to call out the behavior and still prosper in their careers. Meryl Streep does not fall into that category. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen to strong, powerful women. At a recent We Do It Together/the Alliance of Women Directors panel discussion, a man in the audience shared that his wife, who is a powerful and successful business woman, was having a meeting with venture capitalists – two men – over a private lunch. Dessert was served and one of the men left the room to go to the bathroom. It was then that the second man lent in and said, “I want to spread this chocolate cake all over your body and lick it off.” Did the man who left the room have any idea of what was going on in his absence? Until it happened to her, did the woman who it happened to suspect that this man did this to potential business partners? You don’t know unless it happens to you or a victim tell you.

That’s what makes predatory behavior such an insidious thing. And when it does happen to you, because of how women who do speak up have been treated, you feel shame, shock, guilt. Did you do something that encouraged it? If you talk about it will you be ostracized and accused? Will it effect your ability to be promoted, get work? One of the women who actually had the courage to take on Weinstein and report him to the police allegedly had the case go cold because she had spoken up against another man. Some women endure harassment their entire lives and speak out about it and fight it and have not been believed. Some women are never harassed. That doesn’t mean that those who are harassed have done anything to provoke unwanted behavior. Because it has happened more than once with multiple predators does not mean it is because of anything you have done. Here’s a reminder. If in doubt the words, ‘No,’ ‘Don’t’ and ‘Stop’ are clear indicators that this is not consensual. But even those words are not enough to make a predator cease.

They were there, they should have known?

One woman reported being caught in a hallway from the bathroom at a party while Weinstein allegedly gratified himself. Within feet, there was a room of people partying. Did they know? Were they complicit?

Who knew what when? It’s an insidious question that casts innocents as adversaries and tarnishes advocates. Compliance, complacency and enabling – all of these are part and parcel of the climate that allows inequality of gender and ethnicity to flourish. They are also responsible for bullying and a host of other atrocities that humanity seems incapable of ceasing in a broader sense. Ethnic divides and ethnic cleansing. Religious intolerance. My right versus yours. The entitled pillaging the less able, because they can. The world is full of injustices.

Some women escaped and had no cause to suspect that their experience was not everyone’s

It is an injustice to tarnish Meryl Streep with ‘knowing’, merely because she worked with Harvey Weinstein. As an entertainment reporter I can categorically say that there is almost no one that doesn’t have a story about someone, not necessarily predatory, and not necessarily true. Fallacious whispers abound. Some may be legit. Some may not. I encountered Harvey Weinstein on several occasions without incident. Sharon Waxman, of The Wrap, also often had cause to interact with him in the course of doing business. She told a group at the recent panel discussion on Solutions to Inequity* that she had considered him a friend. It never happened to her. In fact she reports that someone quoted him as saying about her, ‘That dame won’t play ball,’ so, as a powerful journalist, don’t you think if there were whispers of the specifics of the predatory behavior that reached her, that she would have pursued it? One assumes that there are extra martial dalliances, but you assume they are consensual, not coerced. There were a lot of women who encountered Harvey Weinstein, and met with him in hotel suites, and came away unscathed. Business was conducted. From what has been subsequently shared, they were the lucky ones. So don’t target Streep. There are many stories that are whispered about; not everyone hears every story. Because you heard it, doesn’t mean that everyone heard the same story.

Speaking up

While interviewing her for The Post, Streep confessed to another reporter, “I am not brave. I don’t want to be in front of anybody talking about anyone. It’s not my thing.” When I asked her why she took on the issue of pesticides in the late 80’s early 90’s, when no one else was having success, her reply was simple. No one else “had a platform to speak.” “There were some very loud mouthed people, but no-one would listen to them. So I had to speak for them.” “On lots of different issues of different things I’ve worked on, and tried to help in,” (my involvement) “is to amplify something because I can, on behalf of the people who don’t have a voice.”

Receiving the Cecil B. DeMille Award for Lifetime Achievement at the 2017 Golden Globes, she championed press freedoms, and criticized Donald Trump. That was before the Women’s March had happened and before the Weinstein revelations. Meryl Streep has a history of speaking up and out when she’s aware of injustices. Tarnishing her for calling on women to wear black to the Golden Globes as a silent protest that would speak volumes in the sea change that is happening amongst women, is missing the point and a low point in our call for unity and activism in bringing about change. It’s a personal choice to follow her suggestion or not. Wearing black may not change the power structures that exist overnight. Small actions have large consequences. A sea of women in black would send a message: We hear you. We believe you. We are with you. We are going to fight to evoke change.

Stay tuned for more updates on future panel discussions. Let me know your thoughts. Follow me on Twitter at: @Margaretggg Read about women behind the camera succeeding in entertainment despite making up less than 25% of the industry in most categories in occupations behind the camera on: