Donald Trump, Chris Brown, Woody Allen. What do they all have in common?
They are all men who sexually assaulted women and lost their careers.
Oh wait, no. Never mind. I was just dreaming of an alternate universe where men are held accountable for their actions. Where criminals lose their jobs. Where rapists go to jail.
But I forgot we live in a world where a man can be accused of being a sexual predator and receive the highest honour in his field. Where a man can brag about sexually assaulting women and then become the President of the United States.
This weekend, at the 89th Academy Awards, North America added Casey Affleck to that list of men. Men who have been accused of sexually harassing, sexually assaulting or raping women and going on to enjoy a plentiful and fruitful career.
In 2010, two women accused Casey Affleck of vicious sexual harassment while working with him on the film “I’m Still Here.” Amanda White, producer, states she was bombarded with abusive text messages when she refused to share a room with Affleck. Magdalene Gorka, cinematographer, alleges she woke up in her private hotel room to find Affleck "curled up next to her in the bed wearing only his underwear and a T-shirt.”
Seven years later, without a blip in his career, Casey Affleck stood on the most prestigious stage in Hollywood, in front of millions, and accepted the Oscar for Best Actor.
Also in attendance at this year’s Academy Awards was Mel Gibson, who threatened to rape and kill his ex-girlfriend. This year he won 6 awards for the film he directed, Hacksaw Ridge.
It appears white men in entertainment can get away with pretty much anything. Claims of abuse against women won’t stop them from progressing in their careers. It didn’t not stop Affleck from receiving the highest award in his field, and it didn’t hinder the continued success of Woody Allen, Sean Penn, Mike Tyson, Roman Polanski, etc.
This past weekend, we literally awarded trophies to two men accused of sexual assault and harassment.
As journalist Sady Doyle said, “Keeping great male ‘artists’ around while they endanger their female coworkers isn't only unjust, it actively lowers the number of great female artists.” If we create an environment where women are expected to accommodate and humour predatory men, rather than focus on honing their talents, we will see an appreciable drain of female talent.
Awarding these people is a sad reminder of a pervasive pattern. When someone wins an Oscar, their career usually skyrockets. Because of this, Affleck will likely get greater opportunities and greater recognition. This heightened success will make him more untouchable, and as a result, the women he harms will more likely be deprived of a voice.
These awards mean more than a single trophy. Any event that awards individuals, including the Oscars, represents a consensus of what we value as a society. By consistently failing to acknowledge the talent of people of colour, we demonstrate that society values whiteness. By continuing to celebrate men accused of sexual assault, we show that the safety and dignity of women is secondary to a job well done. We teach people, from a very young age, that the bodily integrity of women does not matter.
This issue is even more important, just as it was last year when the Academy demonstrated its white supremacist leanings, because these patterns exist outside of Hollywood.
Being white and male can be a powerful shield against failure, even in the face of evidence that an honour – be it a promotion, award, or pay raise - is not deserved. In same way that we “separate art from the artist,” we somehow find a way to excuse men in other professions when they violate the security and bodily integrity of women. When a white man sexually assaults a woman, it is dubbed a ‘scandal’ and the man gets a slap on the wrist or a week of bad press.
When we turn a blind eye to men who jeopardize women’s safety and violate women’s security of person, ignoring their disregard for gender equality and basic human rights, we tell society that the dignity of a woman is lesser. Lesser than a man’s reputation. Lesser than a man’s job. Lesser than a man’s corporate aspirations.
When we award men who do horrible things we trivialize claims of sexual assault and downplay violence against women. We let men off the hook for committing crimes. We let them take their trophy and run off into the sunset, never having to think about the consequences of their actions.
Meanwhile, women are left standing. Whispers of “you don’t matter,” ringing in their ears.