I think most women have a lot to say about the Harvey Weinstein saga and Tarana Burke’s #MeToo movement that has been so influential in bringing sexual assault like Weinstein’s to light.
I’m writing this in the wake of the conviction of Weinstein in New York for sex offenses and on the day his 23 year sentence has just been announced.
The point I want to focus on (out of the countless points that could be made) is his response to being convicted because I think it is his own words that are the most telling.
“I am innocent, I am innocent, I am innocent. How can this happen in America?”
What version of America?
I consciously detach myself from feelings of anger and incredulity at how a man can claim his innocence after being convicted by a court of law and over ninety women coming forward with accusations against Weinstein of sexual misconduct.
I do this because I have a dawning awareness that in his eyes, he is speaking the truth.
Reading his simple statement, I begin to understand that he is speaking a lot more to the version of America that he lives in, than any statement of innocence.
I remember an observation I made as a young woman watching offenders committing hate crimes against women and being released on bail, such as Amie Harwick’s recent murderer, early from jail, or not being convicted at all despite clear evidence of wrongdoing against their victims:
“Innocence lies in the Eyes of the Beholder”
As I “stoically” contemplate Weinstein’s statement, I realize that it holds profound grains of insight that we can bravely learn from and would benefit from acknowledging.
He genuinely believes in his own innocence because up until now, he has dwelled in a version of America where sexually assaulting women doesn’t mean he has done anything wrong.
In his version of America, he has the right to grope, rape, and assault a woman.
Does that make him crazy? Unhinged? Psychopathic? The scarier thought that crosses my mind, is no, no it doesn’t. Not in the eyes of some lawmakers, peers, associates, clubs, and societies that occupy his version of America.
There is a version of America where Weinstein’s violations of a woman’s dignity and human rights are perfectly acceptable.
Weinstein’s version of America is closer and more familiar than we may realize
Weinstein’s claim of innocence is based on a version of America that assumes that there is a hierarchy of legal rights, status, gender, and ethnicity where certain categories of people, such as the group he belongs to, i.e. economically powerful, white, and male, have the right to behave as they wish and treat others in complete disregard of their humanity.
His claim is backed up by the lack of any effective and reliable legal and police interventions into domestic violence or the ‘private sphere’ in the 1990’s, that are still only sparsely recognized and enforced, even today. Hence the confusion as to why a man could think that just by entering a woman’s hotel room, she’s consenting to his sexual advances. The law, the police and his male peers were mostly on his side of the story.
He genuinely believes that the legal system in America is going to offer him protection of his right to wield his power against others in the form of sexual assault. On being sentenced, Weinstein argued that men are being accused of “things that none of us understood.” and “I’m totally confused. I think men are confused about these issues.”
I’m led to a sobering observation.
How does a version of America like this even exist?
This is the America that legitimized violence against slaves and genocide against native Americans and indigenous populations when Europeans first arrived on its shores.
This is the America that set up very clear power structures to favor white men by affording them more economic, political, and social rights than any other group.
This is the America that used the church and religion to sanctify and justify inequality.
This is the America that until recently denied women, Native-Americans, Asian-Americans and African-Americans the right to vote and equal civil rights are still being fought out in the arena of race discrimination, equal pay, Disability and LGBTQ rights.
This is the America whose laws until very recently did not recognize rape within marriage.
This is the America that defines ‘democracy’ in the same way the Greeks did: an institutionalized hierarchy of classes based on inequality with white, powerful men at the top, and everyone else as second or third and even non-classified citizens without the right to speak up and defend themselves.
This is the America that Weinstein is referring to.
In his America a sex offender can sit in total disbelief that his innocence is being denied by a jury, he assumed would protect him as a powerful, white man, and mutter “I’m totally confused. I think men are confused about these issues.”
A Fair Trial?
Some believe that Weinstein was denied a fair trial and the protection of his presumption of innocence, due to the media coverage against him and the #MeToo movement.
In Weinstein’s own words, “Thousands of men are losing due process. I’m worried about this country,” arguing that men are being accused of “things that none of us understood.”
Does this mean his victims should not have spoken up? Does this imply they had no right to break the silence of abuse and violations of their dignity when lawmakers and authorities would not listen? Does this mean his victims owed Weinstein a duty to protect his presumption of innocence?
Who gets to speak the truth? And who is hoping to silence it?
If the presumption of innocence is an objective standard that can only be fairly and impartially applied in a court of law, why are our prisons filled with a majority of African-American and Hispanic inmates despite only making up 32% of the US population?
Perhaps the public voice and internet is where the fairest trial can occur in America today.
Perhaps we need to examine whether we have a fair and objective legal system and standard of justice, if Weinstein, and other men like him, don’t understand what they are doing wrong.
I am advocating that with the power of online movements like #MeToo and individual women stepping up like Rosa Parks did to speak out against distortions of power and inequality, we are in fact creating the fairest rule of law possible.
This is true democracy. The voice of the people. Stating what they know is true as human beings with the right to speak up when their dignity has been robbed by one of the most powerful men in America.
Democracy and the law should not be fixed in inequality. Fixed on a version of America that does not recognize that sexual assault is a crime against humanity.
I founded Equal Legal because I want to be a part of the movement to rebalance these unequal assumptions and prejudices in society by creating a new voice of power, economics and justice like #MeToo does.
I know that by women owning their power to make money, to grow strong businesses, to pass economic stability on to their daughters, by occupying spaces of authority in the public sphere and by leveraging this power in a new direction, we as women business owners, are the powerful new voices of America.
With access to affordable legal services that support women instead of working against us, we are rewriting the justice system with confidence, and defending the inalienable truth that we are all equal human beings deserving of equal dignity, economic power and respect, whoever we are.
My fight for women’s rights, and for women of color, through the platform of Equal Legal, is a fight for a new America where there is not one rule of law for some, and a different, less protective and prejudiced one for others.
What America do we want to live in?
When a man like Weinstein genuinely assumes his innocence despite violating so many other people’s dignity, we must ask, how do we create a version of America based on a true understanding of equality, respect and the rights of others, where every person truly understands what it means to violate these?
I personally welcome the proliferation of online movements like #MeToo and my own company Equal Legal who are questioning the power structures that legitimize inequalities, because for too long they have served only an elite few.
It’s time for Weinstein’s version of America to fade into the shadows of its disturbed past.
His conviction can, and absolutely has, just happened in our America.