“When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”
One year ago, almost to the day, audio of Donald Trump speaking to Access Hollywood host Billy Bush in 2004 was leaked, one month before the US election.
In the recording, he can be heard telling Bush about his attempts to pursue Bush’s co-host, Nancy O’Dell. “I moved on her, and I failed. I’ll admit it. I did try and f*ck her. She was married,” he says.
“You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.
“Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”
Now, an eerily similar recording has been released of Hollywood producer and studio executive Harvey Weinstein in 2015, trying to convince model Ambra Gutierrez to join him in his hotel room.
He doesn’t ask her to come in, he tells her. When she says she doesn’t feel safe because he “groped” her breast the day prior, Weinstein responds, “Oh, please, I’m sorry, just come on in. I’m used to that. Come on. Please.”
“You’re used to that?” Gutierrez asks.
“Yes. Come in… I won’t do it again, come on, sit here,” Weinstein urges.
LISTEN: ‘Secret recording of Harvey Weinstein’ from the The New Yorker.
For any woman, Weinstein’s tone is disturbing. He expects obedience. His frustration is palpable. Haunting yet familiar.
When asked about Harvey Weinstein over the weekend, President Trump said he “was not at all surprised” by the allegations, admitting to having “known Harvey Weinstein for a long time”. In response to whether Weinstein’s behaviour was inappropriate, Trump didn’t personally weigh in, simply commenting, “well, he says they were inappropriate”.
A reporter then asked if Weinstein’s history had any similarities with Trump’s own, to which Trump responded, “that’s locker room, that’s locker room”.
But perhaps the scandal dominating the media conversation at the moment is the clearest example we’ve seen that the “locker room” is not far from the hotel, or the restaurant, or the studio. Conversations between men form understandings about what is and isn’t acceptable, and in turn, what is and isn’t appropriate behaviour.
Listen to the Mamamia Out Loud team discuss everything going on with Harvey Weinstein. Post continues after audio.
Of course, the obvious problem with Trump’s “locker room” defense, according to Dr Rebecca Sheehan, Program Director of Gender Studies at Macquarie University, is that his words were literally about actions. He talks about physically grabbing women “by the pussy” and trying to have sex with a woman and ‘failing’.
Likewise, Weinstein’s language of entitlement (“You must come here right now… I’m a famous guy”) translated directly into alleged actions for decades.
His words, and his tone, sound so familiar not only because we heard the President speak in a similar manner only one year ago, but also because many women have heard the men around them speak in the same way.
Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, and other men in the spotlight for sexual misconduct aren’t “sociopathic baby-men” as The Cut described earlier this week. They’re part of a broader culture that tells men they’re entitled to women and their bodies.
After all, when the President of the United States will not, or cannot, vilify the actions of a man who by his own admission "caused a lot of pain" to his colleagues, apparently because he "came of age" at a time where "rules about workplaces and behaviour were different," why are we surprised by what is unfolding? These actions are common, they're excused, and for most of history, they've been met with silence.
"It may be the case that there are individual pathologies... that contribute to the extent to what [men like Weinstein] think they're entitled to," says Sheehan. "But I think it's more productive, in terms of combating the problem, to think about it as one that we share." Of course, Weinstein by no means exists in a vacuum.
Sheehan says behaviour like Trump's and Weinstein's exists on a continuum, and becomes more extreme with "opportunity".
In the last few days, we've heard a loud conversation emerge about those who say they weren't aware of Weinstein's behaviour, and those who allegedly knew and protected him. Sheehan thinks it's crucial more men come out to condemn the Hollywood producer's actions, and admit to knowing what was going on. But for women, it's more complex.
"There's a reason people have been silent for decades about this... because people know, if you speak up it will cost you," she says.
"Considerations of capitalism and labor are really important here."
In fact, she says the reason Weinstein's story is only getting so much traction now "is because we're in a time where social media is enabling global push back. It allows people to think, 'OK, I can say something about this'."
It's this phenomenon that has led her to feel optimistic in the wake of these harrowing stories. For Sheehan, reading the latest article from the New Yorker, where thirteen women told their stories of sexual assault and harassment at the hands of Weinstein, she found herself feeling excited. What it means is: "we're coming for you, you can't hide anymore," says Sheehan.
Both Trump and Weinstein have spent decades assuming that fame and power entitles them to anything - including women.
But perhaps the cracks we're seeing in Weinstein's reputation are the first steps in breaking a foundation that needed to shatter.
"When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything."