Ever since allegations of sexual assault and rape were publicly broadcast against Hollywood bigwig and film producer, Harvey Weinstein, via an explosive New York Times expose, he has not been the only person vilified when discussing a cover-up scheme that appears to span decades.
Also being taken to task alongside Weinstein are the women of Hollywood. The female power players who have been the toast of Tinseltown, the ones given the juiciest, most iconic movie roles, the slew of actresses who have stood on stages holding trophies and personally thanked Weinstein for helping them climb the ladder to success.
Gwyneth Paltrow was called out across social media for posting holiday photos instead of commenting on Weinstein. Nicole Kidman was condemned for campaigning for women’s rights and then staying silent about her own dealings with him. Opinion writers questioned how Jennifer Lawrence could have attended an awards season circuit with him by her side and still not have said anything. The critical gaze also fell so hard on Meryl Streep and Judi Dench, both long-time collaborates of Weinstein, that they both had to issue public clarifications they had no idea these sexual assaults were taking place.
Since the allegations first came to light, public sentiment towards these woman has been crystal clear. They must have all known what was going on, and yet they said nothing. How could they let this keep happening, and even at the height of their careers, still keep their mouths shut? How could they?
Well, I know exactly why they did it and I’m completely ashamed to admit why.
It’s because I’ve done exactly the same thing.
I’ve worked in the media industry for decades and sexual harassment in the workplace has always just been a given, filed into the same category as working public holidays and attempting to stomach the horrible coffee stocked in newsroom kitchens.
The thing is, on paper and in public, I appear to be exactly the kind of person who would be first to call out sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour.
I’m a vocal feminist, I’ve penned think-pieces staunchly condemning misogynistic behaviour, I’ve attended women’s marches and gotten into heated arguments in smoky pubs with men about a women’s right to wear what she wants and sleep with who she chooses.
When it’s calling out sexism in an abstract, over-arching way, my footing is secure and my voice is loud.
But when it’s quietly happening behind the scenes in the workplace, a place where you’ve just scored your dream job, it’s a whole different world. Suddenly, the game is more dangerous, the stakes are higher and that loud voice you’ve been so proud of is no where to be heard.
The first time I witnessed a case of sexual abuse in the workplace, and said nothing, I was 19 years old.
While completing a degree, I scored a part-time job in a bustling media company and would happily spend hours taping out stories to fill the pages of their magazines. A lovely senior writer called Julie* was seated at the desk next to me, and even though she tasked with writing some of the company's most high profile stories and appearing on a local TV station, she was never too busy to answer my questions or help me wrangle an uncooperative photocopier.
Sometimes, I'd wander into the kitchen and find her in a whispered huddle with some of the other senior women in the office. Then there were the days she stopped coming into the building all together, or the days when she'd come in, sit in the boardroom with other colleagues for hours, and then leave.
Then one day, she never came back. A staff email went around explaining that she had resigned and congratulated her on all the "exciting new projects" she'd left to pursue.
Just before I left that office, I found out that Julie had made sexual harassment claims against a senior editor. But there had been no proof.
They'd butted heads so many times in public, there was the belief that she was just being difficult and had decided to move on. The man she had been talking about had always given me an uneasy feeling. The few times I'd spoken to him his eyes had lingered downward instead of meeting mine, he'd touched my arm a moment too long when giving me instructions.
But what kind of proof was that?
But the bigger reason I said nothing was that I was about to finish uni and desperate to score a job I'd heard was going at another office connected to this company.
Over the years, I watched that man rise through the ranks and even had some former colleges start to work for him. The whispers of his conduct grew louder, but never really bubbled to the surface. And to this day, I have still never said a word. I told myself I was too young, my voice wouldn't matter. I wasn't going to be the one who lost her career when no one else was speaking up. And I never saw Julie again.
A few years later, while working at an even bigger company, I saw workplace sexism in full swing once again.
There was an element of old school glamour to this place. I was sent on overseas writing assignments and put up at swanky hotels.
The publication would thrown huge, alcohol fuelled parties for investors and advertisers, parties the female staff were expected to attend and where we would circulate the room, chatting to powerful men in dark suits with bellowing laughs. Men who felt the need to give us big kisses on the cheek at both the beginning and the end of the night.
"They just want to have a good time and let off some steam, just a few laughs," one of the publishers assured us once on the way to one of those 'dos. "They love chatting to all you lovely young girls and hearing about your adventures! Just tell them some funny stories, have a drink and we'll make sure we organise taxis so you can get home."
During some of those nights, we all had wild, hilarious fun.
The female sales associates at our company would work the men who filled the room, making contacts which would lead to them meeting their advertising budgets. Members of our editorial team would talk to the more high profile, celebrity guests, men who we had interviewed for stories or who we were hoping could put in a good word for us so we could move up to the next stage of our careers.
And sometimes, things seemed to get a little out of hand. A group of party guests would get a little too handsy and we'd have to rescue one another. Or we'd all squeeze into one side of a booth so no one would have to sit next to the prominent radio announcer who was known for whispering inappropriate jokes into ladies' ears.
When I type it all out like that, I know that it all sounds horrendous and unforgivable, but at the time it was just the way things were.
I loved my job, the projects I was working on and some of the people I sat next to all day were incredibly kind and supportive. Why would I kick up a stink about a few inappropriate moments that came up in the course of our jobs? I feared that I'd sound like an unworldly, small town hick who didn't understand that this was just how the world worked and that men were sometimes wired this way.
The girl who finally got her dream job and then complained about having to attend glamorous parties.
Then one day, after a particularly wild soiree the night before, one of the women in my team came into the office and said that one of the males in our senior team had gotten out of control. He'd been waiting for a cab with her and had made sexual advances towards her, becoming angry when she'd said no. I listened to her story, hugged her and urged her to go to one of the head publishers, a man I thought she could trust, a man who was viewed as a bit of a "father figure" to everyone in the office.
He dealt with it immediately, called the perpetrator into his office and we could hear the screaming from downstairs.
He was ordered to apologise to my colleague (which he did, via email) and then he decided to "go the extra mile" and called her husband to apologise to him for daring to "disrespect his wife after having a few too many".
We all thought it was handled and moved on with our lives, but it's only now, years later, that I realise just how wrong those actions were. That business, and that industry, were already rotting from the core and it set the precedent that acts of sexual harassment and assault could be fixed with "heartfelt" apologies.
It was like walking into a flood holding a sponge and hoping it would stop the damage.
After I moved on from that company, a group of women who started working there just after me filed sexual assault charges against some members of the senior team. Including the kind "father figure" who had stepped in to sort out the mess the last time allegations like this had reared their ugly heads.
These woman then contacted me and asked for my help. Could I provide statements to their legal teams? Could I write a letter detailing what I had witnessed in my time there? Could I speak to the characters of these men and clarify the things they had done?
I knew that after years of burying my head in the sand, that this was crunch time.
All the excuses I'd whispered to myself in the past, the reasons why I had never stepped into the fray, had now lost their importance and cache.
I had told myself I was too young, but I wasn't that young anymore. I had told myself that I didn't want to lose my dream career, but surely I had proven myself enough now that I could stand this? I told myself I'd speak up if others did, now the army was mobilising around me. I'd told myself that I could never publicly speak out unless I knew for sure that it was happening, but this time there was not a doubt in my mind.
And even with all these assurances, it was still hard.
It's difficult to put yourself and your career on the line, knowing that you could be be branded a trouble maker and an employment risk. It's not easy to stand against powerful men whose presence causes you to relive uncomfortable memories. It's harrowing to think that your own actions, history and career could also be put under the microscope.
What if once, say at one of those parties, I had let things go too far? Did I only have the career I have now because I'd always played by the rules? Would I also be dragged through the mud and labelled an accomplice?
So when you're reading the coverage around Harvey Weinstein and you start to find it incredulous that so many of these actresses could have know what was happening and still kept their mouths shut, remember that we are all living in a world that make sit hard to apply ideals to real life situations.
And if you think that what's happening now, across the seas in the glamours world of Hollywood to beautiful actresses who live in multi-million dollar homes doesn't affect your life in any way, think again. Because what happens at the top drips down to the bottom, and if the people in your life and workplace are blaming and questioning the women in Hollywood for not speaking out, chances are they'll treat you, or me, in a similar way when our turn comes around.
The only way we'll all get out of this intact is to support the women involved, no matter how they choose to use their voice.