This week, four Hebrew Academy students-Jacob Rosmarin (12th grade), Ava Horowitz (12th), Caleb Katz (12th), and Raquel Zohar (11th)-sat down to discuss the recent sexual harassment allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein to try to understand why this happened, how it can be prevented in the future, and how it applies to their own lives. The following is part of their conversation, moderated by Mrs. Handwerger.
Mrs. Handwerger: As you guys know, recently in the news, the famous film producer Harvey Weinstein of the Weinstein Company, formally of Miramax, has been in the news for over 27 years of sexual harassment of women in Hollywood. So, we wanted to have a conversation about this so that we could try to understand, you know, how we could prevent this type of atmosphere, whether it be in our own school, in the workplace, in college-where you guys will be soon-how we can prevent this type of atmosphere that condoned and facilitated his behavior. So, let’s just start with defining the words “sexual harassment.” How do you guys define those words?
Caleb Katz: I think sexual harassment is when you do something against someone else’s will in a sexual manner. I don’t know, something like that.
Raquel Zohar: I don’t know if it’s necessarily against someone’s will, I think it’s just something that objectifies or degrades someone sexually, or may escalate to something potentially as bad as, and G-d forbid anyone has to go through this, rape.
Jacob Rosmarin: It’s taking advantage of someone for their sex.
Ava Horowitz: I like Raquel’s definition.
Mrs. Handwerger: Let me give you guys the formal definition. The formal definition is “harassment, typically of a woman, in a workplace, or other professional or social situation, involving the making of unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks.” Does that kind of change the way you guys think of it?
Raquel: A little, yeah.
Ava: A little, I guess.
Mrs. Handwerger: So, in regards to Harvey Weinstein, did this upset you, did this shock you? What did you guys think when this came out? What were your thoughts?
Raquel: It was disgusting. He’s an icon in Hollywood, a billionaire, well-known, people look up to him, and behind the curtain, underlying everything, there are 27 disgusting years of sexual harassment, treating women like garbage, and it’s appalling. It’s sad to say, because someone mentioned Quentin Tarantino and how he knew about what was happening and did nothing about it because it’s the culture of the environment he’s in, and if it’s so accepted, then I don’t know what kind of world we’re living in anymore because it’s repulsive.
Ava: It’s true. I think it’s sadly, probably more common in that world than we think it is.
Raquel: We hear only a fraction of what is actually happening.
Caleb: When I heard it, I wasn’t surprised because this stuff is so prevalent today and it always happens, but I was just disgusted by all of this. Not only is it a Chillul Hashem because he’s Jewish, and everyone knows him as Jewish, and his last name is Weinstein, but also whether you’re Jewish or not or anything, it’s disgusting to think that just because you have money or power, you can exert your will on other people, whether you’re a man or woman or anything. You can’t, it doesn’t make it okay to do that.
Jacob: What we have to understand is that this is Hollywood and that’s just what it is. I wasn’t surprised, and I never really thought about Harvey Weinstein before but it’s not surprising to hear that something like this came out of Hollywood. What we have to understand is that Quentin Tarantino and all these people, why they didn’t speak up, why didn’t the actresses speak up, it’s because everyone is focusing on the actresses, they should’ve spoken up but they didn’t right, because Harvey Weinstein could make or break their careers in a second. Quentin Tarantino is a man made by Harvey Weinstein, and just like Harvey can destroy any of those actresses, he can destroy Tarantino. It was said that Quentin Tarantino, he’s good for coming out and saying that he knew about this but that he’s still a bad person or something along those lines, but he was in the same exact situation that the actresses were in.
Raquel: I agree with you 100 percent in that if he said something, Weinstein could have sabotaged his career as he did “create” Quentin Tarantino, but at the same time, it really comes down to what your morals are. Are you going to put yourself first or are you going to be a moral person and speak about what is actually happening?
Jacob: I don’t think we’re in any place to judge these people for whether or not they said anything.
Caleb: But I think now, Tarantino is big enough, like I understand if you’re a struggling person or if Harvey Weinstein gave you an opportunity, you’re not going to say anything because your career is your life, but if you’re Quentin Tarantino, who’s big for like 15 or 20 years, you’re not still living under Harvey Weinstein. He’s at the point where he doesn’t need other people to succeed. Everyone hears that name and associates it with some of the greatest movies ever made. He could have easily come out and said this was wrong and it wouldn’t have affected his career.
Jacob: I don’t know if that’s necessarily true. There are things that Harvey Weinstein is the most powerful man in Hollywood. Hollywood is its own ecosystem. I think he could have destroyed Tarantino and made him never work again. He may have never gotten another production company to produce his movies.
Mrs. Handwerger: Well let me ask you guys, as guys, would you have come forward and called it out?
Caleb: I mean it’s a tough situation to put us in because there’s so many different factors that play into any given situation, you can’t say that. Yes, obviously, it’s the moral thing to do, and yes we should all do it, and 100 times out of 100 I would come out and say it, but there’s always things playing into situations that people don’t think about and people don’t know about and there are reasons that people, like Jacob said, don’t come out and there are reasons the people themselves didn’t come out and say something. You can’t say with 100 percent certainty that you would come out in that kind of situation and say something.
Raquel: He’s right, we don’t live in a perfect world, and we won’t always be able to say that we would do the moral thing and follow a good route out of things, because we don’t know that.
Ava: Maybe not in our world, but in a world where they make movies and the producers and directors, I think it does come down to morals because this guy could have put all those women first and saved them from the sexual harassment by just saying something, but instead he chose to further progress his career and chose himself.
Mrs. Handwerger: Well, do you guys think that this type of environment you’re describing could apply to other types of environments, or do you think it is exclusive to Hollywood?
Raquel: No, not exclusive at all, not even close. I think it may have been you, Mrs. Handwerger, who mentioned that the corporate offices in Uber were having a lot of allegations of sexual harassment. I think power gets to people’s heads and they think they can do whatever they want and then they disregard people’s feelings, people’s lives, anything like that. Anything moral, anything personal, anything emotional, and it gets to the point where it’s just all of these different immoral things. Bad is just coming out of all these places of abused power because people think they’re just above everything.
Ava: I think it’s that there is no problem with the power that they have but what they do with the power and how they take advantage of it.
Jacob: Power goes to people’s heads. People are billionaires and in control of the entire industry. Anyone in a position of power lets it get to their head.
Ava: I don’t see that as necessarily a problem, I see the problem as the people that are in control, not the control itself.
Raquel: I agree. I mean, Jacob’s right. Hollywood is a reliant industry, but what is it reliant on? The problem begins with the people enumerating the terms of getting somewhere in the industry.
Ava: People are doing these bad things and abusing their power. They can choose not to abuse their power-
Raquel: Yes, but those people in power, Harvey Weinstein for example, don’t care. They’re doing what benefits them.
Ava: That’s a problem with Harvey Weinstein, you can’t say there is a problem with the power.
Jacob: I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if everyone at the top of the Hollywood pyramid was doing something like this.
Mrs. Handwerger: How can we prevent this type of atmosphere from occurring, for example, perhaps in our own school or perhaps when you go to college or when you’re working? Are there any preventative measures we can take?
Caleb: I think it’s all about accountability. You see all this stuff coming out about Harvey Weinstein but what in the end is actually going to happen to him? If they do something to him and show that there are consequences for people’s actions, maybe people will start to get the point, but if people are just allowed to do this because they’re powerful and do whatever they want and pay the best lawyers and get a minimal jail sentence, or fines, and don’t end up having to pay the price for what they did, and you don’t hold people accountable, it’s going to go on forever.
Raquel: I agree. I also think education is a big part of everything in life, specifically these situations. Some people are harassed and don’t even know that they were harassed and sure, they think whatever may have happened was bad or left them uncomfortable, but they don’t actually know what harassment is so they have no way of knowing they were harassed. It works conversely as well. Education is also important to ensure people know what harassment is so that they don’t do it. It’s both knowing if you were harassed or knowing if you are harassing.
Ava: I agree with Raquel on the education part. I think the education of what harassment is and how not to do it is very important.
Jacob: Education is the best preventative.
Raquel: Knowledge is power.