Jessica Hynes: Harvey Weinstein must be a watershed moment for women in the acting industry

"Beautiful women may have never been bigger business, but it was the men who held the purse strings. Incredibly, they still do"

(Getty, TL)

A tsunami of sleaze wipes out the career of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, and I, for one, am not surprised. Not surprised to hear that a man who once asked me to audition in a bikini [aged 19] should be exposed as a serial sexual predator. And certainly not surprised to hear that Hollywood should have provided happy hunting grounds for a man who ran a film empire worth $150 million and who could make or break an actor’s career at will.

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Hollywood burgeoned in a world riven with social injustices, and while you could say it shone a light on them and changed the world for the better, you could also argue that it glorified and reiterated the status quo both on screen and behind the scenes in the business culture that surrounded the industry and spawned “The Mogul”.

In the late 1700s, women had the vote in the state of New York, but after ten years it was taken away from them. This event signposted a business model that has echoed over centuries and across the world. If you take away rights, dignity and power from someone, you can pay them much less or nothing, and if you keep telling someone they’re worthless, they’ll start believing it.

The disenfranchisement of women was justified the same way that slavery was; through the propaganda of oppression, tin-pot popular literature and “science” that presented women as weak, stupid, subservient creatures whose usefulness could be measured by their ability to clean the house, be beautiful and possess sexual allure. All qualities that were, of course, calculated by men who were driven by cold, hard profit.

By the early years of the 20th century and the birth of film, Hollywood provided a chance for change. Naturally, the rules were the still the same for women: limited opportunities, limited pay cheques. Even though they now had the vote, they still lived in a society rotten with lies that had justified the deep-rooted injustices, which were still ever-present.

Yet with the dawning of the silver screen, women did acquire some power: the power of on-screen allure. How intoxicating to find your flawless face ten feet tall in an auditorium of adoring fans? Even more intoxicating, however, to be collecting the ticket sales.

Beautiful women may have never been bigger business, but it was the men who held the purse strings. Studio moguls and male actors consistently made much more than their female counterparts. Incredibly, they still do.

But what’s a few million between friends? Everyone got rich, but Hollywood moguls like Weinstein got the richest.

Mogul seems such a perfect word to describe someone with no morals or conscience. Moguls could have what – and who – they wanted. Hollywood became synonymous with power and wealth, and as a place where actresses get naked. They’d better get naked or they’re not getting their little faces up on the big screen. They should think themselves lucky they had a pretty face, the poor, weak, stupid, subservient creatures. That was the olden days, though… right?

I hope that this is a watershed moment, that the women who seek justice get it because they deserve it, that women in Hollywood take the reins and effect real change. The strength, safety and happiness of women globally has never been more under threat, nor more important.

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By Jessica Hynes