When I saw Wednesday’s New York Times headline, “Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks on Power and the #MeToo Moment,” I breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, Streep will say something meaningful about Harvey Weinstein and sexual assault.
But, after I read the Q&A (which was pegged to Streep and Hanks’s new film, The Post), I grew angry: Streep clearly still doesn’t get it.
When reporter Cara Buckley asked the 68-year-old actor about her experience with sexual harassment throughout her decades-long career, Streep replied with the most head-banging response: “I have experienced things, mostly when I was young and pretty. Nobody comes on to me [now].”
In other words, Streep basically reiterated a harmful rape myth that only women of a certain age and appearance get sexually assaulted. She implied that you’re less of a target for sexual predators if you’re not young and pretty. We know this is not true.
Sexual assault is often about power and control. As reiterated by the U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women: “Offenders often choose people whom they perceive as most vulnerable to attack or over whom they believe they can assert power. Sexual assault victims come from all walks of life.” And, as clearly articulated in a recent Guardian article about sexual harassment at work: “Often the target of the harassment has low power in the workplace.”
This was evident in Weinstein’s pattern of behaviour. Weinstein is alleged to have preyed upon actors when they were first starting out. It is also understood he victimized women who lacked the power and connections he had and lured them under the guise of career opportunities. His alleged victims were seen as targets, not powerhouses.
That’s why, after all of this, it’s super disappointing to hear Streep—a smart, well-accomplished woman—perpetuate a messed-up sexual abuse misconception. Is it Streep’s job to be an advocate for survivors and victims of sexual assault? No. But is it her job to educate herself on the realities of sexual harassment and abuse? Absolutely. And even more so, given the condemnation she faced for her response to the news about Weinstein in the first place.
In October, Streep—who has worked on many Weinstein-backed movies including August: Osage County and The Iron Lady—released a statement where she denied knowing about Weinstein’s behaviour and called the allegations inexcusable. In December, Rose McGowan called out Streep for her “hypocrisy” in a now-deleted tweet that said, “Actresses, like Meryl Streep, who happily worked for The Pig Monster, are wearing black @GoldenGlobes in a silent protest. YOUR SILENCE is THE problem.” Later, Streep issued another statement, this time addressing McGowan’s allegations and saying again that she didn’t know about Weinstein.
Listen, I am not a right-wing conspiracy theorist like street artist Sabo, who believes that Streep fully knew about Weinstein’s behaviour. But I’m not sure I buy that she had absolutely no suspicions or never heard any whispers, either. And given that countless women have come forward sharing stories about Weinstein, Streep needs to be incredibly careful with her words.
Streep has this Mother Meryl persona that women gravitate towards. I, too, look up to her as someone who has had an incredible career and has stood up for important causes, especially when it comes to politics. She’s an advocate for human rights and avid supporter of the arts. Plus, she is legitimately talented. What’s not to admire in that?
It’s ironic that during a conversation about power and #MeToo, Streep failed to recognize her own position of power and how important her words are. She’s a white, talented and successful woman with a voice in show business. People listen when she talks—even the President of the United States does. She has influence and connections. She has authority.
And it’s because of those very reasons that people looked to her to respond to the Weinstein allegations. And it’s because of those very reasons that we shouldn’t excuse her comments.
Instead of repeating “I didn’t know” and using age and sex appeal as a barometer for sexual assault, Streep needs to wake up. She needs to understand how positions of power work—especially when it comes to sexual harassment—and stop spewing harmful remarks. In other words, she should know better.
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