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Weinstein’s sentence proves the tide is turning. Let’s keep pushing for change

Harvey Weinstein has been sentenced to 23 years in prison, after being found guilty of third degree rape and first degree criminal sexual act. Let this be fuel for the revolution, says Nell Frizzell.

Where were you when you found out that Harvey Weinstein was going to jail for 23 years?

I was looking for ‘dinosaur teeth’ in the brick-flecked soil of my local park, crouching down beside my two-year-old son. Quickly scrolling through Twitter – as the knee-height boy to my right did his best paleontologist impression with a big stick – I read that a powerful man accused of rape and sexual assault by six women who testified in court, as well as dozens of others who are yet to have their cases heard, had been found guilty.

Brilliant, I thought. Let’s keep going. You see, sexual harassment, assault and rape are a particularly painful part of a whole culture of female exploitation, found across probably every industry you care to name. 

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As an intersectional feminist, I want the sentencing of Harvey Weinstein to be a catalyst for the greater emancipation of all oppressed groups held hostage by the financial, social and legal stronghold of white, privileged men. 

That means people of colour, women, people with disabilities, migrants, trans people, poor people, educationally disadvantaged people; the whole pinata of those who do not feel innately protected and served by the current system. I want those people to have the legal protection, financial security, right to citizenship and widespread support that makes it possible to stand up against the people, bosses, work practices and companies mistreating them.

Harvey Weinstein has been sentenced to 23 years in prison.

This week I’ve been reading Difficult Women, Helen Lewis’ history of feminism in 11 fights. In the book, Lewis relates the story of Jayaben Desai; the South Asian woman, mother and employee who led the historic Grunwick Strike against the photo-processing plant in which she worked. Desai spent two years on the picket line, demanding better employment practices and the right to join a trade union (just as the women at the Ford plant in Dagenham had done eight years earlier). 

I want that campaigning spirit to be reawoken in this modern age of profound wealth inequality, zero-hour contracts, privatisation of public services and the gig economy. I want to see the new Jayaben Desais take down the Harvey Weinsteins of this world, new and old. Not just in instances of inappropriate sexual behaviour (although, as the last few years have brought blindingly to the surface, there is plenty of that to still be tackled) but in all situations where somebody’s race, wealth and reputation allows them to mistreat and exploit people who don’t have those privileges.

I want to see non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) being torn up instead of used to gag students, employees, spouses and tenants who seek to settle grievances with their landlords, universities, employers and partners. I want to see powerful men in retail, construction, engineering, science, education, the church, transport, business and all other industries and institutions held to account for their behaviour. 

Not just sexual misdemeanours but all unethical or exploitative behaviour; putting pressure on a new mother to stay late at the office, making jokes about someone’s headscarf as she cleans your building, employing immigrants in the hope that they won’t be too well-informed about sick pay and holiday entitlement. Or getting your intern to do your work while you go to play football with the rest of the managers in your department, or fighting someone over what bathroom they can use, what entrance they can use, what lift they can use. 

Of course, not all these are offences that deserve prison, but they do need to be punished, rooted out and eventually eliminated from modern life.

If the prospect of a galvanised and emancipated workforce scares you, then I’m sorry. If the thought of Weinstein being sent to prison for two decades makes you feel uneasy, then I’m sorry. If the idea that the disestablishment of privilege might make your life harder, scarier and more uncertain then, truly, you do have my sympathy. 

As a white, middle class, university-educated woman I am fully aware that I have succeeded in many cases precisely because I had an unfair advantage born of systematic privilege. But that in itself is unfair. It isn’t right.

By the time my son is 25, and Weinstein’s first sentence comes to an end, the world is going to look very different. This is our opportunity to make that world a fairer place. Fairer environmentally, through our action on climate change. Fairer socially, through things like doing away with private education and restricting inherited wealth. Fairer financially, by reinvigorating the trade union movement and putting a cap on the disparity between maximum and minimum earners within the same company. Fairer sexually, by coming to see gender and sexuality as constructs rather than binaries. 

Fairer domestically, by making housing affordable to all perhaps, for instance, by banning second homes. Fairer internationally, by addressing the causes for migration rather than punishing those who choose to move, and fairer culturally, by educating everyone in the benefits of a more equal society.

In the future, when somebody picks through the dinosaur teeth of this current era with their tiny son, I hope they find the seeds of change.

Images: Getty

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