Jane Fonda: We listen to Weinstein’s accusers because they’re “famous and white”

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Moya Crockett
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Jane Fonda has suggested that many of the women accusing Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct have been listened to because of their fame and race.

The actress appeared on US TV channel MSNBC with her friend, the feminist activist Gloria Steinem, to discuss the Weinstein scandal. She said she applauded the women who have been brave enough to speak out against the disgraced Hollywood producer, but pointed out that it took a very specific set of women to get the world talking about the issue of sexual harassment.

“It feels like something has shifted,” Fonda told presenter Chris Hayes. “It’s too bad that it’s probably because so many of the women that were assaulted by Harvey Weinstein are famous and white and everybody knows them.”

“This has been going on a long time to black women and other women of colour,” Fonda continued. “And it doesn’t get out quite the same.”

Some 49 women have now publicly accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct, with allegations stretching from sexual harassment to rape. Many of the women making claims against Weinstein are high-profile actresses and the vast majority are white, with the notable exceptions of Lupita Nyong’o and Vietnamese actress Vu Thu Phuong.

Allegations of sexual assault by unnamed women are also being investigated by police in London, New York and Los Angeles.

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Lupita Nyong'o is one of the only non-white women to accuse Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct.

In zeroing in on the subjects of fame and race, Fonda raises an important point. The woman who have spoken out against Weinstein have been incredibly brave, and deserve respect and support. However, the case does highlight complex social and political issues surrounding harassment and abuse.

For instance: why did it take an entire blockbuster movie’s-worth of famous, rich, beautiful, successful, predominantly white actresses to speak up about sexual abuse for the world at large to take notice? Non-famous women – including, as Fonda notes, many women of colour – have been talking about sexual harassment for years.

Read more: This is what Lady GaGa and Joe Biden want you to know about sexual assault                                             

Indeed, the woman who introduced many people to the very concept of sexual harassment in the workplace was a black woman: Anita Hill, an African-American attorney who publicly accused her boss, Judge Clarence Thomas, of sexual harassment in 1991. 

But no story has broken through like the Weinstein scandal, and we should be prepared to interrogate why that might be the case. As some of the comment around the Weinstein case illustrates, there's more discourse to be had around society's perceptions of what a survivor of sexual harassment or abuse is 'supposed' to look like.

We should also remind ourselves that the issues of sexual and harassment and assault do not begin and end with Weinstein and his accusers, and think about how we can better support victims of sexual abuse who are not beautiful white celebrities: who are poor, or black, or Asian, or unsuccessful, or not conventionally attractive, or who tick one of a million other less-privileged boxes.

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Jane Fonda with her friend, actress Rosanna Arquette, who she says told her about her assault by Weinstein in 2016.

This isn't the first time that Fonda has weighed in on the Weinstein scandal. Earlier in October, she  said she was aware of rumours about Weinstein’s behaviour before the scandal broke, and that she was “ashamed” she didn’t speak out.

“I found out about Harvey about a year ago, and I’m ashamed that I didn’t say anything back then,” Fonda told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.

She said that her friend, the actress Rosanna Arquette, had told her in 2016 that Weinstein sexually assaulted her in the Nineties. Arquette went on to tell investigative journalist Ronan Farrow about the assault, which he detailed in a report for The New Yorker.

When asked why she didn’t condemn Weinstein publicly after her conversation with Arquette, Fonda replied: “I guess it hadn’t happened to me, and so I didn’t feel that it was my place.”

If you think you have been a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, consult the Citizens’ Advice Bureau about your next steps. If you have been sexually assaulted or raped, Rape Crisis can provide advice and support.

For more on the Harvey Weinstein case, click here.

Images: Rex Features