Why Harvey Weinstein is your problem too

Siena Yates,
Publish Date
Friday, 13 October 2017, 5:42AM

When I was 15 I got my first job in the local supermarket. The sexual harassment started pretty much immediately and has followed me throughout my professional life.

That's why the Harvey Weinstein accusations are such big news. Because almost every woman knows what it's like to be sexually harassed or assaulted in a professional setting, and to have to play it down or shrug it off for the sake of their reputations and jobs.

I was only 15 and grown men would come in and make comments on my appearance, tell me to smile, pinch my bum while I was bending over, yell things from their cars while I was gathering trolleys.

Older men would ask me for my number and I even had a stalker. It was an older man who would come into the store close to closing time, stare at me for as long as humanly possible, and then wait outside the exit for me to leave at the end of my shift.

I never did or said anything to the guy. I didn't tell management. I was young and it was my first job and I didn't want to make a scene or be seen as not being able to hack it.

It got to the point where I had to stop driving to work and have my mum drop me off and pick me up instead.

I've worked in retail, hospitality, office admin and more and everywhere there has been sexual harassment. Even when I was collecting for charities on the street, men would try to exchange their donation for my number.

A woman where I worked in London had a stalker. It got so bad that I was called into the police station to give a statement so she could take legal action.

Once I had an interview with a rapper who hit on me down the phone and told me to "call me whatever you like honey, you know what I'm saying?". Just recently I had an interview with another star who kept avoiding my questions and instead asked what star sign I was and whether he could see me in person when he came on tour.

I laughed it off. It seemed like part of the job. Par for the course. Even now, I don't want to write their names because they're big stars and I'm... just me.

I can only imagine that's how these women felt about Weinstein.

Ashley Judd (right) has spoken out against Weinstein and Rose McGowan is one of the few woman to have already reached a settlement with him. Photo / AP

As well as employees, models and co-workers, actresses including Ashley Judd, Mira Sorvino, Rosanna Arquette, Jessica Barth, Romola Garai, Judith Godreche, Rose McGowan and Heather Graham, have all spoken out against Weinstein and more continue to come forward as time goes on.

Most notably, Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow joined the growing list of accusers on Wednesday - a big deal considering Weinstein essentially launched Paltrow's career and helped her win an Oscar.

This is a man who makes and breaks careers.

Jolie and Paltrow are huge stars now but they weren't always. They started out like the rest of us, young and green. And Hollywood is a cut-throat industry. When a guy like Weinstein tells you to do something, you do it, and when that something takes a turn for the worse, who do you tell? Who's going to believe you? Who's going to confront a guy like Weinstein about a thing like that?

Actress Gwyneth Paltrow has spoken out against Weinstein who helped launch her career.

And maybe this is how it works, right? At least one of the women's accounts says Weinstein told her "everybody does it".

Let's not forget all those stories that blew the lid off the sexual abuse of children in Hollywood. Elijah Wood and Corey Feldman spoke out about how children were groomed and assaulted at parties. Corey Haim's rape at age 11 contributed to his drug problem, which led to his death 38 years later.

The accusations out of Hollywood feel like they've been constant. Bryan Singer, Casey Affleck, a host of Hollywood execs. In New Zealand we had Rene Naufahu admit to six indecent assault charges against women he was supposed to be teaching in acting classes; young women trying to get a head start in the industry and who trusted him because he had the experience and credentials.

I know women who have had to deal with sexual assault or harassment throughout their lives. I once found a workmate at a former job crying in the toilets because our boss had tried to kiss her. I watched another workmate get her bum grabbed by some kind of middle management at a Christmas party, and then play it down because none of us were sure who he was or how much power he had.

My own boss told me a story of how when she was just 23, she was bailed up by a label exec at a Christmas party where he used his body to block the exit and tried to put his hand down her pants. She had to punch him to get free - and has had to deal with him cordially ever since, lest the professional relationship be destroyed.

Even a star as big as Angelina Jolie has slammed Weinstein. Photo / AP

It doesn't matter if it's an inappropriate comment, an inappropriate touch or rape. It doesn't matter if it's by a boss, co-worker, client or customer. It doesn't matter if we didn't say anything when it happened. It happened. And it affects us all even when we try so hard to pretend it doesn't.

Right now, dozens of women in Hollywood are saying something, who are shining a light on a problem we all experience as women and we have a duty to listen and to support the women in our lives as they share their own truths in response.

We need to direct our attention not at the women coming forward, but at the men they're speaking out against. Because this is the problem. We are a part of a society that makes us feel we can't speak up.

This isn't a Hollywood problem. It isn't a female problem. It's a problem for all of us and as a society we need to do better.