Harvey Weinstein lost. Good people cheered. Is that enough to call this a turning point in society?
He went into court hunched over a zimmer frame, he left in handcuffs, location of walking aide unknown. Weinstein played this as a drama, with props and a theatrical defence team. It is his closing act.
He was found guilty in a New York court room of sexually assaulting two women.
There is a sense of an ending about this, yet the case and the #MeToo movement it inspired is just the beginning of a new era of feminism and equality.
There are two outstanding points which speak of a much greater battle for justice, of a struggle only just getting into its stride.
The first is why did the two women whose experiences led to the guilty verdict later have consensual sex with Weinstein? That looks like odd behaviour.
It was cross-examined vigorously by Weinstein’s defence team.
The answer lies in social conditioning. Men are given a leeway for their excesses, women are taught to accommodate the inappropriate.
When men have the power and a woman wants to access some of that, the man feels emboldened, the woman conditioned to go along.
No woman hearing the details of the Weinstein case thinks any of it odd – that’s how things are. Weinstein traded on that, confident he’d get off because of the apparently contradictory behaviour of his victims. After all, society had been giving him a get-out-of-jail card for years before this. So far, 80 women have accused him of assault.
This catastrophic imbalance in power and behaviour needs to be discussed far more widely than in court.
If the case is to be a landmark, then it needs to ignite a conversation that leads to profound change.
Lots of men respond to #MeToo as if it is a brief phase of Puritanism, set to blow over. They know to keep quiet for the time being and also know that the social balance of power hasn’t really shifted.
They see the actions of the two women in going on to have consensual relations with Weinstein as proof any accused man will always stand a chance in court.
This explains in part why so few rape and sexual abuse claims make it to court. Women come to think the largely male justice system won’t believe them, while male culture tolerates a sense that women aren’t to be trusted.
What the Weinstein trial raises is a hugely important point about social conditioning. Regardless of gender, humans are vulnerable to bullying and violence. Most of us, though we may not like to admit it, will avoid conflict and may trade some of our personal dignity for a less stressful life. Women are encouraged to do this from a very young age.
Females absorb the emotional incoherence and irrational behaviour of men as a given. They learn to laugh off, or duck from the threat of violence, verbal or physical. They look out for each other as a defence mechanism against men. Women learn to smile and tolerate when they should be grimacing and protesting.
For the Weinstein case to mean anything beyond its own ghastly details, we need to question all of these behaviours. What’s on trial for the future is the way we are, and who has the power.
The lesson boys learn from male violence is to know your place in the pecking order and shut up. This too isn’t examined or challenged as it should be.
We need conversation across society about how we raise our children and the expectations we put on women. Hopefully this latest incarnation of feminism and an emboldened younger generation will see this through.
The second major point is that the tough cross examination of the victims was done by a woman. Donna Rotunno was hired by Weinstein because she specialises in defending sex charges. She describes herself as a feminist.
She put female witnesses under the verbal cosh for hours at a time. Her argument was that the women were knowingly colluding in their fate. For this, social media crackled with charges she was betraying the sisterhood.
This too demands a wider consideration. What does society look like when men and women are truly equal and how is power used?
Rotunno is a powerful, successful woman. If she isn’t a perfect role model, then who is?
The Scottish courts are more advanced than New York’s when it comes to hearing victims’ testimony, but how much should justice adapt as the patriarchy is dismantled?
Ultimately, we hope that the Weinsteins of this world die out. Old pervs found out, found guilty and forever shamed.
For that to happen we must raise our children differently. It is in the nursery, in the playground and at the teenage party that the rules of behaviour must change.
Our social conditioning is often an ill fit with our better selves, making us victims when we know we deserve better. The messy business of being human is a work in progress – but progress it must.