Representation of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace:
A Content Analysis of News Coverage of Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo Movement in 2017
(Recommended to read the proposal prior to reading this content analysis.)
Forbes Magazine describes sexual harassment at the workplace as more a matter of culture than a matter of court. Indiscriminative of workplace environment or job description, a poll done by CNBC showed that an estimated 27% of American women have disclosed that they have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace (Lee, 2017). As more companies have been accused of mishandling sexual harassment complaints against their employees, dealing with it has become more imperative than ever before. Lawsuits by victims of sexual harassment have been met with compensations and terminations without a real look into why workplace harassment has been so normalized and ignored in the past. Likewise, parties involved in the cases have often been required to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) that currently represent the ‘natural’ outcome of sexual harassment complaints (Winkler, 2018). With the code of silence that already surrounds victims, it is ineffective to subsequently attempt to conceal the truth.
As a nation, we are explicitly prioritizing businesses’ bottom lines with cover-ups and treating sexual harassment in the workplace as a scandal turned public relations issue. Viewing workplace sexual harassment as a pattern of depreciation and suppression of women will assist in understanding the complexities of this institutionalized social injustice issue. Not only does sexual harassment in the workplace increase absenteeism and higher turn-over rates among victims both at the employee and executive level, but also causes reputational harm as well as promoting discrimination within a company or career field. Victims can be indirectly black-listed from entire careers if sexual harassment allegations go public.
This study focuses on the news coverage of workplace sexual harassment and assault allegations of Hollywood film producer, Harvey Weinstein, and how the sensationalizing of coverage by news media outlets invigorated the #metoo movement.
I collected tweets using keywords “workplace sexual harassment” with the hashtag “#metoo” on Twitter. Filtering the start and end dates to show tweets only from
October 15, 2017 --- December 31, 2017. I selected the start date to be October 15th because the #metoo hashtag went viral on that day when Alyssa Milano tweeted, urging women to use the hashtag to gather in solidarity with the women who came forward in the initial allegations against Weinstein.
At the same time, news outlets had already begun covering the allegations against Harvey Weinstein after The New York Times published the first article about him on October 5, 2017. I selected the end date to be December 31, 2017 in order to narrow my focus to 2017 alone since it was the year of the #metoo movement as well as the year many other powerful men in the media industry and beyond were accused of sexual misconduct.
My collection of tweets is focused on #metoo tweets specifically mentioning workplace sexual harassment during the time Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment allegations were covered extensively in the media, as I mentioned above. More than 10 years after #metoo was first coined by Tarana Burke back in 2006, better representation of the magnitude of sexual harassment is still relevant news today- Weinstein is set to go to trial on September 9, 2019.
After reviewing the collection of the first 100 tweets on the timeline, with the above criteria, I chose a variety of tweets (shown in the Appendix) that cover the common themes of #metoo movement participants:
- Personal essay linked in the tweet
- Brief explanation of the sexual harassment experience
- Non-affected third party opinion piece on confidential compensation settlements
- Long term effects of sexual harassment
- Older women coming forward decades after the sexual harassment experience(s)
- Call for justice protest tweets including other hashtags i.e. #pinkghetto #MeTooCongress
The Feminist Media Study, Post Weinstein: gendered power and harassment in the media industries, assesses the effectiveness of #MeToo as a “feminine meme event” as well as coverage when The New York Time’s article first broke the story on Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment allegations, using the headline, “Harvey Weinstein paid off sexual harassment accusers for decades.” The coverage wrote about the three decades long serial sexual harassment and assault of women in the Hollywood film industry. This enters the realm of workplace sexual harassment since Weinstein is a Hollywood film producer and the chairman of two prestigious film companies which employ many of his victims- young actresses (Cobb & Horreck, 2018). Weinstein had not been the first high-profile executive accused of sexual harassment in the workplace, however, the allegations introduced the open discussion of what seemed like the longest, unkept secret of Hollywood.
My study expands on the Feminist Media Study, Post Weinstein: gendered power and harassment in the media industries which explains the steady progression of gender equality. The study mentions the that second-wave feminists whom publicly recognized rape and sexual harassment as social problems are being acknowledged in this twenty-first-century cultural moment in ways previously unattainable (Cobb and Horeck, 2018).
With the ability to connect with people via social media and news coverage around the world now widely accessible, “mass disclosure” corroborates longstanding feminist insights about gender and power as the key dynamic in the silent compliance of workplace sexual harassment. Authors Cobb and Horeck, comprehensibly describe in their study that,
“The struggles of abuse and harassment brought to cultural attention through the vilification of Weinstein as a singular monster are far from over; there is a much longer history to the systematic abuses of white patriarchy that are now being so vocally discussed as part of the “Weinstein effect.”
Sexual harassment is systematic and institutionally discriminatory as much as it is rooted in gender inequality and intersected with class and race.
Research Question #1: Is news coverage of high-profile workplace sexual harassment allegations doing the victims justice?
The news coverage surrounding sexual harassment in the workplace has been continually widespread as sources are revealing harassment on a larger scale. Executives such as, Hollywood film producer, Harvey Weinstein, have been in the news a number of times after allegations, lawsuits, and investigations continued to become public knowledge. During the time when most news outlets were publishing articles each time new details were revealed in the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, content became more about the polarizing figure and less about maintaining the integrity of each victim’s story and character. This is especially important when the accused deny intent or wrongdoing, in an effort to discredit claims that would be damaging to their career, company, and reputation. There is often no one person able to concretely corroborate either the accused or the accuser’s claims in the legal sense. Due to limited evidence, the use of NDA’s and pressure to be silent, sexual harassment allegations usually come down to “he said, she said” combined with an abuse of prestige, power and money.
However, workplace sexual harassment is acknowledged more culturally in comparison to legally. News coverage offers some social justice to the victims of sexual harassment, due to the ramifications of the negative public relations that sometimes leaves a company no other option that to have the perpetrator resign his position. Although the intent of the departure of executives still remains more of the right business move rather than the consequence of abusing one’s power, it is evident there is much more work that the news media and #metoo must do.
After a few women out of countless victims of Weinstein came forward with misconduct claims, the first breaking news coverage by The New York Times- published on October 5, 2017 began his mighty fall from power. He was then terminated from the Weinstein Company, and ousted from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, soon after more coverage and allegations of sexual harassment and assault surfaced. Including accrediting quotes from movie stars, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie (Gonzalez, 2018).
Research Question #2: Did some media coverage exploit victims to get a better story?
The shocking article, From aggressive overtures to sexual assault: Harvey Weinstein’s accusers tell their stories, by Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker published merely five days after The New York Times article, was damning and pejorative. Leaving nothing to the imagination, Farrow toured the complexities of a ten-month investigation in which 13 women between the 1990’s and 2015 claimed to have been sexually harassed or assaulted by Harvey Weinstein (Farrow, 2017). The article starts off with subliminal warning that there would be graphic content ahead, and mentioned an audio recording captured during a New York Police Department sting operation in 2015 where he admitted to groping a model.
Sixteen executives and assistants at Weinstein’s companies told Farrow that they witnessed or had knowledge of unwanted sexual advances and touching at events associated with Weinstein’s films and in the workplace. They and others also described a pattern of professional meetings that were, “a little more than thin pretexts for sexual advances on young actresses and models” with his behavior widely known within both Miramax and the Weinstein Company (Farrow, 2017).
The article goes into explicit and detailed first-hand accounts of sexual assault that victims experienced in the hands of, repeatedly described as terrifying and intimidating. The victims testimonials in this article are not only vulnerable, but incredibly moving and poetic. This style of investigative coverage of news about sexual assault must be written carefully in order to accurately portray how the victim wants their story to be told. Not only did Farrow eloquently express emotion, his expertise in sentence structure to convey the literal pause of breath when a victim was recounting her experiences, felt like I was reading the screenplay to a tragedy.
After reflecting, I think Farrow’s interviewing techniques and writing style intended to be exploitative to a certain extent. To create a connection with both a reader who has and has not experienced sexual assault, he had to tap into painful recollections of the victims which showed a raw representation of sexual assault that many news outlets would not cover so provocatively. With the help of the courageous women he interviewed, I believe this article was the most significant reason why the #metoo movement began thus accelerating the beginning of the end for Harvey Weinstein’s career.
The most important thing we can do to help social injustice against women is to listen. Once a woman believes that her voice is being heard, it is being understood, and it is being taken seriously, then the fight for legal action can begin. What we need in our legal system, the workplace, and our culture is the representation of equality in the form of legal protection when sexual harassment does occur. Since we can control the harm others are capable of inflicting, allowing for the message that each company and it’s board will not let down the victims who experience harassment by concealment and termination. All pepretrators should have to be required to go through a investigation if there is any doubt without the need for formal reporting, of misconduct. In addition, having the tools and resources such as social awareness platforms like #metoo in order to come together in solidarity, and increase pressure for companies to take sexual harassment seriously. While, provoking and investigative news coverage helps to add pressure to the legal system for immediate action; it is only one of many stepping stones in the progression of gender equality and safety of women in the workplace.
Cobb, Shelley, and Tanya Horeck. “Post Weinstein: Gendered Power and Harassment in the Media Industries.” Feminist Media Studies, vol. 18, no. 3, 2018, pp. 489–491., doi:10.1080/14680777.2018.1456155.
Farrow, Ronan. “From Aggressive Overtures to Sexual Assault: Harvey Weinstein's Accusers Tell Their Stories.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 10 Oct. 2017, www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/from-aggressive-overtures-to-sexual-assault-harvey-weinsteins-accusers-tell-their-stories.
Gonzalez, Sandra, et al. “A Timeline of the Weinstein Scandal's Fallout.” CNN, Cable News Network, 4 Oct. 2018, www.cnn.com/2018/04/05/entertainment/weinstein-timeline/index.html.
Lee, Hailey. “One-Fifth of American Adults Have Experienced Sexual Harassment at Work, CNBC Survey Says.” CNBC, CNBC, 19 Dec. 2017, www.cnbc.com/2017/12/19/one-fifth-of-american-adults-have-been-sexually-harassed-at-work.html.
Winkler, Matteo. “Sexual Harassment At Work: What The Law Says.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 22 Oct. 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/hecparis/2018/10/22/sexual-harassment-at-work-what-the-law-says/#be4d15723c7c.