As awards season marches on, Hollywood is under increased pressure to address its Harvey Weinstein sins. After all, the movie mogul is alleged to have assaulted, sexually harassed women and bullied for years, employing a network of intimidators to keep his secrets. From gag orders in contracts to spreading lies about “difficult” actresses in the press to encouraging directors to blacklist women who resisted his advances, it’s clear that Weinstein’s years of tormenting women were only possible because the industry turned a blind eye. It’s natural, then, that in addition to the question of how to dismantle the Hollywood climate that allowed Weinstein to thrive, people are starting to wonder who turned a blind eye and who exactly benefited the most from Weinstein’s reign of terror.
Absurdly, that blame has turned to Meryl Streep.
The attacks first began when it was announced that some actresses plan on wearing all black to the Golden Globes in a silent protest against sexual harassment and assault. Rose McGowan, one of Weinstein’s most vocal alleged victims, lashed out at the protest, calling out Streep directly in a since-deleted tweet: “Actresses, like Meryl Streep, who happily worked for The Pig Monster, are wearing black @goldenglobes in a silent protest. YOUR SILENCE is THE problem. You’ll accept a fake award breathlessly & affect no real change. I despise your hypocrisy. Maybe you should all wear Marchesa.”
McGowan later apologized for the Marchesa comment—an extra dig, since it’s the fashion line of Weinstein’s estranged wife, Georgina Chapman—but not particularly for calling out Streep, in a later tweet: “The Marchesa line was beneath me and I’m sorry for that. Seeing that picture of Alyssa Milano with GC has ignited something in me that I can’t quite articulate. There is no map for this road I’m on, I will fuck up. Peace be with you, go with Goddess.”
Why name Streep? As one of Hollywood’s most beloved actresses, it makes sense that McGowan would invoke her name to make a point. Streep has, after all, been very vocal about her politics and how Hollywood must stand against the bigotry of Donald Trump’s presidency. But she’s not beyond reproach, and has committed a few noteworthy blunders—particularly when she distanced herself from the word “feminist” during her press tour for Suffragette, or when she wore that ill-advised “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave” shirt, or that time she said “we’re all Africans, really” (the “we” was white people, obviously).
Then there’s the fact that she has heaped effusive praise on Weinstein during her award wins—at one point calling him “God”—and to some, that may resemble complicity. Streep offers a different story, however, when she discusses how little she was ever involved in Weinstein’s business. In a statement to the Huffington Post, Streep wrote: “It hurt to be attacked by Rose McGowan in banner headlines this weekend, but I want to let her know I did not know about Weinstein’s crimes, not in the ’90s when he attacked her, or through subsequent decades when he proceeded to attack others. I wasn’t deliberately silent. I didn’t know.”
This week, Streep was further targeted by posters put up around Los Angeles depicting her as an enabler of Weinstein. “She knew,” the posters read, blurring out her eyes in a photo of her and Weinstein. A right-wing guerrilla artist named Sabo eventually took credit for the posters, claiming that they were revenge for her criticisms of Donald Trump. Before he announced this, however, social media was already wondering: How much did Streep know?
In her statement, Streep points out that Weinstein was not a filmmaker but a producer and “primarily a marketer of films made by other people.” Streep continued with, “But not every actor, actress, and director who made films that HW distributed knew he abused women, or that he raped Rose in the ’90s, other women before and others after, until they told us.”
Streep’s comments ring true when she also insists that Weinstein “needed me much more than I needed him and he made sure I didn’t know.” Surely, with Streep already a Hollywood institution by the days of Miramax and The Weinstein Company, she wouldn’t be the kind of actress Weinstein could easily prey on. And as for her being friends with him, Streep wrote, “I don’t know where Harvey lives, nor has he ever been to my home. I have never in my life been invited to his hotel room. I have been to his office once, for a meeting with Wes Craven for Music of the Heart in 1998.”
As Streep tells it, her thanking Weinstein during an awards speech is simply her playing the Hollywood game. Everyone thanks the producers on their films—it’s why those damn shows take so long. Her statement is quite thorough. And yet, there is still a sentiment online that Streep has more to answer for—that she had to have known something. After all, didn’t everyone know? And therein lies the problem in the attacks on Streep: Here we are, attacking a woman for what she may or may not have known, when everyone seems to insist that everyone in the industry knew. Why then, have George Clooney or Brad Pitt not been as viciously attacked as Streep? Why not Bob Weinstein, his own brother, who’s remained relatively unscathed from Harvey’s downfall?
There’s of course a cruel irony in a pro-Trump artist lashing out at Streep over Weinstein’s alleged abuses: The artist wants to condemn Streep for supposedly ignoring sexual abuses in Hollywood while seemingly having no problem with Trump, who has been accused of sexual assault by as many as 16 women. Or maybe he’s just counting on liberals to fall for the smokescreen and attack one another instead of going after men like Weinstein and the Hollywood structures that allow powerful men like him to continue to prey on their victims.
So much of the post-Weinstein feeding frenzy feels like liberal social media’s response to feeling impotent when it comes to tackling Trump. After all, the right has no problem with Trump’s litany of sexual-assault allegations. Even recently, they rallied behind Roy Moore, a man who was accused of preying on underage girls. There’s a sense that if others won’t clean up their house, then Hollywood must be extra vigilant. But sometimes that vigilance comes at a price. McGowan and Streep going back and forth at one another isn’t going to stop the next Weinstein. Making sure that women feel comfortable speaking out against predators, casting the women whose careers were destroyed by men like Weinstein, and fighting against not only toxic behavior in Hollywood but also passively awful behavior from men like Matt Damon, who wish that we could highlight the men who aren’t doing awful things, will.
But the answer certainly isn’t attacking actresses whose careers managed to thrive in this climate. Because if everyone fucking knew, then let’s hold everyone responsible and not just Meryl Streep, or any other actress you feel isn’t doing enough, right now, on your terms.