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On Weinstein, Cosby, OJ Simpson and America’s Systemic Misogyny Problem

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A large white man in a suit stands in a grand hallway laughing.
Harvey Weinstein in New York in 1998. (Catherine McGann/ Getty Images)

America does not care about women.

There. I said it. I say it a lot, actually. At least once a week for the last 29 years to be precise.

I know the exact date of the first time I said it — Oct. 3, 1995 — because that was the day that O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. O.J. was acquitted by a jury despite a mountain of DNA evidence against him and an extremely long, well-documented history of his abuse of Nicole. The images of her battered face and the sound of her shaking voice telling a 911 dispatcher “He’s going to beat the shit out of me” have been living rent-free in my head ever since.

I was in my teens when the O.J. verdict happened. Raping your spouse had only been declared illegal in America two years earlier. At the time, I hoped that — if women banded together and worked hard enough — things would change in my lifetime.

Well, I’m middle-aged now. And nothing has changed at all.

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“America does not care about women” were the first words I uttered this morning, this time prompted by the news that New York’s highest court just overturned Harvey Weinstein’s 2020 rape conviction. The ruling was based on the fact that “testimony of uncharged, alleged prior sexual acts against persons other than the complainants” was included in his original trial. That the inclusion of those witnesses — also known as “Molineux witnesses” or “prior bad act witnesses” — has been perfectly legal in New York for well over a century appears to have been deemed irrelevant by four out of the seven judges on the New York Court of Appeals.

(Writing for the majority, Judge Jenny Rivera asserted that “The remedy for these egregious errors is a new trial.” Rivera, incidentally, was appointed to the court in 2013 by Andrew Cuomo, who has been accused of sexual harassment by 13 women.)

The fact that the vast majority of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers — more than 80 of them — were prevented from taking legal action against him in 2020 because of unjustly short statutes of limitations doesn’t matter either. Because America doesn’t care about women.

In truth, even on the morning of his 2020 conviction, I still found myself uttering those words. Because while Weinstein was convicted of third-degree rape and first-degree criminal sexual act, those were only two of the five charges that he had faced. The wave of relief that followed his two convictions was powerful enough to obscure the fact that he was found not guilty on three other charges.

Weinstein was found not guilty of first-degree rape, defined in the state of New York as “engag[ing] in sexual intercourse with another person by forcible compulsion.” This, despite Jessica Mann’s harrowing testimony that, “The more I fought, the angrier he got.” He was also found not guilty of two counts of predatory sexual assault. Annabella Sciorra appeared in court specifically in support of those charges, testifying that she was raped by Weinstein after he forced his way into her apartment. “I was punching, I was kicking him, I was trying to take him away from me,” she said. But still, he was found not guilty.

Weinstein’s case, from the jump, reflected just how hard it is for women to get justice in this country. But we already knew, just as we had known in 1995, America does not care about women.

We knew it in 2021, after Bill Cosby was released from prison on a technicality. Specifically, Pennsylvania’s highest court decided it wasn’t fair that the prosecutor who brought the case against Cosby had a predecessor who had promised to not charge the comedian. That was apparently too much for the court. The idea that 60 women who’d been living with untold trauma and interrupted careers would receive no justice after sharing their harrowing (and very credible) stories about Cosby with the whole world? Meh. Who cares about that?

Justice, when it comes to women, sometimes feels almost impossible to come by in any court in the land. In 2004, Robert Blake was acquitted of murdering his wife Bonny Bakley, despite two separate witnesses testifying that Blake had attempted to hire them to kill her. Blake, like O.J. Simpson, was later found liable for the wrongful death of his wife in a $30 million civil trial; Blake handled this by declaring bankruptcy in 2006. Hell, if O.J. Simpson could get away with not paying the Brown and Goldman families, why should Blake cough up? Even in the wake of Simpson’s death, those handling his estate are fighting to ensure those families will never see a penny.

In America’s so-called justice system, history repeats itself. We know the outcomes before they land: In 2018, we knew Brett Kavanaugh would make it onto the Supreme Court despite Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony against him. We knew because we’d already watched Clarence Thomas succeed after Anita Hill testified against him in 1991.

We knew Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee in 2024, because the fact that he confessed on recorded audio to “grab[bing]” women “by the pussy” did not impact his election chances in 2016.

Was anyone really surprised when Ted Kennedy’s nephew William Kennedy Smith was found not guilty of raping Patricia Bowman? Despite the fact that his defense attorney married one of the jurors shortly after the trial? It’s impossible to feign shock once you remember that, in 1969, Uncle Ted got off with a two-month suspended sentence for driving Mary Jo Kopechne off a bridge, leaving her there to drown and then failing to report the accident for another 11 hours.

After the seismic #MeToo movement, despite the many conversations about cultural shifts and cancellations, the only two high-profile abusers punished in a court of law were Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein. Now one is free and the other is working on it. And while Weinstein is still serving the 16-year sentence for rape and sexual assault imposed by his 2023 trial in Los Angeles, it’s impossible to feel any confidence in the system at this point.

“Today’s decision reinforces what we already know,” Anita Hill said after this morning’s news broke. “We have seen a lack of progress in addressing the power imbalances that allow abuse to occur and that sexual assault continues to be a pervasive problem.”

Founder of #MeToo Tarana Burke managed — somehow — to strike a more optimistic note. “Because the brave women in this case broke their silence, millions and millions and millions of others found the strength to come forward and do the same. That will always be the victory. This doesn’t change that. And the people who abuse their power and privilege to violate and harm others will always be the villain. This doesn’t change that.”

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The other thing that hasn’t changed? America does not care about women.

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