Brit Marling, star and creator of The OA, has stepped forward with the depressingly familiar story of being sexually harassed by Harvey Weinstein. In a personal essay in The Atlantic, Marling looks at just how widespread the imbalance of power is between influential, primarily male executives—be they in the movie industry or elsewhere—and the women cast as “Bikini Babes” or working in some other capacity for less pay. She goes beyond her own experience, frightening as it may have been, to examine what she calls the “economics of consent,” a system as dubious as late capitalism, and issues a call to action.
Marling writes that she set out to secure financial independence early in life on the advice of her mother. But after working as an investment banker, Marling decided she wanted to make a living doing something that “stirred her soul,” which she admits is something only the privileged can do. But even after achieving some success in a field, she still found herself at the mercy of studio executives, producers, and/or writers who often treat women in film as objects—she recalls auditioning for characters who weren’t even named.
Straight, white men tend to tell stories from their perspective, as one naturally does, which means the women are generally underwritten. They don’t necessarily even need names; “Bikini Babe 2” and “Blonde 4” are parts I auditioned for. If the female characters are lucky enough to have names, they are usually designed only to ask the questions that prompt the lead male monologue, or they are quickly killed in service to advancing the plot.
So when she found herself in a hotel room with Weinstein, she worried about upsetting the man who was abusing his position:
I, too, was asked if I wanted a massage, champagne, strawberries. I, too, sat in that chair paralyzed by mounting fear when he suggested we shower together. What could I do? How not to offend this man, this gatekeeper, who could anoint or destroy me?
But even though she cried in her hotel room after extricating herself from that situation, Marling also acknowledged that she had more recourse than most; that, as a writer, she could create her own projects and not worry about currying favor to be cast in those of others. She again acknowledges her privilege, but turns that into a call for action—speaking out against abusers remains important, but we also need to change the industry. Greater representation in film and TV is one way we can stop the exploitation of women, people of color, and LGBTQI folks, Marling argues. It’s one step toward redistributing power, which she notes is necessary to effect any real change: “Because consent is a function of power. You have to have a modicum of power to give it.”