And so, with those necessary caveats—he said and she said and she said and she said and so very many other shes coming forward with so very many other saids—the story of Harvey Weinstein has been told in strange tenses. It has lived, for the most part, not in the past (This happened, with all its epistemic clarity), but in the conditional, with its haze of uncertainty: If this happened. This might have happened. Could this have happened? And the story, too, has been told not only in declarations, but in questions. Weinstein Company lifts NDAs—will more victims come forward? Should fans stop loving Shakespeare in Love? Should she keep fighting, under the circumstances?
As the stories played out, the individual testimonies of the women dissolved, partially, into the haze: The women were believed, finally, tenuously, but their stories were not considered, fully, the truth. They were merely one element of the broader narrative. (He is denying the allegations.) The impediments to justice, for women who have been sexually abused—legal impediments, cultural impediments, the bigotry of biases both human and systemic—were subsumed into the language. There was so much uncertainty. There were so many allegeds. Eighty women—more. And yet: The courts hadn’t gotten involved, fully. The truth hadn’t been litigated, completely. The fog of “or.”
These collisions—fact and allegation, truth and lie, the past tense and the conditional—are what make the arrest of Harvey Weinstein so meaningful. Yes, it represents only a tiny sliver of accountability. Yes, it is small in proportion to the actions in question. But, to the extent that Weinstein’s horrors have, for so long, been allowed to be hazy, his arrest brings a measure of solidity. It suggests that the fog is lifting. So does the conviction of Bill Cosby. So does the fact that so many abusers, at the moment, are facing real-world accountability for their abuses. The arc of #MeToo is long, but it bends toward justice.
A first-degree criminal sex act carries a sentence of five to 25 years in prison. First-degree rape carries a sentence of five to 25 years in prison. Third-degree rape carries a sentence of up to four years in prison. And there are nearly a dozen lawsuits against Weinstein that are currently making their way through a justice system that, while it is itself so often unjust, still claims to determine what is true. As Tarana Burke put it, of Weinstein’s arrest: “For those people for whom criminal justice is [how] they want to seek justice, to see it actually happen, I think is a big deal. We might be looking at a shift in the way cases of sexual violence are actually dealt with.”
Yes. But also: We might be. We are conditioned to live in the conditional. Fog, for all its airiness, is a stubborn substance. The Hollywood Reporter, which initially announced that Weinstein had “finally been charged with rape,” later changed its wording. It excised the finally. Too human. Too revealing. And there are still allegeds, today. Arrest is not conviction. Trial is not justice. On Friday, Benjamin Brafman, Weinstein’s attorney, made a statement to the reporters who had gathered outside the courthouse in New York to witness a moment of cultural shift in action: “Mr. Weinstein has always maintained that he has never engaged in nonconsensual sexual behavior with anyone,” Brafman said. “Nothing about today’s proceedings changes Mr. Weinstein’s position. He has entered a plea of not guilty and fully expects to be exonerated.”