Meryl Streep tackled the subjects of gender bias in the workplace and sexual assault on Tuesday, appearing on a panel with Buzzfeed News to discuss her upcoming Golden Globe nominated film, The Post. The film tells the story of Katharine Graham, publisher of The Washington Post in the 1960s, and Ben Bradlee (played by Tom Hanks) as they weigh the consequences of publishing confidential government information about the Vietnam War. Streep called out studios and top earning executives in Hollywood, declaring that if more women were in high powered positions or at the head of the boards, “the shenanigans wouldn’t have occurred.”
The “shenanigans” Streep referred to are, of course, the “army of spies” employed by Harvey Weinstein to pay off studio employees and intimidate accusers into silence. Streep, who has worked with Weinstein in the past, recently spoke out against the producer in a statement claiming, “I did not know about his financial settlements with actresses and colleagues; I did not know about his having meetings in his hotel room, his bathroom, or other inappropriate, coercive acts.”
“Power tries to suppress the truth. That’s just what happens—in Hollywood, on Wall Street, and in the news media as well. So everybody has to stay alert and awake, and fight against it,” said the actress on the Buzzfeed News panel. The higher up the ranks you look, the fewer women there are employed or in power. If more women were employed at the top where the executive decisions are made—decisions about codes of conduct, fair hiring practices, the involvement of human resources and more—then there will be more layers of protection against those who suffer at the hands of gender bias and sexual assault in the workplace. The issue stretches across and beyond Hollywood—Streep reminds us that “[Women] are at 17-20% of the boards… from the Senate to the Supreme Court.”
Streep opined that while there are more employment opportunities for women now than there were in the 1960s and 1970s, there are still not enough women at the executive level of studios, agencies and other areas of Hollywood. Even in the news media, there are few women working at the top to make executive decisions, as Streep recalled an anecdote regarding the late Nora Ephron, who interviewed to be a reporter at Newsweek but was turned away from the position for being a woman. Streep continued, “Right now, there are a lot of opportunities at the bottom. Then you get up to the middle level, management,” but as you climb towards the top executive levels, women make up less than one fifth of the employed staffs and boards, and the systemic exclusion of women from Hollywood becomes apparent.
The three-time Oscar winning actress says she still experiences sexism “at the level I’ve achieved, which is insane.” She finds men of all ages—not just those who are the same age as Weinstein and the other accused men who have abused their power to harass women—at the root of the issue of sexism in the workplace, and while part of the entertainment industry is changing, it is moving at a glacial pace. The end goal of hiring more women at the top of the chain would be to make it an even amount of women and men at the decision making level, “because everything filters down from there,” said Streep.