Life & Culture

Why Does Hollywood Treat Male Crimes So Differently?

While the behaviour of men like Kevin Spacey is tolerated, women in the film industry are repeatedly ostracised for committing far less serious crimes

  • TextThomas Hobbs

Kevin Spacey’s decision to come out of the closet as part of his apology for committing sexual misconduct towards a 14-year-old boy in 1986 has rightly been mocked and criticised by most sections of the mainstream media. By collating homosexuality and sexual misconduct, Spacey has irresponsibly helped fuel a dangerous age-old myth that gay and bisexual men somehow pose a threat to children. In short; it was the worst coming out of all time.

In an interview with BuzzFeed, Star Trek actor Anthony Rapp accused the House of Cards star of making a drunken sexual advance towards him when he was just a child at a Hollywood party. However, the allegations became all the more disturbing after it emerged the entertainment industry may have long been aware of Spacey’s supposed predatory behavior.

Way before the 2005 Family Guy jokes about Spacey, Vicky Featherstone, the artistic director of London’s Royal Court Theatre, told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme that damaging gossip about the actor had been circulated. She said: “I think that many people in the theatre and in the creative industries have long been aware of many stories of many people over a lot of years, and Kevin Spacey would be one of the people that people have had concerns about, yes.”

There’s an uncomfortable déjà vu about this admission. Just a few weeks ago we were told the same thing about Harvey Weinstein – that the predatory Hollywood producer’s behavior was essentially an open secret within industry circles. In the time since Spacey attempted to “seduce” a 14-year-old Rapp, he has won two Oscars and established himself as one of the industry’s most bankable stars. And if Featherstone is correct, this means any negative stories that have been recycled about Spacey over the years have done absolutely nothing to dent his ascension. This hints at a disturbing tolerance within the entertainment industry – that Spacey and Weinstein’s behaviour isn’t worth investigating as it simply comes with the territory.

In sharp contrast, famous women in the film industry have repeatedly been ostracised for committing far less serious crimes. In 2001, Winona Ryder was infamously arrested for stealing $5,500 worth of designer clothes and accessories in Beverly Hills, California. She later blamed the incident on depression. In the years that followed the theft, Hollywood gave Ryder the cold shoulder as she struggled for high-profile roles and became an open punchline at award ceremonies.

This conversation extends to mental health as well, with famous women who suffer in public treated very differently from their male counterparts. For years, entertainment figures such as Dennis Hopper had traded off their reputation for being mentally volatile. It’s almost been a badge of honour. Can you really say the same for someone such as Sinead O’Connor?

This is because middle-class white men dominate the upper echelons of our society, imposing their values and preferences from a position of power. Artist Grayson Perry perfectly described this powerful group as the ‘default man’, arguing that any efforts to eradicate this toxic form of masculinity will be blocked even if specific individuals are outed because this behaviour is still so dominant in our boardrooms (of which only 25% of FTSE 100 directors are female).

If we’re to truly progress from the Weinstein, and dare I say it, Spacey era then famous men must face the same treatment famous women are subjected to should they make the smallest of errors. The blowback for Ryder was instantaneous yet Weinstein and Spacey’s far more serious improprieties were dismissed and they were allowed to continue for years without being questioned. Ultimately, what’s worse – a stolen handbag or a grown man drunkenly attempting to seduce a 14-year-old?