The Harvey Weinstein scandal didn’t happen in a bubble, it was a continuation of over a century old western culture inhibiting woman.
This was the damming assessment offered by historian Hallie Rubenhold at Hay Festival Abu Dhabi.
Speaking as part of the Writers Table session, alongside last year's Man Book Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo, the British author sees a clear correlation between the modern conditions allowing the recently convicted Weinstein to commit sexual assault and rape against a former production assistant and aspiring actress, with 19th century British society.
It is a period Rubenhold intensively researched for her critically acclaimed book The Five. Published last year, the historical non-fiction work explores the under reported lives of five women killed by notorious British criminal Jack the Ripper, and how the misogyny of the time fuelled his murderous spree.
“Certainly, in western culture the women is a second class citizen and has always been. I mean, until the mid-19th century in Britain a woman was property and that was enshrined in law. She belonged to man, whether her husband or her father, and she could not make a legal decision in her own name,” she said.
“So this idea that a woman is second class, Weinstein is carrying out a tradition that has always been there.”
As to the 2017 emergence of the #MeToo Movement, which swiftly moved through disparate industries and taking down a range of high-profile industry leaders for discriminatory behaviour against women, Rubenhold said the catalyst could have been the election of sitting US President Donald Trump.
“I don’t really know exactly how it happened, but I think there has been this great awakening – it may have happened with the election of US president trump – and woman said that this is not acceptable to have a man in power treating women badly,” she said.
Rubenhold admits that The Five's commercial success was down to the book arriving on the shelves in the right time.
“I did not plan this to be a historical #MeToo book at all. I started writing this way before the whole Weinstein thing happened,” she said.
“It felt like a wave coming in and my book rode that wave. It is a wonderful example of Kismet – an accident of great fortune. By the time it hit the shelves it was speaking to everybody.”