5th October 2018 marks the one-year anniversary since the first allegations of sexual misconduct by former American film producer Harvey Weinstein were published in the New York Times. The accusations thrust Hollywood into turmoil. In the aftermath of the Weinstein allegations, countless more prominent figures in both the entertainment and political spheres were exposed for potential involvement in misconduct. This new international discourse resulted in an alarming yet imperative upsurge in the reporting of sexual assault and harassment across the globe, but did it transform the way we understand ‘consent’?
Unbeknown to many, the ‘Me Too’ movement was a grassroots campaign first founded in 2006 by Tarana Burke. It initially focused on aiding women of colour from less fortunate backgrounds reintegrate into society following their experiences of sexual abuse by successfully constructing an empowered community of survivors. However, it was not until actress and activist Alyssa Milano coined the phrase ‘Me Too’ in her thoughts regarding Weinstein that Burke’s work surfaced in the public discourse. It went from a minute community of women in the heart of New York City to a global phenomenon. Subsequently, the ‘#MeToo’ movement became viral across all platforms of social media with both celebrities and the general public using the hashtag to display solidarity with women and a few men who’d suffered at the hands of such deplorable abuse of power.
Nevertheless, we have to question whether ‘Me Too’ becoming a worldwide campaign really aided us in challenging the stigmatization of sexual violence and rape culture? The allegations have certainly powered an international conversation that in turn has prompted more victims of abuse to step forward. Where we seem to have made the most headway is in the perception of consent and what is deemed “appropriate” behaviour. #MeToo has shone a light on the dark side of Hollywood with prominent male figures like Kevin Spacey and Weinstein accused of abusing their power to take advantage of and later silence their less-powerful colleagues.
A difficulty that has surfaced from this movement is how allegations only have merit when they are acknowledged by the accused. Some individuals such as James Franco have totally denied several separate allegations of sexual misconduct, 5 in Franco’s case. Nonetheless, progress can be seen where some men are willing to acknowledge their faults. Author Lemony Snicket in Time magazine responded to accusations with“I am listening and willing to listen; I am learning and willing to learn.’After his resignation as Editor of the Paris Review, Lorin Stein apologized for previously performing sexual acts at work that he said distorted the lines between the personal and the professional.
There exists a broad spectrum of these accusations from sexual assault itself (Weinstein) to inappropriate masturbation in cases such as Louis C.K for sure but this highlights the importance of #MeToo. There now exists a platform for women to speak out about incidents that, prior to ‘Me Too’, they may have considered to be minor and undeserving of vocalizing. As Burke summarised in her interview with the Telegraph, trivial sexual harassment is like the ‘gateway’ drug to more grave assault. The vast majority of the Hollywood exposures have been related to workplace harassment, and ‘Me Too’ has forced even minor companies to re-evaluate the structures they have in place to safeguard their staff should a situation materialize.
Further developments can be seen worldwide, with countries responding to ‘Me Too’ in varying manners. It has, for example, encouraged national dialogue in countries like Japan whose legal system is renowned for disregarding rape accusations. That is not to say we don’t have a long way to go. According to the ‘Me Too’ website, over 17,000,000 sexual assaults have been reported since 1998 and that is only those who have been willing to speak out. The movement is far from over, the allegations of attempted rape against Brett Kavanaugh and the hearing of Christine Blasey Ford to the Judicial Senate Committee yesterday shows this is no dated issue. We must continue to demand an end to victim blaming, champion empowerment and encourage awareness of all varying degrees of harassment. ‘Me Too’ just laid the chief foundations for a global strive toward a just, safe and egalitarian society.
Lily Gordon Brown