Doreen Manning talks to TLR about Weinstein, #Metoo and the treatment of survivors of sexual assault.
On the 5th of October 2017, New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey published substantial allegations of rape and sexual assault/harassment involving Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, detailing settlements paid out to 8 actresses and employees of both Miramax and Weinstein’s own company. Several days later, The New Yorker correspondent Ronan Farrow added fuel to the fire by detailing sexual assaults on 13 women and rapes of 3, all by Weinstein. Farrow also went further by alluding to long-held suspicions by a number of Hollywood actresses that their careers had been tarnished by Weinstein’s meddling, once the actresses had rejected his sexual advances. At the time of writing this article, 82 women have gone public with their experiences of being harassed, assaulted and/or raped by Harvey Weinstein, along with attempts by the Weinstein Company and Miramax employees to supress complaints by making private threats to destroy any accuser’s career and reputation, and quietly-drafted financial settlements ‘that shouldn’t be construed as an admission of guilt’ by Weinstein.
Since these articles have been published, a whole slew of allegations have come to light about other producers, actors and various other high-ranking personalities, not just in the film industry but also in music, politics, science and fashion. Recent days have seen assault and harassment allegations made against Marilyn Manson guitarist Twiggy Ramirez (real name Jeordie White), and actors Kevin Spacey and Ben Affleck, along with film directors Lars Von Trier and James Toback, former president of Amazon Studios Roy Price, and fashion photographer Terry Richardson.
Understandably, people both in and outside of Hollywood are shocked by the stories that have come out over the past few weeks. One problem: they shouldn’t be. This isn’t new. Rumours have always circulated around Weinstein’s ‘casting couch’ practices, with many actresses advising younger ones following in their footsteps no to go to ‘[Weinstein’s] private party in the Four Seasons’. This, along with many other ‘open secrets’ in the film industry, is not the least bit shocking. What’s really shocking is that this behaviour has been tolerated for so long, as part of a very delicate balance of power and manipulation by higher-ups in these industries. Even less shocking than that has been the negative responses by people who have accused Weinstein’s victims (and the victims of other industry predators) of opportunism, even going so far as to accuse women of fabricating the allegations, either to destroy a man’s career or to get their own name in the tabloids; both fashion designer Donna Karan and actress Mayim Bialik have gone so far as to suggest that Weinstein’s victims were ‘asking for it’.
This is also, despairingly, not new. In early March of last year, actress Rebel Wilson revealed that her drink was spiked while at an unnamed ‘trendy club’. What was more alarming than the fact that the practice of drink spiking still happens at all, was the disgusting reaction from members of the public who shared the story on social media, with hundreds, if not thousands, of people making derogatory remarks about Wilson’s physical appearance, going so far as to suggest that Wilson was too fat and/or ugly to be raped by anyone or even for her drink to be spiked.
Reductionist reactions such as this to the genuine and widespread problem of sexual harassment directed towards women are sadly all too common, with the expectation that victims are to keep quiet, lest they ‘damage a man’s reputation or public image’. As we all know, allegations of assaults on both men and women, predominantly of a sexual nature, have destroyed the careers of the following men: Donald Trump, Bill Cosby, Charlie Sheen, Bill Clinton, Woody Allen, John Travolta, CeeLo Green, Bryan Singer, Johnny Depp, Sean Penn, Chris Brown, Mike Tyson, Nelly, Roman Polanski, Casey Affleck, LA Reid, Dr. Luke, and some guy named Alfred Hitchcock.
Rarely is consideration or comfort offered to victims who are brave or strong enough to speak publicly of their experiences. Assault victims are expected to ‘just let it go’; victims are powerless to take any legal action against the perpetrator. Fewer than 1 in every 30 victims of rape and sexual assault succeed in obtaining a conviction against their attacker in the UK, according to 2013 statistics. In the US (where experts estimate that anywhere between 5 and 20 percent of sexual assaults are reported), out of 1,000 incidents of rape and sexual assault, an average of 100 are reported to authorities, with 30 facing criminal trial, and only 10 ending up in prison for their crime.
More often than not, victims of sexual assault and harassment are left to only find comfort in being open about their experiences when they see one or more people going public with similar occurrences, often involving the same culprit. What followed the revelation of Weinstein’s deplorable behaviour was absolutely unprecedented. In the days after both NY Times and The New Yorker’s articles went viral, a simple hashtag, originally coined back in 2006 by Tarana Burke but spread in recent weeks by actress Alyssa Milano, exploded across social media. It was short, but unequivocally loaded with experiences, emotion and an incredible tonal shift and honesty among friends and family, due to the conversations it opened up.
The hashtag was simply #MeToo.
Victims of sexual assault and harassment, including the writer of this article, simply put #MeToo as their status on various social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Some chose to elaborate on this, sharing their experiences with harassment and unwanted sexual attention; others simply left it as the simple, two-word acknowledgement that they too had been someone’s target at some point in their life. Prominent women such as actresses Gwyneth Paltrow, Rose McGowan, Connie Nielsen and Lena Heady, musicians Bjork, Jessicka Addams, Lady Gaga, Sheryl Crow, gymnast McKayla Maroney and presenter Ellen DeGeneres, along with male victims of sexual harassment, actors Terry Crews, James Van Der Beek and Anthony Rapp, have all spoken publicly in recent weeks about their experiences, braving public scrutiny in order to both call for sweeping changes to the sexist attitudes in their respective industries, and as a show of support for victims who either choose to remain quiet, or feel they cannot open up about what happened to them.
More and more stories of sexual misconduct will emerge over the coming weeks, that’s a certainty. What’s more important is to listen and take seriously every single victim’s statement and admittance.
Do not turn away because the allegation just happens to be about someone you like, or because reading the thousands of women’s stories of how they were someone’s #MeToo.
Do not let doubt in the credibility of the victims permeate, as it will no doubt come from less credible of trustworthy news sources.
Do not let the idea that a woman’s clothing, or behaviour, or state of intoxication, be seen as ‘asking for it’.
Do not let the issue go. The systems that created situations like Weinstein’s ‘casting couch’ behaviour must be changed, both from the inside and out. Speak out. Boycott. Most importantly, listen to the victims, even if that’s all you can do.
Victims cannot be the only ones pushing for large scale change; the power to break the cycle has to come from every possible angle. Don’t rest on your laurels; don’t assume that someone else will fix the systems internally. We can all fix the problem of broken systems. Most importantly, we all have to.