Behind the #MeToo and #TimesUp social media campaigns
Years ago, a feminist film distributor remarked that the problem with Hollywood is that anything that can be commodified will be commodified. It will either be exchanged or exploited in a market. The case can be made that although there has been a shakeup about sexual misconduct, assault, and power abuse, the entertainment industry has also chosen to embrace it not only because of crimes against women but because it is profitable to do so. The Hollywood industry has never liked scandals, with a history of paying to kill stories that provoke public sentiment and to quiet women from speaking out. Suddenly the mute button is not working anymore. Now that women have spoken to public media, it is clear that reforms are not only necessary because women have been targeted, but because it costs too much to have women continue to speak out. The social media campaigns #MeToo and #TimesUp, as ardently as they may have begun to expose cover-ups and provide a voice to women, are in the hands of corporate social media, blogs, newspapers, magazines, internet news, and prime time television.
The #MeToo campaign came to public attention not only in the US but worldwide through the investigative journalism of a young man, Ronan Farrow, whose father, Woody Allen, has a long and widely known history of sexual predation. Ronan Farrow’s comprehensive study of Harvey Weinstein’s decades of unchecked sexual assault was published in the New Yorker on October 10 and was the catalyst to a revolution that has stood the patriarchy on its head. In fact, the revelations that have ensued since this publication reveal the dying gasps of centuries of abuse by men—fathers, sons, brothers, uncles, bosses, priests, rabbis, wherever men hold power as social workers, casting agents, movie moguls, executives, teachers, doctors, police, or in the armed forces. The story about Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein with a track record of award-winning films is eclipsed by his sexual abuse of countless women working with him. These women include Italian actress Asia Argento, French actress Emma de Caunes, Filipina-Italian model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, and US actresses Ashley Judd, Rose McGowan, Rosanna Arquette, and Mira Sorvino.
On October 17, Ashley Judd’s story of sexual abuse from Weinstein became US primetime television history during an interview with Diane Sawyer. “Women have been talking about Harvey amongst ourselves for a long time and it’s simply beyond time to have the conversation publicly,” said Judd who is pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Policy at UC Berkeley. When Judd reported Harvey Weinstein’s practice of power abuse and sexual misconduct on Sawyer’s show, the public exposure trickled a barrage of reports by women who had experienced the same treatment by the former movie producer.
The disclosures following the article in the New Yorker and by Ashley Judd became known as #MeToo. Women reported incidents against Weinstein that not only included sexual misconduct, but harassment and rape. The women who were the most outspoken suffered for their honesty, such as Asia Argento, who wrote that as a young woman the experience resulted in her becoming an unwilling sexual partner to Weinstein, an admission that was scoffed at by the Italian press who scorned her for “participating” in her abuse. Argento felt it was unsafe to remain in Italy with her children and took refuge in Germany. Ronan Farrow again reported in The New Yorker on October 28 about the abuse by Weinstein of actresses Isabella Sciorra and Daryl Hannah. Sciorra came forth 18 days after Farrow’s October report and revealed that Weinstein had repeatedly raped her in the 1990’s and harassed her for years after. Hannah related alarming incidents where Weinstein made repeated attempts to enter her hotel room that caused her to flee or barricade the door. Actress Mira Sorvino had several encounters with Weinstein who harassed her by arranging late night “marketing meetings” and making multiple advances on her during the production of Mighty Aphrodite (1995). As a result of her rejections, Weinstein made calls to Hollywood producers that interfered with the advancement of her career. Rose McGowan thought she had signed a non-disclosure agreement to keep quiet about Weinstein’s predatory abuse in the 1997s but when she discovered it was non-existent, broke it to go public with her testimony that she had been raped and harassed by Weinstein. She was offered $1 million to keep quiet. Actress Rosanna Arquette was vocal about Weinstein years before October 2017. She was sexually harassed by him during the making of Pulp Fiction (1994) but did not report it because of Weinstein’s habit of hurting the careers of actresses that did not comply with his advances.
Following Weinstein’s accusers came multiple reports on predatory and abusive behavior by Matt Lauer, Louis C.K., Russell Simmons, Brett Ratner, Charlie Rose, Kevin Spacey, Garrison Keilor, Al Franken, and James Franco, among others. The reports continue in other countries such as Sweden, where a top-to-bottom shake down in all levels of corporate and institutional power has emerged, including the Swedish Academy that chooses the Nobel Prize for literature. In France #MeToo is called #BalanceTonPorc (Call out your pig). The #MeToo revolution that began in Hollywood has migrated into all kinds of workplaces where predatory behavior manifests through manipulation of women with the same MO as was so ardently described by many women in Hollywood. It is noteworthy, however, that some of the most outspoken women were not invited to the 75th Golden Globes Awards on January 7, where the focus of the evening had shifted to the #TimesUp initiative in the workplace. Rosanna Arquette wrote “No, we weren’t invited. Annabella [Sciorra], Daryl [Hannah], Mira [Sorvino] … none of us were.” Argento remarked, “Guess I am not POWERFUL or HOLLYWOOD enough.”
Attacks on the patriarchy in the media have a specific trajectory, for the media is its “spokesman” and even if facts are reported they always have a profit motive. Although Harvey Weinstein has been removed, new clay soldiers surface, such as James Franco the day after the Golden Globes. His career has already been affected by plans to remove his Globe-winning film The Disaster Artist from international distribution. The film not only failed to win a SAG nomination but was not nominated for an Oscar either.
Unfortunately, the movement has experienced infighting where women attack each other, such as Rose McGowan who accused Meryl Streep of hypocrisy. “YOUR SILENCE is THE problem. You’ll accept a fake award breathlessly & affect no real change. I despise your hypocrisy,” tweeted McGowan (Jan 8, 2018). Meryl Streep played British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady (2011), a film that The Weinstein Company distributed and campaigned for but claims she never knew about his behavior. “I did not know about Weinstein’s crimes, not in the ‘90s when he attacked [Rose McGowan] or through subsequent decades when he proceeded to attack others.” McGowan also criticized the plan by women to wear black to the Golden Globes in protest of sexual harassment.
McGowan is the strongest spokeswoman for taking women to task for knowing about Weinstein but not speaking out because it was advantageous to not do so. Admittedly, Weinstein preyed on the youngest women who did not have enough know-how or experience to speak out, and who were afraid of losing their chance at success. Wherever women are on the ladder of success, whether they were approached or not, if they knew about this behavior they learned to avoid it and keep silent. Despite incidences of in-fighting, united efforts by women remain to tackle the primary issue of calling attention to predators.
Yet so many women knew about Weinstein’s behavior, like Jane Fonda, who spoke October 7, 2017, on CNN with Christiane Amanpour: “I knew about Weinstein, and I’m ashamed I didn’t say anything…Male entitlement goes on everywhere…I only met Harvey when I was old, and Harvey goes for young.” Fonda said that she learned about Weinstein in 2016 from Rosanna Arquette and was ashamed she didn’t say anything because it hadn’t happened to her and she didn’t think it was her place.
The story that Fonda revealed follows the same script that the women who worked for Weinstein and other predators disclosed in accounts on social media. Men are not only sexual predators but they bully women, said Fonda. “If we all talk and told, they would be afraid.” She argued that a president who got elected even after people discovered he was an abuser, sets the bar too high for some women to speak out and legitimizes this behavior. As she points out, the predator in the White House who has escaped scrutiny sends a message that if you’re powerful enough your abuse will carry no consequences.
Maybe there are consequences to come now after all. An information meeting 10 weeks after the news “publicly” broke on Weinstein (though known for years) was called by a team of female corporate heads in power in the entertainment industry. Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, Nike Foundation founder and co-chair Maria Eitel, Del Shaw partner Nina Shaw, and venture capitalist Freada Kapor Klein, called a meeting December 15, 2017 to discuss the creation of the “Commission on Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace” with a focus on the problems of “parity and power.”
It is to be led by Anita Hill who accused Clarence Thomas before he became Supreme Court Justice of sexual harassment in 1991. Hill reported, “We will be focusing on issues ranging from power disparity, equity and fairness, safety, sexual harassment guidelines, education and training, reporting and enforcement, ongoing research, and data collection. It is time to end the culture of silence. I’ve been at this work for 26 years. This moment presents us with an unprecedented opportunity to make real change.” At the information meeting industry came leaders from film and TV (Warner Bros, Paramount, Universal, Disney television), music (Sony, Atlantic Records, CBS records), streaming (Amazon, Netflix) unions, agencies (Creative Artists, United, William Morris ATA, AMPAS), television academy and guilds (Screen Actors, Writers, Directors, Producers).
Another noteworthy reaction that can be expected when women speak out comes from powerful women who are threatened and used by the media to divide and conquer unity among women. Attempts to “normalize” the reports on predatory men have surfaced such as a recent petition signed by French actress Catherine Deneuve and 100 French women published in Le Monde January 9, 2018. Deneuve comes from a macho film culture entrenched in patriarchal and sexist practice, as does Asia Argento, who was ostracized for speaking out against Weinstein. The women who signed the petition illustrate that some women feel compelled to unify through fear of losing the perks that male privilege has bestowed on their careers. Deneuve’s career was launched by misogynist filmmakers such as Polanski and Buñuel, so that trajectory makes it a little less shocking that she would sign a petition declaring that “women are sufficiently aware that the sexual urge is by its nature wild and aggressive but we are also clear-eyed enough not to confuse an awkward attempt to pick someone up with a sexual attack”. Later after vehement attack by women against the petition, Deneuve clarified her position January 14, 2018, in Libération:
“Yes, I like freedom. I don’t like this characteristic of our times whereby everyone feels they have the right to judge, to arbitrate, to condemn. A time where simple denunciations on social media generate punishment, resignation and sometimes, and often, lynching by the media… I don’t excuse anything. I don’t decide the guilt of these men because I am not qualified to do so. And few are… No, I don’t like this pack mentality.”
Following the #MeToo movement is the #TimesUp movement, which made its public debut at the Golden Globes on January 7, 2018 as a “fundraiser.” Guests were given #TimesUp buttons that were prominently displayed by men and women dressed in black. Behind the hashtag is “Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund” that provides subsidized legal support to women and men in any industry who have experienced sexual harassment, assault, or abuse in the workplace. #TimesUp‘s “Go Fund Me” campaign has nearly reached its 17 million mark in just three weeks. On their webpage is a glaring statistic from Cosmopolitan (a survey of 2,235 full and part-time female employees, 2015) “1 in 3 women ages 18 to 34 have been sexually harassed at work and 71% of those women said they did not report it.” With these statistics, it is hard to believe that some women did not know what was going on in the Hollywood film industry.
Hollywood actresses also demonstrated their solidarity with activists as their dates at the Golden Globes in photo ops such as Laura Dern, who brought Mónica Ramírez—an activist who organizes against sexual violence in rural areas and who fights for Latina empowerment; Amy Poehler brought Saru Jayaraman, a workplace justice advocate, Susan Sarandon brought community organizer for Puerto Rican independence Rosa Clemente, and Meryl Streep brought Ai-jen Poo, the director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance.
After every Hollywood gathering, more revelations are made because there is so much more to reveal. Actor and director James Franco won the best actor Globe for The Disaster Artist on cult filmmaker Tommy Wiseau. Using the same power MO as Weinstein, consistent accounts on Franco’s predatory behavior emerged on Twitter on how he coerced several young women in his acting classes at the Studio 4 film school to perform intimate sexual scenes in order to further their careers.
Television or made for TV movies reveal that popular culture will reward fictional dramatizations on the experiences of abused women. Awards rained over Big Little Lies at the 2017 Emmy’s and the 2018 Golden Globes. The ensemble cast, which featured several lead roles for women, climbed the stage at the Emmy’s to proclaim that they were so happy that a series that acknowledged so many women was rewarded and was a statement of female empowerment. Proclaiming that women are empowered does not mean that TV scripts empower women and the series still raises important questions about the representation of women on screen, as I discuss in this essay about the film.
The effects of #MeToo and #TimesUp continue to spiral. Powerful speakers such as Oprah Winfrey could, would, but should not run for president on the #MeToo, #TimesUp platform. Her motivational speech at the Golden Globes was quickly promoted in the media as presidential material. The shakeup spearheaded by women who spoke to Ronan Farrow about their abuse has created the need for a necessary clean up at workplaces but with it comes exponential opportunities for economic gain by the corporate and social media. Power is at the core of economic success where abuse is still an inherent element that will not go away no matter what hashtag is associated with it. The most positive effect of these revelations is, hopefully, today young women have a wealth of experience to draw on when put in these situations and steadfast avenues for recourse. More importantly, as more women assume positions of power within the entertainment industry and other labor forces, the dynamics of predation based on the subordination of women will become obliterated.
You can visit Moira’s profile here and check out other pieces she’s written for us.