by Natalie Finn | Wed., Oct. 18, 2017 4:03 PM
If the news is making you feel particularly adrift these days...
That's what a tidal wave will do.
Sexual harassment isn't new. Sexual assault dates back to the dawn of humanity, let alone Hollywood, and the same goes for gender inequality. It's also not as though the media haven't been reporting on the subject for years, or that literature, music, TV and film haven't addressed it head on, to varying degrees of success.
But while certain issues are always simmering and could use more conversation at any given time—racial injustice, economic oppression and rampant sexual misconduct among them—there have been particular moments when the lid gets pulled back enough to see that there's more of a mess inside the pot than anyone knew and someone, ideally the villain of the story, gets burned.
We are in the middle of another one of those times, only now the entire stew is boiling over.
As stories from celebrities about their own experiences continue to disturb and appall in the wake of the New York Times and New Yorker reports detailing sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinsteingoing back decades, the proliferation of the #MeToo hashtag on social media over the past few days has been a sobering reminder that chronic mistreatment of women is a society-wide problem, not relegated to any one industry or any one subset of women.
Nor are women the only victims, as recent anecdotes relayed by Terry Crews and James Van Der Beek, along with past revelations divulged by Corey Feldmanabout him and his late friend Corey Haim being abused as child actors, have also reminded us.
It's also not news that grown women and men aren't the only victims. Olympian McKayla Maroney alleged today that she was molested by former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, a former physician at Michigan State University who has been accused of misconduct by at least 150 people. He was charged in February with sexually assaulting nine girls, two of them under the age of 13. Nassar, who's currently in prison, had previously been charged with molesting two other children and possession of child pornography in unrelated cases. (He pleaded guilty to the porn charge in June; in exchange prosecutors agreed not to pursue the molestation case or pursue charges of sexual misconduct alleged to have taken place while he was traveling internationally with the women's gymnastics team. He's due to be sentenced Nov. 27.) Via his attorneys Nassar has denied wrongdoing in the bigger assault case; his trial is expected to start in December.
One young woman, listed as Victim B in the more recent complaint, told investigators she was sexually assaulted by Nassar "more times than she could count," according to court documents reviewed by the Los Angeles Times. "Victim B stated that she and all the gymnasts trusted Nassar and that he was like a god to the gymnasts. Because it was happening to all of them, they thought it was normal."
Nassar was fired by Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics in the summer of 2015. MSU fired him in September 2016 after he violated "employment requirements" put in place by the university in 2014 following an investigation into alleged abuse.
"I am filled with relief that the silence is ending and the truth is being made known," Rachael Denhollander, who had filed a complaint with MSU that accused the doctor of abusing her during a medical exam in 2000, when she was 15, told the Indianapolis Star last year when Nassar was fired. "I have hope that full justice is coming, and am firmly resolved to see that process through. This process has been painful beyond what I can express, but as justice is done, his ability to prey on women and children begins to end." An investigation by the paper determined that USA Gymnastics had hidden complaints against Nassar and then failed to monitor his conduct.
Earlier this year, 2000 Olympian Jamie Dantzscher, three-time U.S. rhythmic gymnastics champion Jessica Howard and former national team member Jeanette Antolin accused Nassar of inappropriately touching them and went on 60 Minutes to talk about their experiences. USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny, who was named as a co-defendant in a civil suit Dantzscher filed against Nassar, resigned from his post in March. In June, an independent review recommended a "complete cultural change" within USA Gymnastics.
Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
In a statement posted on social media Wednesday morning, Maroney, a member of Team USA's Fierce Five who shared in the women team's gold medal and won individual silver in the vault at the 2012 London Olympics, wrote that seeing so many women speak up in recent days had given her courage to do the same.
"I know how hard it is to speak publicly about something so horrible, and so personal, because it's happened to me too," wrote the now 21-year-old athlete and actress, who announced her retirement from competitive gymnastics last year.
"People should know that this is not just happening in Hollywood. This is happening everywhere. Wherever there is a position of power, there seems to be potential for abuse. I had a dream to go to the Olympics, and the things that I had to endure to get there, were unnecessary, and disgusting."
Insert "dreamed of winning an Oscar" or "dreamed of being a studio executive [or director, screenwriter, filmmaker, etc.]" and you have the reason why countless women continued to take meetings with Harvey Weinstein over the past 20 years despite being aware that he very well could try something—and that he'd already gotten away with plenty. The same goes for stars such as Ashley Judd and Gwyneth Paltrow, who recently told stories of being aggressively propositioned by Weinstein in the 1990s, after which they ended up working with him again. The culture being as stacked against women as it was, and had always been (Marilyn Monroe famously said that studio heads ran their fiefdoms like "overcrowded brothels"), it was more an act of self-preservation than anything else to not poke the bear, but at the same time make sure that other women knew what sort of a bear they were up against.
Last week. It seems like a Hollywood lifetime ago. So much has seemingly happened since, not just as far as Weinstein's personal and professional downfall is concerned, but also with regard to the countless expressions of disgust, sadness and condemnation; insistence that the buck stops here; and vows to change the culture.
Allegedly molesting children is another level of depravity altogether, but the case of USA Gymnastics and the girls—now young women—who felt they were in no place to speak up because they were on the road to achieving a certain goal and this doctor happened to be part of the system that would help get them there still fits hand in hand with the culture of the Hollywood casting couch. Though great strides have been made in recent years to include more women in the boardroom (not at the Weinstein Company, however, which had a nine-man board before six of them, Harvey included, resigned in the wake of the scandal) and behind the camera, the power structure in Hollywood—and in most businesses—is top-heavy with men.
And when there are more men than women, it's that much harder to effect the kind of change that needs to take place. Aside from entirely female-founded and run companies, there are few templates to look to as far as what an entirely equitable working environment (let alone a society) would look like.
Ben Affleck, in his own response to the allegations against Weinstein, stated that "we" (meaning men) needed to "help ensure there are more women in positions of power." A fine idea, but there are going to have to be other men willing to go along with his high-minded notion.
Which brings us to the logical response to the #MeToo hashtag, and that's the #HimThough tag, which was subsequently employed to revert the attention back to the real problem—namely, the men.
Not all men, no one is saying that. (Or almost no one. Some are, probably. But many women have actually been generously going out of their way to reassure guys that they don't blame all men for the behavior of some; though really, fellas, just deal with it for a second. You're still nowhere close to women as far as being generalized and lumped into one category goes.)
But the fact of the matter is that women speaking up and sharing their experiences in a collective effort to create an environment where they don't feel afraid or like second-class citizens in their own companies, while playing sports, while on the set or while just walking down the street—that's only part of the battle.
Men are going to have to help with the overhaul. Women can call out harassment or report assaults or actively resist being treated a certain way all they want, but if men show up in solidarity right now only to quietly slink back into the same old patterns of theoretically thinking sexual misconduct is wrong but sharing high fives and back slaps with men who treat women badly (or who boast about it, as if the world is their locker room), then the trudge to progress will continue at the same stagnant pace.
The lead-up to two weeks ago lasted for years, after all.
Judd had previously opened up about being harassed by a studio head whom she didn't feel comfortable naming at the time. Rose McGowan had stated that she'd been raped by a studio head but a female lawyer had told her she'd never win in court; only last week did she name Weinstein. The Times reported that she had been one of eight women to accept a financial settlement from him, money being another reason why so many felt compelled to keep silent, both for fear of legal retribution and of seeming like opportunists. Courtney Love downright said on camera 12 years ago that no one should go to a private party with Weinstein if invited. Comedy writers from Seth MacFarlane to Tina Fey joked openly about Weinstein-as-predator—jokes that could have either been interpreted as being based in fact or based in stereotype, the loud, unappealing studio head making passes at every woman in his path.
People got the jokes, but weren't inclined to stop and say, "Wait, that still goes on? Unacceptable!"
Judd, who was quoted in the Times' initial investigative report, said she was glad the conversation that women in Hollywood had been having for years had finally gone public. Jessica Chastainsaid she had been warned about Weinstein but had to eventually work with him once when a director insisted. Kate Winslet, who says she purposely didn't thank Weinstein when she won her Best Actress Oscar because working with him on The Reader had been a nightmare (for various other reasons), admitted to hearing rumors and hoping that they weren't true. "I had hoped that these kind of stories were just made up rumors, maybe we have all been naïve," Winslet said. "And it makes me so angry. There must be 'no tolerance' of this degrading, vile treatment of women in ANY workplace anywhere in the world."
And the women who say they experienced mistreatment firsthand, like Paltrow and Judd, have gotten their lumps too, from those whose knee-jerk response was to blame them for not getting the word out. Though plenty of women did. They warned each other, they told friends and loved ones and word got around, and eventually it wasn't a secret at all. It shouldn't be up to women, especially women who have been violated, to be left with the burden of dealing with something "correctly."
But whether one was previously aware or not of the existence of whisper networks—women advising fellow women about how to protect themselves if they have to interact with people like Weinstein—certain behaviors can easily remain more of a trope than a reality if it hasn't happened to you. And even if it has, or you heard specifically about it happening to someone else and you fully believed it, it is inexplicably hard to take on a patriarchal system all by yourself. Even if you're a man, there will be more men (and perhaps some women too) who don't want you upsetting the status quo or otherwise rocking the boat.
Which is why so many people—most people—don't even try. Sexual assault and intimidation is all about making the victim feel small, powerless and insignificant—and all too often, it works.
In the wake of Weinstein's unmasking as more than a bogeyman, but a true vestige of the way things should never be again, it certainly seems as if it's impossible to go backward. Even if we don't rocket forward immediately, these days of unabashed sharing and proffered support at least make it feel like a page has been turned. Executive task forces are being assembled, people are resigning, Hollywood (and beyond) is feeling the pressure.
But it will take more than women speaking up about what we already knew, that harassment and worse goes on all the time, for real change to take place. If men are still either inclined to not believe women's stories, or don't have the wherewithal to oppose what they know is wrong and insist that it's unacceptable, we're right back where we started. Here's hoping that all of the guys who have spoken out in solidarity, in agreement that a certain way of doing business must end, don't go back to being silent observers. We of course would love to be able to do it all on our own, but we're going to need a little help.
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