How has the #MeToo movement changed society?

By Gabi de Ferrer, May 2018.

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In October of 2017, the dark truths of Hollywood were revealed to public. First released by The New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, the story accused Miramax production creator Harvey Weinstein of three decades worth of sexual harassment and paying eight settlements to actresses and female Miramax and Weinstein Company production assistants, temps, and other employees. [Wikipedia][14][16]

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Jodi Kantor and Megan Twhoey’s article outing Weinstein

Soon after these initial accusations were announced, 100s of actors and actresses came out with further allegations against Weinstein and many other prominent figures in Hollywood. The most shocking aspect of the news was that these incidents were infamous within the industry, Weinstein’s activities remained an open secret to most.  In 2005, singer Courtney Love said in an interview “If Harvey Weinstein invites you to a private party in the Four Seasons, don’t go.” Essentially over the last three or four decades (but most probably a long time before this too) powerful male figures of the industry had abused their power over actresses, secretaries, assistants and actors. The power to help or kill people’s careers and livelihoods was used as a weapon to exert control over others.

Over the next few months, Hollywood began the damage control with films being reshot sans the accused and programmes such as House of Cards writing out main characters like Kevin Spacey. The question on many minds however, was whether this would create progressive change within the industry and society in general?

Shortly after news of the allegations spread – many other professions were outed too. Many of the influential male figures in Architecture, Academia, Politics, and other mainstream industries were being exposed. [Guardian] The most interesting part of the Weinstein scandal was the true scale of sexual abuse cases within workplaces and day to life globally – this issue was perfectly represented by the creation of the hashtag “Me too.”

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An interesting demographic found on the Independent showed that the Accommodation and food service sector was responsible for the largest proportion of sexual abuse reports.

Tarana Burke, a social activist, coined the phrase “Me Too” in 2006, on the Myspace social network as part of a grassroots movement to promote “empowerment through empathy” amongst women of colour who have experienced sexual abuse. [Wikipedia] In 2017, Actress Alyssa Milano encouraged spreading the hashtag #MeToo, as part of an awareness campaign in order to reveal the ubiquity of sexual abuse and harassment.

Milano tweeted:“If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

One week later, over 1.7 million men and women across 85 countries shared their personal stories of sexual abuse and harassment on twitter – to not only show the world the extent of the incidents but to also show survivors that they are not alone.

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Looking back seven months later, I wanted to know how or even if the #MeToo movement changed our society?

  1. The taboo of sexual abuse and tendency to victim blame has significantly diminished.
    • The ‘open secrets’ of historic sexual abuse disappeared once the issue of the New York Times came out – The perpetrators were no-longer protected by their status, wealth or fear. As collectively, the victims had been able to help each other come forward. The core reason for this change was the confidence that society would begin to believe the victims before believing the guilty simply because their characters had been likeable.
    • If you compare this response to that of relatively recent cases of domestic abuse in Hollywood the impact of the movement becomes clear. When model and actress Amber Heard filed a lawsuit against her then-husband Johnny Depp – the media and public jumped to his defence when he was accused of domestic abuse and despite the photographic evidence and detailed accounts, Heard was written off as an overly-ambitious gold-digger.
    • Perhaps if this case had happened just a year later, Johnny Depp may too have been blacklisted from productions, but instead, he was just one of many who managed to slip through the cracks and continue their careers despite major accusations and even lawsuits aimed at them – names such as Chris Brown, Roman Polanski and Woody Allen certainly spring to mind…
  2. There is less fear and shame associated with being a victim.
    • Now that women and men have the assurance of support, more and more victims are no longer ashamed to come forward. With the blame finally being placed onto the attacker rather than the attacked there is far less of a stigma attached to being an abuse survivor.
    • The scale of the #MeToo campaign gave many asylum seekers in the UK the confidence to final come forward against the endless cycles of abuse encountered due to the vulnerability of being undocumented. The fear of deportation typically means they haven’t told authorities, but one effect of the Harvey Weinstein revelations is that they have now begun to speak up about their experiences among themselves.
  3. Equality is being recognised in all areas of the workplace.
    • With many high-powered male dominated senior seats and CEO roles opening up as a result to the scandals, the long held positions are finally up for grabs for both Men and Women.
  4. Real, long-term change is in the works.
    • Of course there have been societal benefits from the viral hashtag but it is difficult to preserve an internet trend/movement within society. However, the scale of the #MeToo movement has opened up discussions with governments and is forcing formal legislative action to be filed in order to protect current victims and prevent others from becoming them.
    • The movement has changed the attitude of society, so it is now time to change to policies.
    • Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, gave a compelling speech following the movement’s outburst against former Prime Minister Tony Abbott who has made several sexist comments in the past.

 

Society still has a long way to come in terms of reaching true equality between sexes with many still not acknowledging the true importance of intersectional feminism. The view that women experience oppression in varying configurations and in varying degrees of intensity. Cultural patterns of oppression are not only interrelated, but are bound together and influenced by the intersectional systems of society. Examples of this include race, gender, class, ability, and ethnicity.”  There is a serious disparity between the treatment of white women and women of colour as well as women of low income communities; whilst this aspect of equality is not the primary focus of the #MeToo movement, it is imperative that it is understood and recognised in order to make effective and permanent progress in the fight for equality. We cannot move forward in a positive way whilst ignoring the injustice suffered by those marginalised by their race, class, religion or ethnicity. Outside of Hollywood, people of marginalised communities are disproportionately affected by sexual abuse – something which is too often overlooked by mainstream press and consequently society. This abuse which is directed towards marginalised communities frequently stems from a position power and a self-imposed sense of superiority drawing parallels to Weinstein’s case.

In 10 years time, I truly hope that the events of late last year are still remembered as the turning point within the issue of the systematic abuse of power exerted over predominantly women in large industries.

However, in order to make something have a sustained impact, it must not be forgotten as a mere ‘trend’. In order to change the long-term effects of power dynamics within our society, we should now focus on the actions of the people who are already in charge of the large conglomerates. If we can get employers to utilise 50/50 gender based quotas within the hiring body of their companies, Women could be ensured to have equal control of decisions. If we boycott companies that accept or hire known abusers, society can collectively show a zero tolerance policy against perpetrators.

This movement has truly provided a sense of hope for young girls everywhere as I feel we have the confidence to move forward without fear of them missing out on opportunities simply because of their gender.

 

 

 

 

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