As the Harvey Weinstein stories continue to pile up—each more horrifying than the last—one can’t help but wonder if we’re watching the world split open, a la Muriel Rukeyser’s oft-quoted prediction. Countless women this year have opted to tell the truth, speaking up and out about sexual harassment and assault and shattering silences that have protected too many powerful men from being forced to face accountability.
Breaking the silence is only the first step, but these are giant leaps. As women come forward about the sexism of powerful patriarchs—the allegations that appear to have finally challenged public perception of Bill O’Reilly, Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein come to mind—a seismic shift becomes inevitable.
Some have proposed that one reason the Weinstein story came out now, rather than years ago, is that the man who produced such Oscar-winning hits as “Shakespeare in Love,” ”The King’s Speech” and “The Artist” has fallen on more challenging times recently, and his influence appeared to be waning.
“Harvey Weinstein had what could be called a very challenged business over the last few years,” Min said. Other factors, she said, include the fact that a substantial number of female reporters in newsrooms are aggressively pursuing the sexual harassment story, and a rising female voice on social media, willing to speak out.
And, of course, a generational shift: “You could say the current generation is trying the crimes of an older generation,” Min said. “This is a sign of how cultural change is happening so quickly, that if you’re in your 30s, what was happening just 20 or 30 years ago is totally appalling.”
Of course, it’s not certain that Weinstein’s career will be felled by the accusations; Hollywood can be a forgiving place, and a common remark among Hollywood insiders was: “Never say never.”
But outside Hollywood, some were saying that this could be the start of a major cultural shift.
Kathy Spillar, executive director of the Feminist Majority Foundation, said she’s been reminded of what happened with Anita Hill’s 1991 testimony against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. He may have gotten onto the court anyway, but Hill’s allegations spurred many women to come forward with their own stories of sexual harassment — many who hadn’t even realized that what they were experiencing from their bosses was actually illegal.
“Silence is the enemy of justice, and these powerful men know that,” Spillar said. “I think this is going to start an avalanche, I really do. And we all know this behavior is not limited to Cosby, Ailes, O’Reilly and Weinstein.”
“Many women are not willing to suffer in silence anymore,” high-profile attorney to sexual assault survivors Gloria Allred told AP. “They’ve reached their tipping point.” Indeed, they have—and they may take down not just the powerful men who wronged them, but the entire system with them.