The veil over Hollywood’s milieu of chauvinism seems to be lifting like never before.
Actors, models and journalists are finally coming clean about the sexual harassment that has doggedly hounded them throughout their careers. Women of considerable influence and prestige in the industry have united in sober solidarity to squash out such normalized behavior—and sexism itself—once and for all. And on social media, outrage at the harassment and violence women face in media and in their everday lives has steadily mounted.
The public disgracing of Harvey Weinstein has prompted an important shift. Though Hollywood’s culture of harassment and rape itself is not news, something has changed. Women in Hollywood are mad as hell—and they’re not gonna take it anymore.
I am a Witch. And I will hunt wrongdoers. In Hollywood, in government, in business. Stop hurting us or there will be consequence. #ROSEARMY
— rose mcgowan (@rosemcgowan) October 16, 2017
Rose McGowan, an actor and outspoken feminist, initially led the fight. After coming forward in a New York Times expose on Weinstein’s decades of harassment and abuse, McGowan continued to speak truth to power on social media. When her Twitter account was temporarily disabled after she used the platform to call out Ben Affleck for a history of sexual harassment, feminists responded with deafening support of McGowan—literally. Fans and allies, such as McGowan’s former co-star and longtime friend Alyssa Milano, organized a boycott of Twitter, propagating the movement with the hashtag #womenboycotttwitter.
Milano is also credited with the re-launching and popularizing of the “me too” campaign, calling on women who have been the victims of sexual harassment to post the quoted statement to their social media pages. After Milano’s initial post took, it amassed an incredible number of supporters. The two-word statement effectively engulfed Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds for an entire weekend, highlighting the prevalence of the problem across industries and communities. (A new poll shows that over 50 percent of U.S. women have experienced unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances from men, 30 percent have tolerated unwanted advances from male coworkers, and 25 percent have faced advances from their superiors. 33 million U.S. women were sexual harassed and 14 million sexually abused at work; 95 percent said their offender went unpunished.)
Milano’s viral tweet has roots in a “me too” movement launched nearly a decade ago by activist Tarana Burke, and its reverberation is proof that the concept hasn’t lost its power. “It wasn’t built to be a viral campaign or a hashtag that is here today and forgotten tomorrow,” said Burke to the Feminist Newswire. “It was a catchphrase to be used from survivor to survivor to let folks know that they were not alone and that a movement for radical healing was happening and possible.” A week later, the campaign is still the center of many conversations—and has become a launching pad for campaigns about accountability and allyship in the wake of its response.
Model Cameron Russell also used her platform to fight back, using her Instagram to share personal stories of sexual harassment and assault from fans and colleagues as well as resources for fighting back. Working in conjunction with the principles of advocacy, self-help and healing outlined in the mission statement of universalpartnership.org, Russell posted screenshots of stories submitted to her in which users recounted specific occasions wherein they felt sexually exploited by powerful men.
Russell, who released a TEDTalk condemning the fallibility of the modeling industry in perpetuating sexism and promoting a culture of body anxiety, maintains the fervent disposition that the fight against gender-based discrimination and harassment is far from over. Directly addressing the press, Russell posted that the campaign was “only the first step in a long process to make sexual harassment, assault and violence unacceptable.”
“In light of the recent Weinstein ‘revelations,’ women and their allies need to collaborate respectfully more than ever,” Women in Media Founder and Executive Director, Tema Staig, said in a statement. “We believe that until there is parity and inclusion in the crew, these persistent problems will continue to infect the film/TV industry.” Staig’s organization, which advocates for an end to systemic sexism in the film industry, lauded influential women for stepping forward—and then called for firm action. Among their demands? Equal employment opportunities and compensation and comprehensive conduct training.
The National Organization for Women also called for a culture shift in Hollywood. “Every studio, every talent agency, every entertainment lawyer and every business that participates in the ‘star-making machinery’ has an obligation to women — and to humanity —to end the silence that surrounds sexual abuse,” NOW President Toni Van Pelt said in a statement. “It shouldn’t take a Harvey Weinstein to change the way Hollywood deals with abusers. This sort of harassment and criminal assault takes place every day. When people in Hollywood see something, they should say something. It shouldn’t take a newspaper or magazine expose to hold people like Harvey Weinstein accountable.”
Hollywood is toeing the precipice of a profound shift in gender dynamics—and studio executives may soon realize that they must comply with new demands for equality or face the consequences.
Our next issue will zero in on the fight against sexual harassment, in Hollywood and elsewhere. Click here to tell us your #MeToo story—and talk to us about how you’re fighting back. You can also share in the comments!
Sarah Alexander is a recent graduate of Cal State Northridge. In addition to being a writer, she is a visual and performing artist, and attempts to use film, music and online platforms to spark conversation about social activism. She is an anomalous LA native, which affects her personality in a plethora of unique ways.