Maybe it’s the Hollywood connection. Or maybe the sheer depravity. Whatever the reason, the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment scandal has resonated like no other.
When actress Alyssa Milano launched a “Me too” campaign over the weekend, asking women to recall their own experiences, millions responded on Facebook and Twitter with stories of harassment, unwanted touching, and rape.
The mere act of speaking — of breaking taboos — was a powerful one. But the question now is, what next?
There is so much do. But let’s start with two prescriptions. One is broad — building a new understanding of the male role in the fight against harassment — and the other is more specific, putting Hollywood’s considerable power to work on a problem it can no longer
Start with the gender dynamic.
Women ignited this conversation. New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey spent months reporting the Weinstein story. And the actresses and behind-the-scenes employees who spoke to them gave it life — risking their careers to lay bare the tyranny of a powerful movie executive.
Their courage is commendable. But many women feel, justifiably, that it is too precarious to name names. Most of the #metoo posts have not included an #itwashim — understandably so. In the outpouring of stories on social media this week — some 4.7 million people commented or engaged in other ways on Facebook — there were many where women discussed the risks inherent in complaining about harassment, then and now: The risk of being labeled a problem employee, being fired, or worse.
Until now, men — not the abusers, but those sympathetic to the abused — have often been content with private expressions of disgust. “Yeah, he’s a creep,” they’ll tell a female co-worker. “Stay away from him.”
But that hasn’t been enough. One of the many larger messages of the viral #metoo campaign is that men can play an essential part by exercising their power in the workplace to shift organizational culture — either through their own positions at the office, or by confronting abusers and saying out loud, “I believe her.”
There’s another risk: that this month’s social media firestorm will be next month’s flash in the pan. The Commonwealth’s former attorney general, Martha Coakley, told the Globe that the sharing of women’s experience represents progress, but should be followed by policies that assure “fairness for women in education, government, nonprofits, and the corporate world.” That, she rightly observed, is what will result in real clout.
Hollywood, of course, is a workplace like no other. Producers like Weinstein and Amazon Studios chief Roy Price — who resigned on Tuesday — seemed to rule supreme in a business built on youth, beauty, and vulnerability. But Hollywood’s stories also shape our culture in profound ways: They brought Sidney Poitier over for dinner and explored same-sex love on Brokeback Mountain.
Perhaps it’s time that the movie industry turned its cameras on the painful impact and damaging legacy of sexual harassment and assault. There’s power in the stories we tell ourselves; the raw emotion and righteous anger in the #metoo campaign should be a starting point, not the end.
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