Before Time Was Up: Contextualizing #MeToo

Image courtesy of For All Womankind

The phrase “Weinstein effect” connotes the recent wave of exposure from people who have come forward accusing famous and powerful men with claims of sexual harassment and assault. Undoubtedly, the term’s establishment was motivated by the uncovering of 40 victims of sexual assault who accused the American film producer and co-founder of the entertainment company Miramax, Harvey Weinstein. Although conceived under the name of the accused predator, the successes of exposure produced by the “Weinstein effect” cannot be fully attributed to his impressive status within Hollywood culture. Rather, the victims who endured his attacks redirected the conversation from the predator to the survivors through the #MeToo social media campaign.

Amidst the publicity of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault accusations, a friend of the actress Alyssa Milano suggested that women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted write “me too” as a Twitter status in hopes of  “giv(ing) magnitude to the problem.” Later that night Milano publicly suggested victims of abuse reply to her initial Twitter post with the “me too” hashtag. The next morning she would awake to find 12 million comments, posts, and reactions within 24 hours on Facebook.

The origins of the #MeToo movement, however, did not begin with Milano’s posting. As a project, the movement has been in the works for more than 12 years. The founder and creator, Tarana Burke, is a Black-American Civil Rights activist. Burke began the #MeToo movement with the intentions of raising awareness of the pervasiveness of sexual abuse in society and helping young women of color from low-income communities who had experienced abuse to find healing through “power” and “empathy.” She wanted to negate the notions of isolation imposed on the victims of abuse, and challenge the power dynamics between predator and victim by making the face of the movement the survivors of abuse.

The effects of exposing the actions of Harry Weinstein, and the increasing strength and solidarity of women, have triggered the uncovering of many other successful men who have taken advantage of their positions of power and used them to carry out injustices. For the final three months of 2017, it seemed as though the careers of multimedia men were dropping like flies. Public faces such as Matt Lauer, Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey, and James Franco were all among those accused of sexual harassment and assault by multiple women. In some cases, the men were asked to step down from their previous positions. This was the reality for Matt Lauer, who was dismissed from The Today Show, and renowned actor Kevin Spacey, who has been removed from the Netflix series House of Cards.

One lingering question among those skeptical of the accusations is simply: why weren’t they raised before? To answer this, one must ask: what systems are enabling sexual harassment in Hollywood culture? For 30 years, Weinstein remained untouched by authorities because he maintained the inner workings of what writers at the New York Times have called the “complicity machine.” Weinstein’s system of complicity relied on the trust and relations of other ambitious men and women who acted knowingly and unknowingly to suppress the voices of victims of sexual abuse. An example of this appears in the fraught history of actress Rose McGowan’s memoir. McGowan’s book documents how she was sexually assaulted by Weinstein, but shortly after her decision to publish, her manager received a $50,000 payoff to dissuade her from publishing.

But McGowan’s Brave is out now, and this system of deception and concealment of the truth is being dismantled with the rise of a new movement in Hollywood. On Jan. 1, the #MeToo movement evolved into Time’s Up in response to the actions of Harvey Weinstein. After seeing the aftermath of Weinstein’s accusations, the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas (National Farmworker’s Women’s alliance), contacted the women of Hollywood to describe their experiences of assault among agricultural careers. Their letter, which was published in the Times, declared their desire to support those who do not have the money nor access to advocate against sexual harassment and assault. Recently, Time’s Up announced its $13 million legal defense fund set up to support for lower-income parties.

The current discourse occurring within multimedia spheres brings into question the efficiency of our own systems of complicity and support at Conn. Recent restructuring has left the administration’s dedication to Title IX unclear, but the campus does now boast a Sexual Assault Prevention and Advocacy network as well as the existing mandated reporters. People who have experienced sexual harassment or violence, or those who wish to become more involved in spaces and movements that combat the same standards and systems targeted by the #MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns, can get involved with the Women’s Empowerment Initiative, Green Dot, the LGBTQIA Center, and the Womxn’s Center.

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