The #MeToo movement, encouraging women across the globe to come forward about sexual harassment they have experienced, garnered over a million tweets within a few days. The initial call to speak out came from actress Alyssa Milano, the costar of Rose McGowan, who was among the first women to come forward with allegations of sexual harassment and rape about the influential Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, in an article in The New York Times on October 5.
This article detailed Weinstein’s offences over a number of decades, and the subsequent silencing of complaints through “settlements”. Some were financial; others were promised roles in upcoming movies. Another actress to speak up in this initial exposé was Ashley Judd, who detailed a hotel room encounter with Weinstein during production of his 1997 movie Kiss the Girls, in which she has starred. A young 20-year-old actress who was aware of the importance of impressing the powerful Weinstein, she agreed to a meeting, but quickly discovered his ulterior motives when he appeared in a bathrobe and asked for a massage. And this is far from the worst of the recounts given about the producer behind films including Shakespeare in Love, Pulp Fiction, and Good Will Hunting.
Since the first article broke the media silence about what has been described by many as an “open secret” within Hollywood, many more famous figures including Angelina Jolie, Cara Delevingne, and Lupita Nyong’o have opened up about their own experiences with Weinstein. He now is accused of rape by ten women, though his spokesperson has stated, “Any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein.”
It seems phenomenal that so many cases against him could accumulate for over two decades, and yet one constant in many of his victims’ statements was the feeling they could not go to the police or media because Weinstein had the power to “destroy” careers and “crush them”. Indeed, Ronan Farrow, a reporter whose work brought the Weinstein story to light, wrote on November 6 that the producer employed private investigation and security firms with the aim of suppressing the allegations he knew might be revealed.
In only a few short weeks, after millennia of the suffering, silencing, and shaming of those who have a range of behaviors inflicted on them, have we arrived at a point where the world, a world that also includes a president elected in the US with outstanding allegations against him of precisely the sort of abusive behavior towards women that power and celebrity can enable, finally appears to be listening? The Weinstein scandal broke on the anniversary of the leaking of a verified audio tape from 2005, in which President Trump boasted: “When you’re a star, they let you do it.” The British Prime Minister, in contrast to her American counterpart, has already spoken out against abuse, and is leading discussion across political divides to address the issue. Just ahead of the recent US Presidential Asian tour, Trump’s daughter Ivanka condemned harassment in an address to a women’s conference in Tokyo, attracting attention for the irony of her pronouncement.
The Hollywood revelations have been followed by allegations naming other celebrities and those in positions of power: renowned actor Kevin Spacey is accused of forcing himself on then child actor Anthony Rapp, and further investigations into Spacey’s conduct have been initiated by police in London this month; Amazon studio head Roy Price has stepped down from his position; and politicians face condemnation in the US and UK, where one senior minister quickly resigned from the government, admitting his behavior fell below expected standards before a growing number of stories about him became public.
Though the taking down of a powerful individual in the sexist, high stakes culture of celebrity brings this chronic story to center stage, these accounts come alongside those of harassment and abuse occurring in everyday lives. The cascade of comparable claims that followed the Weinstein story and the winds of change whistling through such institutions as the “mother of parliaments” in London seem to suggest that a critical mass might have been reached. Through such groundswell movements as #MeToo, change — some change — could be effected.
Around the world, society is reacting as people have joined in with their own Twitter campaigns. In India, a nation troubled by shockingly violent sexual attacks on women, action for justice is ongoing. An online reporting system called SHe-box for everyday harassment incidents is being extended to non-governmental organizations across the country. In Korea, a parallel case of harassment by those in positions of power within the corporation Hanssem has also brought the matter to public discussion.
Harvey Weinstein has been sacked by the board of the company that bears his name, and so far the repercussions on him as an individual are his disgraced demotion from several industry bodies, but he has yet to face formal criminal charges — in many states of the USA, the statute of limitations prevents old rape and assault cases from moving forward in court. The judicial processes emanating from recent revelations is only just beginning, but now may be a juncture when judicial branches around the world, including the one here in Korea, review how they function.