By Kallie Gregg
Multiple stories broke last month exposing Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein as a serial sexual predator. As more and more women spoke out against him, the floodgates opened not just for Weinstein victims, but for survivors of sexual abuse all over the world.
The #MeToo campaign has dominated social media and encouraged victims of harassment and assault to share their stories.
Women came forward with accounts of journalist Mark Halperin treating them inappropriately at work, sexually harassing the employees he supervised.
On Sunday, actor Anthony Rapp was the subject of a Buzzfeed News article alleging that actor Kevin Spacey attempted to molest him when he was 14 years old.
It’s worth noting that Weinstein only refuted one of the many accusations against him, responding to an article in the New York Times by Lupita Nyong’o. Nyong’o described a disturbing pattern of behavior from Weinstein while she attempted to break into acting as a student at the Yale School of Drama. Weinstein responded that he “had a different recollection of the events.”
Nyong’o is a black woman. Other actresses, including Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow, shared their experiences with Weinstein via the Times as well. Their stories were not disputed.
Many of the women harassed by Halperin were dependent on him for their professional development. He had great influence over the paths of their careers.
Rapp was only fourteen years old, far out of his depth at a party filled with adults. Spacey was a grown man with an established career, someone Rapp should ostensibly have been able to safely look up to.
I mention the specificities of these circumstances because sexual abuse does not exist in a vacuum.
Sexual abuse and harassment are always heinous acts, full stop. But there are complications we have to contend with mitigating factors (race, gender, age, sexual identity, and economic security, to name a few) all affect people’s vulnerability and their ability to come forward in the face of harassment or assault.
The writer and actress Brit Marling made an excellent point to this effect, writing in The Atlantic,
“Consent is a function of power,” she explained. “You have to have a modicum of power to give it.”
For Nyong’o, Rapp, and countless others, the “function of power” Marling mentioned silenced them and enabled their abusers to continue their behaviors for years.
I wonder if the legacy of the Harvey Weinstein scandal will not be one man’s downfall, but rather a distinct shift in how we talk about sexual assault, consent, and power dynamics. Perhaps naively, I find myself hoping that the cultural and professional consequences for engaging in predatory behavior are about to become swifter, harsher, and more public.
Of course, it cannot and will not be that simple.
In many cases, the economic and social resources of the perpetrator continue to outweigh those of their victims. The sitting president of the United States stands accused of sexual harassment and assault by multiple women, whom the White House communications director publicly called liars. Actors and actresses publicly disavowed Harvey Weinstein but in the same breath continue to work with Woody Allen and Roman Polanski.
However, in the last three weeks, The Weinstein Company announced plans to change its name, NBC fired Mark Halperin, and Netflix officially cancelled House of Cards. These legitimate, concrete responses represent a turning point. May we continue onwards in a similar trajectory.