Change is Coming: My Reaction to Hollywood Sexual Harassment

Welcome back, film lovers! It took me some time to decide if I wanted to write this post. I knew this was something I wanted to discuss but also worried what future employers might think if they read it. Then, my older sister said something that rang true with what I believe. She said, “You wouldn’t want to work for someone who didn’t think it was important, so you might as well write it.” So, without further ado…

A lot of people talk about how they remember exactly where they were when certain news broke, like when OJ Simpson tried to escape in his white Bronco, and I wonder if the Harvey Weinstein crimes exposure will be one of those events. I was in my 7:30am class reading the New York Times article detailing Weinstein’s decades of assaulting and paying off victims instead of paying attention to the lecture. I couldn’t tell you what the lecture was even about, but I can tell you that this news was far more important. Five days later, The Times and The New Yorker published articles with even more detailed accounts from women, including Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie, about how the now-disgraced Weinstein has harassed and assaulted dozens of women and easily gotten away with it, until now. Within days, actresses came forward as being on the receiving end of the mogul’s predatory behavior. What I hated most about some of the news coverage on the cases was that it was deemed a “scandal.” Weinstein isn’t scandalizing. He’s a criminal. He committed sexual crimes and describing it as anything else is a disservice to the survivors.

When the top dog was brought down, the ball kept rolling. Not long after Weinstein was exposed, actor, Anthony Rapp came forward as being assaulted by acclaimed, now defamed, actor Kevin Spacey when he was a teenager, with many male actors coming forward after him. But, here’s the kicker. Spacey responded to the accusations by apologizing for the encounter he didn’t remember and coming out as a gay man. Gay men have had to fight to erase the misconception that they are gross pedophiles, and Spacey throws all of that work out the window by using his sexuality as a scapegoat. Thankfully, his television show, House of Cards, quickly fired him and announced they will continue their final season with fan-favorite Robin Wright as the lead. But the allegations didn’t stop at Weinstein and Spacey. James Toback, Matt Lauer, and Mark Schwahn were just a few of the men who were accused of sexual misconduct.

In light of the darkness revealed to have plagued the industry, actress Alyssa Milano resurrected the Me Too movement started by Tarana Burke in 2006 on Twitter as a way for victims of sexual harassment or assault to stand in support of each other. It was something so inspiring to see people courageous enough to speak out but also incredibly heartbreaking. To see all of these women, and men, who have had to deal with this behavior in work environments that are supposed to be safe is so frustrating. I know I’m not alone when saying that it’s not at all surprising, either. Women are practically trained that this is behavior we should be on-guard for from early childhood. Female actors almost expect to encounter the “casting couch” at some point in their careers. As evident in Louis C.K.’s victims’ stories, female writers, and comedians are forced to deal with unacceptable harassment. So, yes, the Me Too movement is needed for women to see that are not alone in their struggles, but it’s infuriating that the movement is needed. I only hope that this movement doesn’t pressure victims, whether in Hollywood or not, to come forward before they are ready. Victims should be supported whether or not they are ready to share their story.

I’ve had a lot of conversations about this issue since the Weinstein news came out, but the one that is the most memorable is one I had with my dad and my sister. My dad was asking if I had been reading about all the stories come out, already knowing my answer. As my sister and I were almost ranting about how ridiculous it all was, my loving dad tells me to be careful when I step into rooms and try to build a career, worried by what he’s reading about Hollywood. We quickly tell him, my sister working in tech, another industry that is being exposed, that this happens everywhere. My parents want me to be safe, but this is something I’m tired of having to be aware of. And, I’m only 18. I should be able to have dreams and goals without fearing that they could be deterred by someone else’s misconduct. I, along with every other young woman hoping to make it in the film industry, should be able to share my creativity without worrying that a powerful man will quench my voice. It’s not only unfair that this is something women have to worry about, it’s not right.

The irony is women practically made Hollywood into the business it is today. The first movie star was Florence Lawrence in the early 1900s silent film era. Without women, like Joan Crawford or Katherine Hepburn, Hollywood could never have become as illustrious as it is today. To this day, women are what make many films so profitable and yet they are used and abused as if they offer no value. On top of that, it was acceptable for men, even if decent and respectful, to stay silent as if they can’t have any influence on the problem. Though, in this cultural climate, the silence of Hollywood men speaks much louder than it has before. I find it interesting that women are expected to speak out in support of their fellow woman but men are allowed to slip by without consequences by simply wearing a pin. Sorry guys, but that doesn’t cut it anymore. If there’s going to be true change, men need to start calling out their fellow man. Because, bottom line, this is a problem that men have needed to truthfully address amongst themselves for who knows how long and the time is now.

Amidst this pain, however, powerful women in Hollywood have made this into a turning point for change they demand to see. It was decided that women would wear black to last weekend’s Golden Globes Awards to stand in solidarity with victims of sexual misconduct in Hollywood. However, this act of protest was met with many critiques before the big night, arguing that it would just be a publicity stunt and that it would be better to simply not show up. Personally, I thought it was unfair to ask people to not celebrate the work that they were proud of and worked hard to make. It’s possible to recognize great work while also calling out the systemic problem at hand. And that’s exactly what they did. Ahead of last Sunday’s award show, 300 Hollywood women, including Reese Witherspoon and America Ferrara, announced the launch of Time’s Up, an initiative working to change sexual harassment and inequality in the workplace and offer legal advisement to those who have encountered these injustices. While dressed in their black dresses, women a part of the Time’s Up movement discussed the issue and how they plan to combat it, even bringing activists from other industries to share how they are fighting to make safer environments for women. Words followed with action. Women standing with women.

All of the stories that have come out the past few months can make anyone lose hope in humanity, especially those in film and television. While I’ve definitely had a few rants, my outrage is matched with hope. Especially with Time’s Up, I’m hopeful that, even if harassment can’t be absolutely ridden in the workplace, there will be serious consequences for inappropriate behavior and proper avenues available to seek justice. Women have had enough and aren’t going to wait for change, anymore. I believe change is happening, and I’m proud it’s finally come.

Through my eyes,

Sydney ❤

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