Op-Eds Opinion

An ugly start to a much-needed conversation

Kathleen Morris

In a mere two weeks it seems as though the whole world has witnessed the fall of one of Hollywood’s top media moguls: film producer and studio executive Harvey Weinstein. His name has been spread across newspapers, websites, and the news channels, due to a massive number of disturbing allegations made against him by women in the entertainment industry. The allegations against Weinstein first appeared two weeks ago in an article published by The New York Times, detailing decades worth of accusations of sexual harassment. Since the article was published, it seems as though the scandal has only continued to grow, with more women opening up about their own devastating run-ins with the producer. Actresses like Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie are among the chorus of women who’ve come forward to speak out against him.

As a result, Weinstein was ousted from the board of his own company, and had his membership with the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) suspended. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts expelled him from their organization as well, saying that “what’s at issue here is a deeply troubling problem that has no place in our society.” Amidst all of this, Weinstein has firmly denied all allegations of rape and sexual harassment, and according to Lisa Bloom, one of the lawyers he’s hired, any unsavory actions should be blamed on the fact that he’s “an old dinosaur learning new ways.”

Suffice to say, this sequence of events is a stark reminder of the reality that is sexual assault. Actress Molly Ringwald, in an op-ed in The New Yorker, wrote, “The tale of Harvey Weinstein is now a thread…connecting women in a depressingly common way. We all seem to have a Harvey story, each one a little different but with essentially the same nauseating pattern and them.”

The show of solidarity following the outpouring of allegations against Weinstein cements this fact. Survivors of sexual assault have been sharing their own stories on social media, using the hashtag #MeToo. Originally created by activist Tarana Burke one decade ago, this hashtag began trending as a way for survivors to show just how prevalent this issue is in our society. Actress Alyssa Milano set it into motion by tweeting, “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too,’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” People answered the call, resulting in tens of thousands of responses across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Some responses went into details about personal stories of assault. Others provided no background at all, with users simply using the hashtag itself, serving as a testament to the devastating fact that sexual assault is alive and well.

On the other side of this has been another trend sweeping social media. Born from the sobering reality amplified by the sharing of stories by survivors of assault, some people have started to use the hashtag #IWill. Tamara Cofman Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, started the trend by tweeting, “I’d love to see a hashtag in which people name a specific action they now commit to take to combat sexual harassment/assault.” In response to this, many, including men, have been pledging their determination to not be bystanders. They’ve been vowing to denounce misogyny, to call out bad behavior, and to look out for those who are being targeted.

This conversation is one that needs to be taking place. Sexual assault is far too often sidelined as being “not that big of a deal.” Some people feel that it’s not as prevalent as others make it out to be. Other people consider it to be something that can be easily avoided, effectively taking the blame off of the assaulter and placing that blame onto victims. If the response to this scandal surrounding Weinstein is anything to go by, those misconceptions couldn’t be farther from the truth. The fact that it took a scandal like this to open up a national dialogue about the realities of sexual assault is disappointing. One can only hope that this will lead to needed changes in how society views, reacts to, and combats sexual assault.

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