By Alyssa Tolentino
On October 5 2017, a New York Times investigation by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey revealed sexual harassment allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein dating back to 1990. Since the story broke, social media has brought it to a global scale, shining a light on the issue of sexual assault.
Kantor and Twohey uncovered that for years Weinstein had invited women to hotels for what they thought were work reasons, but he sometimes had different interests. Among the women coming forward are Ashley Judd, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Angelina Jolie. In response, Weinstein sent The New York Times a statement in which he apologizes for the pain caused by his behavior and is committed to a path of recovery. On October 10, however, Sallie Hofmeister, Weinstein’s spokeswoman, denied the allegations of nonconsensual sex and any acts of retaliation against women who denied Weinstein’s advances.
Weinstein was not charged with any crimes but was fired from Weinstein Company, which he cofounded, on October 8, after initially taking a leave of absence. According to The New York Times, Weinstein called and emailed top Hollywood figures, asking them to speak up in his defense but had no success. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences ousted him, a rare action for the organization that awarded his studio five Oscars for best picture.
Hollywood was initially reluctant to talk but the story quickly became all anyone could talk about. Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet, Glenn Close, and Judi Dench were among the women who spoke out without having personal accusations against Weinstein. In addition, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have condemned the acclaimed producer on social media. Politicians like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo are now under pressure to return donations from the producer.
Conversations about harassment and male sexual predication in the workplace spurred as a result. The hashtag #MeToo spread through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram like wildfire as women, and some men, shared their experiences with sexual assault and sexual harassment. The viral movement showed the world how widespread the problem really was.
National Post reports that Hélène David, minister responsible for Canada’s Council of the Status of Women, said the #MeToo hashtag generated a “social hurricane” in Quebec. Shortly following it’s social media surge, a La Presse investigation alleged that Éric Salvail, TV and radio host, sexually harassed eleven male and female colleagues. Within hours, his shows were cancelled. Gilbert Rozon, president and founder of Just for Laughs comedy festival, followed after nine women came forward. In both cases, industry insiders now say the men’s alleged misconduct was in open secret but it took the #MeToo movement for the floodgates top open.
In 2006, Tarana Burke, a victim of sexual assault, founded the “Me Too” movement to help women and girls—particularly women and girls of color—who had also survived sexual violence. When she launched her movement, it became abundantly clear as interest grew that the need for “Me Too” was bigger than she first thought. “This is necessary,” she remarked, because “people are crying for it”.
There are many international responses across the globe, each coming from different perspectives. According to PRI, France’s equivalent of #MeToo is #BalanceTonPorc, or “Squeal on your pig”. Begun by French journalist Sandra Muller, she encouraged women to post the names and details of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Leta Hong Fincher, author of “Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China” said, “You have to understand there is still a lot of progress, what you see today, more and more ordinary women saying, ‘yes I was sexually harassed’. That’s a huge improvement over several years ago”. Still, a state-run newspaper in China has come under fire in recent days for publishing a commentary claiming that sexual harassment is a Western problem.
In Nigeria, the scandal is raising eyebrows because few there would have thought an entire business empire could collapse as a result of sexual harassment revelations. Nigerian women say they cope with all manner of inappropriate comments and less-than-subtle requests for sex at work. Journalist Adaobi Tricia Nwauboni, however, says, “perhaps we need to start doing that to get them to stop?”.