By Maya Gurley
Sexual harassment and assault is a prevalent and frightening issue right now, especially given the recent Harvey Weinstein scandal and the development of the “Me Too” movement. Read more thoughts on the matter as Maya Gurley explores the topic of sexual harassment and where we should draw the line.
She’s a young actress looking for her big break, a career-making project, and a Hollywood tycoon wants her for his movie. Embracing an air of professionalism and expecting the same from her associates, she arrives at his hotel — only to find that the meeting takes place in his private room. Warily, she accompanies him to the bedroom, still anticipating a business meeting. But quickly, any semblance of professionalism is abandoned in favor of his suggestions of strawberries, champagne, massages. Upon his request of them showering together, she asks herself “What could I do? How not to offend this man, this gatekeeper, who could anoint or destroy me?” Eventually, Brit Marling was able to extricate herself from the situation, but the knowledge of his actions would remain locked in that room years after that night. Now three years later, Marling — and a steadily increasing number of women in Hollywood — has stood up to describe her experience that night. And as more experiences of sexual assaults similar to this are shared, a debate over the exact definition of the crime only intensifies.
Harvey Weinstein, American film producer, has for decades subjected young actresses to his unwarranted sexual advances. Not all of the women were able to escape, and some have released claims of physical abuse and rape. Since October, numerous women have been recounting how Weinstein threatened the careers of the actresses he assaulted, using their reputations and futures as leverage. Several women credit a lack of success in the film industry to their refusal or avoidance of his advances.
References to Weinstein’s sexually aggressive behavior have been made in pop culture for decades, but only recently were any allegations taken seriously. His actions have only recently come under public scrutiny in light of the release of a New Yorker article by Ronan Farrow. Published on Oct. 10, the article explains that Weinstein’s history of what many deemed sexual assault is a secret well known — and well guarded — by those in Weinstein’s Hollywood monopoly. Victims who came forward in the past were met with dismissive remarks. According to Angie Everhart, one of the women who accused Weinstein of sexual assault, she was “reassured” that “Oh, that’s just Harvey.”
Following the October Weinstein exposé, a movement termed #MeToo has spread across social media. Women and men are using the hashtag #MeToo to indicate that they too have experienced sexual assault in some form. The movement was originally started by activist Tarana Burke in 2006 as “a catchphrase from survivor to survivor to let folks know they were not alone, “ but it gained social media prevalence after Alyssa Milano tweeted about it in response to the Weinstein allegations.
The stories victims have been sharing about their sexual harassment experiences refer to incidents that some people might not consider sexual harassment from an outside perspective, as many people have different ideas about what degree of actions determine sexual harassment. St. Mary’s senior and fellow of Bridge Builder’s Memphis Against Sexual Harassment and Assault (MASHA) cohort, Lauren Moore defines her perspective on sexual assault saying, “it crosses the line when it’s obviously unwanted, and especially after you say no.”
Lauren also says, “I feel like there’s not enough education surrounding it, and it’s not a conversation that we have enough.” Middle and high school are critical periods of time for this education, which, unfortunately, is nonexistent or lackluster in most American schools. Instead of girls being taught “boys will be boys,” boys should be taught self-control. Instead of people blaming the victim for being “distracting” or “enticing,” girls should be given the freedom to wear what they would like without the fear of sexual harassment or victim-blaming. Instead of labelling the incident as a “misunderstanding,” people should be taught about consent and that “no means no.” Education is crucial in ensuring that students learn how they should treat members of the opposite sex and could prevent a lot of sexual harassment occurrences.
Still, another issue that arises with sexual harassment is that it is often hard — and sometimes nearly impossible — to prove, as evidence of this crime is rarely concrete. In some cases, the sexual harassment might have occurred verbally with no witnesses to confirm its occurrence, or the perceived reputation or character of a victim could distort the nature of the case for many. Girls often feel or fear that they should not report it when they witness or experience sexual harassment, as many girls have seen society’s tendency to excuse sexual harassment, or even brush off the incident as if it didn’t occur in the first place. But no matter what the extent of the sexual harassment, reports should always be taken seriously.
The Harvey Weinstein scandal, its unwinding effects, the “Me Too” movement, and many other events regarding sexual harassment are finally shining some light on this tragic yet devastatingly common issue that persists in society. Sexual harassment is not something to take lightly, as just one incident could traumatize a person for life, stripping away the victim’s voice and strength and rendering a person powerless.
Every woman should have the right to her own body, to make her own decisions, and to live her own life free from fear — and no one should be able to take that away from her. But again and again people with power do, and again and again we make a trivial attempts to come together and draw another “line,” which ends up being just as imaginary as one would think.
Fifty seven women have accused Weinstein. Sixteen former and current executives and assistants at Weinstein’s companies have admitted having knowledge of or having witnessed unwarranted sexual advances by Weinstein. And since his initial call out, 44 other high profile men have been similarly accused of inappropriate sexual behavior. Weinstein’s predatory tendencies were widely understood and tolerated within Miramax and the Weinstein Company. The whole situation was joked about within the Hollywood community. Sexual harassment is Hollywood’s “dirty little secret,” but more importantly it has been for decades, and any lines we have drawn thus far have yet to stop it.