Weinstein's arrest marks a profound shift – but how far will it...

Weinstein's arrest marks a profound shift – but how far will it go?

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Gone were the red carpets and golden statues. The army of accommodating assistants and flattering executives had disappeared.

Instead, on Friday morning, Harvey Weinstein was flanked by two police officers – one of whom was a woman – who led the dishonored Hollywood producer from the New York City police station where he had surrendered on charges of rape and sexual abuse.

For many in the #MeToo movement, the arrest was a defining victory in their quest to end sexual harassment and assault, but advocates also cautioned significant work still needs to be done to change the system that allows such behavior to go on.

“When you see that happen, when you see the possibility of accountability get that much closer, it really does a lot to upend these entrenched power dynamics that have for so long kept women and other subordinated groups down,” said Deborah Tuerkheimer, a law professor at Northwestern University.

The first major investigations of Weinstein’s alleged sexual misconduct were published seven months ago in the New York Times and the New Yorker, unleashing a tide of accusations against the producer as well as dozens of powerful men in other industries.

This never-before-seen groundswell of attention to survivors of sexual assault – named after the #MeToo movement that was developed long before the Weinstein reports emerged – rapidly spread.

Ai-jen Poo, executive director at the National Domestic Workers Alliance, said sexual harassment and assault had always been one of the most challenging abuses to expose across industries, but the momentum that followed the investigations into Weinstein changed that.

“What is happening right now is a profound shift and opening to address abuse and violence that has been so pervasive for so long and the shroud of silence around it has just been deafening,” said Poo. “Finally, we’re seeing the kind of shift in culture that is so long overdue.”

How long this momentum can hold, and how far it will go in shrinking sexism’s impact in the workplace, home and criminal justice system, are still to be determined.

But Tuerkheimer said the #MeToo movement had marked an important societal shift away from assuming women are lying, or ignoring their accusations altogether.

And seeing Weinstein, a man who was thanked as often as God in Academy Award speeches from 1993 to 2016, in a courtroom plays an important role in changing that.

“It is not to say that everyone is believed and there are certainly differences in the way allegations are received, depending on race and immigration status and class and other demographics,” Tuerkheimer said. “That said, we’re starting to see more willingness to believe.”

David Parfitt, Donna Gigliotti, Harvey Weinstein, Gwyneth Paltrow, Edward Zwick and Marc Norman celebrate after receiving the Oscar for best picture for Shakespeare In Love during the 71st annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles on 21 March 1999.



David Parfitt, Donna Gigliotti, Harvey Weinstein, Gwyneth Paltrow, Edward Zwick and Marc Norman celebrate after receiving the Oscar for best picture for Shakespeare In Love during the 71st annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles on 21 March 1999. Photograph: Dave Caulkin/AP

Of course, that willingness to believe followed more than 50 women’s accusations against Weinstein.

“We have yet to recalibrate so that the accusations of a single woman, a lone woman, are necessarily going to get this same sort of attention or belief,” Tuerkheimer said. “I would like to think, part of me says that is yet to come and this is a necessary stage along the way.”

At the Cannes Film Festival last week, one of the first women to publicly accuse Weinstein of rape, the Italian actor and director Asia Argento, reminded the Hollywood elite of that point at a festival she described as Weinstein’s “hunting ground”.

Argento explained why his pariah status did not mark the end of sexism in Hollywood, telling the audience that there were known aggressors in the crowd. “You know who you are, but most importantly – we know who you are and we’re not going to allow you to get away with it any longer,” Argento said.

Since #MeToo hit, a broad concern has been whether all women, or just the stars with a platform to seize global attention, would benefit from this new accountability.

Poo, and Mónica Ramírez, co-founder and president of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, the national women farmworker’s alliance, confirmed Weinstein’s arrest was an important moment for the people they represent exactly because of his power and prestige. “It is important for victims and survivors to see accountability is possible, and that no one is above the law,” Ramírez said.

Both women described a significant increase in women coming forward in the low-wage industries they represent to report harassment and assault. “We’ve seen a lot more activism and discussion around the institutional changes and systemic changes that have to be made for this to work,” Ramírez said.

Emily Martin, general counsel and vice-president for education and workplace justice at the National Women’s Law Center, underscored how much of this moment rested on people who had to take on the enormous task of making public accusations of sexual harassment and assault.

“I think that the men and women who have shared their stories in public over the last several months have helped create an enormous amount of progress and culture change, but I suspect they would tell you that it came at some personal cost, that it has been difficult, that when you go up against somebody powerful in your field it leads to consequences that can be difficult to navigate,” Martin said. “The arrest today is so important because it shows that it is not for nothing, that real change is impossible.”



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