It’s November 2017, and women and other survivors of sexual assault are not having it anymore. A year ago this month, a man who was caught on tape bragging about grabbing genitalia that does not belong to him was elected president. Woody Allen received high praise from Diane Keaton when he was honored with the Cecil B. DeMille Award in 2014; meanwhile his daughter Dylan Farrow, along with her mother and brother, reminded the world in tweets and open letters how it feels to watch Hollywood shower Dylan’s molester with adoration. But recently, things have been changing. Since Harvey Weinstein’s fall from grace, it seems that powerful men are lining up like dominoes to be knocked down. And the untouchables—the ones about whom rumors had been swirling but any real criticism had been met with dismissal, disbelief, or threats; the ones who are so beloved they seemed above reproach—like Kevin Spacey, George Takei and Louis C.K.—are learning what it feels like now that we can reach their pedestals and knock them down, too.
It isn’t clear why this is all happening now. It’s not like women coming forward with their stories is anything new, although perhaps a person as powerful as Weinstein facing actual consequences generated an energy heretofore unborn. The “Me Too” hashtag (which gained widespread traction with Alyssa Milano’s tweet, but was actually the brainchild of Tarana Burke of Girls for Gender Equity, an activist woman of color who is in the Just Beginnings Collaborative with IMPACT) may have enlightened some people to the pervasiveness of the problem, but that campaign also wasn’t anything new. There was #yesallwomen in 2014, a campaign with the same method and purpose of #metoo. Even the allegations themselves aren’t new—women have been speaking up about specifically Weinstein and Louis C.K. for years, and they’ve been intimidated, blacklisted, bullied, and blamed. Just a few weeks ago a female reporter published an article about her experiences trying to report on the Louis C.K. allegations. The results of her journalistic inquiries? She was kicked off a red carpet, she lost allies, her career suffered and, notably, his did not. A cynical analysis of this moment wherein harassers and abusers are facing real social and economic consequences (if not legal ones) might posit that believing women is trending right now, that it has finally become more politically expedient for Hollywood players to condemn powerful men than to dismiss survivors. However, even if that explanation resonates, a cultural tipping point cannot be reached without prior escalation. That tipping point was reached because of the survivors who refused to be dismissed and the journalists who refused to be intimidated, who worked tirelessly, often at great risk to themselves, to make change happen. And that work is worthy of celebration.
Of course, in spite of the positive changes happening, this is by no means an easy moment for survivors. Recounting past traumas is not enjoyable for those who have lived them. And it is not only the personal cost of trauma we as a society are contending with; these realities come at a significant cultural cost, too. In Rebecca Solnit’s article, Our National Narratives Are Still Being Shaped by Lecherous, Powerful Men she writes:
“In hearing these individual tales, we’re not only learning about individual trespasses but for the first time getting a view of the matrix in which we’ve all been living: We see that the men who have had the power to abuse women’s bodies and psyches throughout their careers are in many cases also the ones in charge of our political and cultural stories.”
Imagine the different world we might be living in if the people in charge of our popular culture stories were not the Harvey Weinsteins of the world but the women whose careers he and so many other men stifled, stunted, or destroyed. It is difficult to envision a reality that has never existed, which is ironic, since that is what the creative people in Hollywood supposedly do.
I, for one, am feeling proud. I am proud of the survivors who are choosing to name their perpetrators (although at the same time I fully support anyone who chooses not to). I am proud of the journalists who are taking their roles as truth-tellers and adversaries to power seriously. I am proud of reaching the tipping point. I am proud of us.