Where the #MeToo movement stands, 5 years after Weinstein allegations came to light
It was five years ago this month that the very first article by journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey broke the story of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein's decades of sexual misconduct.
Later that month, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted, "If you've been sexually harassed or assaulted write 'me too' as a reply to this tweet."
This post, referencing the #MeToo Movement created by Tarana Burke years earlier, went viral. So, too, did the allegations against Weinstein. Dozens of women stepped forward to publicly share the extent of the powerful producer's bad acts. Actresses Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan's initial allegations were later followed by Cate Blanchett, Lupita Nyong'o and many others speaking publicly about Weinstein's harassment or assault.
As with Weinstein, many formerly powerful men have similarly been accused of sexual assault and harassment in the years since #MeToo went global. But more broadly, the movement also helped launch a wider examination of society's treatment of women in everyday life, at the workplace and in Hollywood.
"I would say the chips are still falling on the Weinstein case. Of course, we have what we now call the 'Weinstein Effect,' which has instituted a formal conversation around equality more generally," said Chris Yogerst, a film and media historian. "There are more efforts made to elevate female voices, especially in situations where equality is at stake."
Survivors help bring other bad actors to light
The #MeToo Movement was created by Burke in 2006 as a way to empower people who had been sexually assaulted and harassed.
Kimberly Hamlin, a feminist history scholar at Miami University, said women and other assault survivors are continuing to speak out, five years after the Weinstein story broke the long-standing seal on silence.
"The generations-long culture of silence is over," Hamlin said. "The tide has turned from giving abusers a free pass, to listening to and believing survivors and silence breakers. I really feel that we cannot overestimate how big of a shift this is culturally, psychologically, legally. For generations, women have been told, 'Suck it up. Keep it to yourself. That's just how things are. It's your fault.'"
"We are no longer raising our children to just be nice," she said. "[Or to think] 'just don't say anything.' And this is a watershed change."
It's thanks to survivors, who have refused to remain silent and have come forward, that allegations have been brought against more people in Hollywood, the music industry, churches, media, and politics.
Hollywood changes, in some ways
At the height of his power, Weinstein was highly influential in Hollywood because of his companies, Miramax and The Weinstein Company.
Movies produced or distributed by those companies were at one point nominated for more than 340 Academy Awards — winning 81 of them. Weinstein was eventually kicked out of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2017. But he was being honored at the same time that stories of Weinstein's harassment of actresses and abusive, bullying treatment of his own workers were circulating in the industry's whisper networks.
Hollywood has undergone a reckoning to some degree, according to Yogerst, and it's evident in the work being produced and the way female creators are being treated.
"There are more efforts made to elevate female voices, especially in situations where equality is at stake," he said. He noted that female stars involved in major franchise movies have grabbed headlines for taking a stand against the way they were treated.
"Bryce Dallas Howard has spoken out about the pay gap between her and Chris Pratt in the Jurassic Park films. In addition, Howard spoke publicly about getting body shamed by producers (she was also defended here by her director). I think without Weinstein falling, these stories would sadly carry less traction in the media," he said in an email.
Post-Weinstein, certain movies that touch on this cultural moment were given a larger platform, Yogerst said.
"Certain projects surface as a way for filmmakers to show they are allies in the #MeToo era. A film like Bombshell, about the transgressions of Roger Ailes at Fox, is a clear result of the Weinstein Effect. Others, like Bo Burnham's Promising Young Woman also connect," he said.
Bombshell was released in 2019 and Promising Young Woman in 2020.
Sexual harassment at work is still a huge issue
Unfortunately, this societal shift doesn't mean abusers have stopped inflicting harm.
"I would say what has not really changed so much over the past five years are the foundational elements of our institutions and structures of power that tacitly and explicitly facilitates, condones, and ignores sexual assault and harassment," Hamlin said.
Five years on, sexual harassment still pervades workplaces, according to a recent report by The Society for Human Resources Management. The article cites a survey by The Shift Work Shop, an HR consultancy firm, that found 53% of nearly 1,700 respondents dealt with sexual harassment in the previous 12 months.
In corporate settings in particular, Hamlin notes that the training that's provided at many institutions still treats sexual harassment as "an individual, one bad apple problem" that ignores "the institutional, systemic, and historical roots of sexual assault and harassment."
Despite the lack of structural change on many fronts, Hamlin still has a lot of hope about the legacy of #MeToo thanks to her students. As she continues to teach younger generations with her class examining the history and significance of the movement, she has noticed that the students have high expectations for what the world should look like — a world that hopefully looks far different than it is now.
"I hope that they are right," she said. "And I hope that will be the world that we get to live in; where sexual harassment and sexual assault are no longer acceptable in any way and where we really deal with it at the institutional and structural level."
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