#MeToo Movement – A Step in the Right Direction or a Repetition of History?
The current media issue that this essay will focus on is the #MeToo movement and its impact, discussing both its origins and its future. This is a very serious issue affecting the film industry at the moment and is an incredibly interesting topic to write about due to the amount of research that has been conducted about it. There will be discussion into where and when the movement originated and the reason why it took so long for perpetrators, such as the infamous Harvey Weinstein, to be discovered. The essay will also include an account of its actual non-Hollywood origins/the woman behind this movement and how it has been somewhat whitewashed.
This essay will include feminist theory and ideologies that could explain the rise of this movement. It will also investigate how historicist and patriarchal theory can offer a greater understanding from a non-victim perspective. One of the feminist theorists include Simone de Beauvoir who wrote her book The Second Sex (de Beauvoir, 1949). Beauvoir’s theory is extremely relevant as it states that ‘women have been defined by men and that if they attempt to break with this, they risk alienating themselves’. This is due to the fear that face speaking out within this movement due to the belief that they will no longer be cast in films, risking their careers for standing up for their beliefs; which is demonstrated in the case of actress Rose McGowan.
This essay will not only include research on how this movement has simply affected Hollywood, but also will investigate how the sudden outcry from victims of sexual harassment has encouraged people who are not in the film industry to open up about their own experiences. This essay is also going to include statistics to show the true impact of sexual harassment and my research will demonstrate just how common it is, for example: 68% of women and 19% of men have reported of cases of sexual harassment in a public place (Women and Equalities Committee, 2018). My findings will display that it is not only women being affected by this but also that men can be victims too.
Overall, this essay will aim to investigate the idea that the world is becoming more open and listening to the stories of victims instead of victim-blaming or not allowing them the platform to say that sexual harassment and abuse is not okay. It will also be investigating whether the movement itself has been overshadowed by fame and whether it has any point as a movement at all. An alternative that will be examined is this movement may not actually be the end of this issue for many people and investigate into the reasoning why that may be.
This stem of the movement to end sexual harassment in Hollywood began in 2017 when Alyssa Milano tweeted: “if you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet” (Milano, 2017). It then snowballed and became the number 1 trending hashtag overnight, realisation hitting home to those individuals who have suffered sexual harassment. People were finally beginning to realise the strength in speaking up and standing with each other to release a larger message. A similar example of this situation is seen in the Feminine Mystique (Friedan, 1963). In chapter 2 ‘The Problem That Has No Name’, we see the realisation that housewives of this era have been feeling an emptiness about their so-called ‘perfect’ lives wondering if the problem is within themselves:
“On an April morning in 1959, I heard a mother of four, having coffee with four other mothers in a suburban development fifteen miles from New York, say in a tone of quiet desperation, “the problem”. And the others knew, without words, that she was not talking about a problem with her husband, or her children, or her home. Suddenly they realised they all shared the same problem, the problem that has no name.”
This is fascinating, as it sends out the same sigh of relief as the #MeToo movement, even though they are 50 years apart. Although this case is alike and it gives the impression that, this discussion of a breakthrough of similar experiences, it did not necessarily mean a breakthrough of change.
The similarities do not just end there, when men discovered the negative feelings of their wives, they suggested various solutions such as: “Love is their answer”. “The only answer is inner help”, “the secret of completeness-children”, and when the women disregarded these answers, they were met with comments such as: “We have made woman a sex creature” and “She has no identity except as a wife and mother. She does not know who she is herself. She waits all day for her husband to make her feel alive.” (Friedan, 1963) said by a psychiatrist at the Margaret Sanger marriage counselling clinic. Which is similar to the responses that victims receive in modern day experiences. Journalist Piers Morgan is not afraid to give his opinion on almost any issue, so it is no surprise that he made light of the #MeToo movement; when this issue was particularly prominent, Piers asked his Good Morning Britain co-host Susanna Reid recreate a photo, when she refused, he retorted: “You’re allowed to. I’m not going to ‘#MeToo’ you! Come on. You’re allowed to touch me in the workplace, come on” (Welsh, 2018). These two examples of influential people making light of the situation are the exact reason why people are scared to speak up about issues in the first place and could also be the reason why topics like these keep historically arising.
Following this, a recent story arose surrounding feminist politician Sophie Walker appearing on Good Morning Britain. Sophie was one of the founding leaders of the Women’s Equality Party and was invited to appear on the show to debate male violence and terrorism alongside Piers Morgan. About the appearance she states:
“I would however at this point like to invite other public figures not to accept invitations from British television show Good Morning Britain. In my experience they do not look after their guests, especially women, and they are not honest about what arrangements to speak entail.” (Walker, 2019)
After the production team cancelled her interview for unknown reasons, Piers took to Twitter branding Walker a “ridiculous creature” and claiming she had “ran away” (Morgan, 2019) even though the interview being cancelled was through no fault of her own. Walker’s debate was also going to feature broadcaster and writer Edward Adoo – but there was no sign of Piers sending messages to him, even though he had also been cancelled. This links back into the actuality of the movement and why it matters so much that it is understood and put into practice. Although it does not have a direct link into origins, it does link into how women are seen as easy targets and are often ignored. Good Morning Britain allowing Piers Morgan to be broadcasted on their platform following such a horrific repertoire of hate that he has often been so vocal about, just goes to show how much we need this movement to succeed.
These situations have simply been covering the issues faced by upper-class white women (for the most part). So, what happens when it concerns non-white people? As we see in Bell Hooks’ 1984 work Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, in her analysis of previous book Feminine Mystique, states: “She made her plight and the plight of white women like herself synonymous with a condition affecting all American women. In so doing, she deflected attention away from her classism, her racism, and her sexist attitudes towards the masses of American women.” (Hooks, 1984). In the context of Feminist Mystique (1963), Friedan makes clear that the women she saw as victimized by sexism were college-educated, white women who were compelled by sexist conditioning to remain in the home. Which relates into the #MeToo movement itself, due to this movement originally being founded by a lower-class black woman named Tarana Burke.
Tarana Burke is a black civil rights activist from the Bronx, NY. She is the original founder of the #MeToo movement which began in 2006 and was eventually taken over by Alyssa Milano in 2017 and then the world of Hollywood. Burke had used the phrase ‘me too’ whilst working with victims of sexual abuse to convey a sense of togetherness and to show these victims that they are not alone. The correlation between Burke’s feelings on the #MeToo movement and Hooks’ on the Feminine Mystique are remarkably similar. However, when Burke spoke at a conference, she branded the #MeToo movement as a “witch hunt”, and stated: “Suddenly, a movement to centre survivors of sexual violence is being talked about as a vindictive plot against men, Victims are heard and then vilified.” Concluding that she felt that “the campaign is neglecting those it was set up to help” (Burke, 2018). Her sentiment suggesting that the movement has been only focusing on one type of ‘victim’. Of course, it is not diminishing any other victim of sexual abuse, but what Burke appears to be stating is that it has been taken over by an audience of the privileged when it was initially simply a place of understanding for victims who didn’t have the platforms or the support that they needed. With even the original creator of this movement critiquing and stating that it has went too far, the research has shown that there are many other people who agree with this statement.
Harvey Weinstein is an American film producer and has been a huge name in Hollywood for decades. He was also one of the most prolifically named with over 80 victims coming forward with allegations of abuse, following the accusations that he had faced criminal proceedings for sexual misconduct and rape charges but had been released on bail. An unlikely supporter of Weinstein’s is the feminist author Germaine Greer, when interviewed about the topic of #MeToo she stated: “What makes it different is when the man has economic power, as Harvey Weinstein has. If you spread your legs because he said ‘be nice to me and I’ll give you a job in a movie’ then I’m afraid that’s tantamount to consent, and it’s too late now to start whingeing about that” (Greer, 2018). Is the economic power the dominating force within this whole movement? This statement is reinforcing the beliefs of Tarana Burke and saying that affluence and or bribery can’t necessarily play a part of this movement due to the victims’ prior consent. Greer also states: “The people protesting are people who don’t have the power” it seems that what she is saying just a shocking way of saying that the movement has been taken over by celebrity culture!
Though of course celebrities should be helped with their sexual misconduct claims, is it again is showing signs of history repeating itself? Returning to ‘The Problem That Has No Name’ and the critique featured in Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, this brings a more honest and familiar back-up to exactly what Hooks mentioned. This is a complete repetition of the history of a problem that keeps appearing yet being taken over by people who it doesn’t necessarily impact. Rose McGowan’s case is influential to this, due to this case, although being used in the sense of aiming at a more affluential and Hollywood audience, it was hers that brought the allegations against Weinstein into the limelight. McGowan has been very vocal within the #MeToo movement and has been one of its most recognised leaders alongside Alyssa Milano. McGowan came out with allegations against Weinstein, the pair met up in a hotel, McGowan then states: “Instead, after a half-hour discussion about her career, he held her down on the edge of a jacuzzi and raped her” (McGowan, 2018).This is a horrible crime to have happened, but with McGowan putting her career on the line she helped over 80 different victims come forward with their own accusations against Weinstein. Meaning that, instead of alienating her own career, she helped alienate Weinstein’s and he is no longer being allowed to work in Hollywood.
A further aspect of this movement I would like to investigate is that of man’s perspective. With famous feminists coming out to say that the whole movement has gone too far – where does this leave men? Of course, men are not always the perpetrators of sexual abuse and are also victims themselves; but with my previous case studies and investigations I will use this as an example. Patriarchal theory comes into perspective when thinking about the reasoning behind this, within The Creation of Patriarchy (1987) Lerner investigates the history behind patriarchal ideologies:
“Since woman was, by divine design, assigned a different biological function than man was, they argue, she should also be assigned different social tasks. If God or nature created sex differences, which in turn determined the sexual division of labor, no one is to blame for sexual inequality and male dominance” (Lerner, 1987).
This is an explanation in gender equality is a whole separate issue but has relevance here as it explains why more women come out as victims as opposed to men. Due to being created with the ability to carry a child and that being a woman’s only purpose in life, which further relates back to the critical theory surrounding women as mothers in the Feminine Mystique.
Lerner then goes on to state:
“The “exchange of women” is the first form of trade, in which women are turned into a commodity and are “reified,” that is, they are thought of more as things than as human beings. The exchange of women, according to Levi-Strauss, marks the beginning of women’s subordination. It in turn reinforces a sexual division of labor which institutes male dominance” (Lerner, 1987).
This theory reinforces the idea of a patriarchy and gives more of an insight as to how the idea of gender inequality came to exist, not only in a sexual sense but in a hierarchal approach also. We may believe that times have changed when it comes to this statement but regarding women being treated as objects, Donald Trump, the president of the USA has been recorded saying sexist comments that coincide with the #MeToo movement. The president was reported to have stated that: “When you’re a star they let you do it. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything” (Trump, 2017). Trumps’ comments heavily coincide with Greer’s ideologies of when power and money are involved, is it really an act of sexual abuse when the victims are consenting? Which again leads back to the whitewashing and appropriation of the origins of the Me Too movement. When Tarana Burke created this movement, she did not necessarily aim it at victims who would be in the situations of affluential dominance, she aimed it at people who lived amongst her community where sexual crimes are committed through no choice of their own. Women being classed as second-class citizens has been something that has been recognised throughout history and even though the #MeToo movement has come into light to try to abolish that idea, the movement itself has diminished other women throughout its progress.
In a 2018 article Caroline Criado-Perez, who is a feminist campaigner spoke out about the movement:
“It’s very easy for politicians and celebrities to wear a T-shirt or wear black and say this matter, it’s much harder to actually change legislation to look at the various processes that are holding women back. This isn’t just about people’s attitudes – it’s about the fundamental building blocks of society.” (Criado-Perez, 2018)
This being said, it goes to show that the publicity behind this movement seems to be arising quite like a trend, proving what previous theorists’ and spokespeople on the movement have also stated.
To progress, the influence that this has on men is certainly worth mentioning. In 2017 in the wake of hashtag, Hollywood actor Terry Crews spoke about his own accounts of facing sexual misconduct. In this case: ‘an unnamed male executive groped his genitals in front of his wife and “grinned like a jerk” at the pair’s shocked response.’ Crews then stated: ‘he chose not to publicise the incident for fear of being ostracised’ (Crews, Actor Terry Crews: I was sexually assaulted by Hollywood executive, 2017). The link that this has with the #MeToo movement is that Crews’ tweeted: ‘This whole thing with Harvey Weinstein is giving me PTSD. Why? Because this kind of thing happened to ME’ (Crews, @terrycrews, 2017). This is a fascinating case due to the connotations being held by the actor himself, he is a largely built man often known for playing the ‘macho’ roles in his filmography, which is why there was much surprise when he came out with this tale of assault. Beauvoir’s earlier quote: ‘women have been defined by men and that if they attempt to break with this, they risk alienating themselves’ comes under investigation here as it shows the historical complications with this statement. It does not necessarily mean that men are always the ‘predators’ but can also be the victims and in the case of Terry Crews, shows that it can happen to absolutely anyone.
Following this, as of course this movement was aimed at regular people and not people who are connected with Hollywood. On a 2019 fact sheet posted by GOV.UK it features a page named: ‘Violence against Women and Girls and Male Position Factsheets’ this page is available to the public and features statistics on the past years violent offences in the UK. In the year where the movement had been brought to the public eye: ‘An estimated 3.1% of women (510,000) and 0.8% of men (138,000) aged 16-59 experienced sexual assault in the last year. Approximately 2 million adults experienced domestic abuse last year, with 695,000 of these being male’ (GOV, 2019) And according to the Office for National Statistics there had been no significant change from the previous year’s survey. These daunting statistics and their lack of significant change just goes to show that the #MeToo movement does not help those who it was originally aimed at.
To conclude, what this essay has investigated is the origins of the movement itself, Tarana Burke was the original founder and she even believed that her movement had been taken over to be seen as more of an assassination of men. On a positive note, the movement had been used to take down one of the most influential men in Hollywood who is no longer allowed to work, instead of the actors/ actresses who were scared to come forward in the fear that the same would be done to them. The case of Harvey Weinstein seems to be the only major positive impact that this movement has had on the world. With historical and contemporary theorists being looked into, they all come to the conclusion that this is in fact a repetition of history and unless something gets put into legislation then nothing will come from it and will be seen more as a fashion statement. Also, with looking into the sexual violence coming from the UK and lack of change between the two accounts, it does appear that this movement does not in fact help those it was initially intended to and instead focusses on the affluent and upper-class. Again, leaving those who really need the impact and limelight in the dark.
Burke, T. (2018, November). MeToo founder Tarana Burke: Campaign now ‘unrecognisable’. (J. Wakefield, Interviewer)
Crews, T. (2017, October ). Actor Terry Crews: I was sexually assaulted by Hollywood executive. Retrieved from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/oct/11/actor-terry-crews-sexually-assaulted-by-hollywood-executive
Criado-Perez, C. (2018, March). Leading feminists on why Time’s Up and #MeToo mean there’s no going back. (A. Topping, Interviewer)
de Beauvoir, S. (1949). The Second Sex. Paris. Page IV
Friedan, B. (1963). Feminine Mystique. USA: W. W. Norton and Co . Page 23-29
GOV, U. (2019, March). Violence against Women and Girls and Male Position Factsheets. Retrieved from GOV,UK: https://homeofficemedia.blog.gov.uk/2019/03/07/violence-against-women-and-girls-and-male-position-factsheets/
Greer, G. (2018, January). Germaine Greer criticises ‘whingeig’ #MeToo movement . (A. Flood, Interviewer)
Hooks, B. (1984). Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. USA: South End Press. Page 1-3
Lerner, G. (1987). The Creation of Patriarchy. USA: Oxford University Press. Page 16-24
McGowan, R. (2018, January). Rose McGowan’s memoir Brave details alleged rape by Harvey Weinstein. (S. Cain, Interviewer)
Milano, A. (2017). @Alyssa_Milano. Retrieved from Twitter: https://twitter.com/alyssa_milano/status/919659438700670976?lang=en
Morgan, P. (2019, March). @piersmorgan. Retrieved from Twitter: https://twitter.com/piersmorgan/status/1106468499361357824?lang=en
Trump, D. (2017, December). Donald Trump: Billy Bush says infamous Access Hollywood ‘grab them by the p***y’ tape is real. Retrieved from ABC News : https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-12-04/billy-bush-says-infamous-access-hollywood-trump-tape-is-real/9224358
Walker, S. (2019, March). Anyone who cares about sexism should boycott Good Morning Britain and Piers Morgan’s clickbait debates. Retrieved from NewStatesman: https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/feminism/2019/03/anyone-who-cares-about-sexism-should-boycott-good-morning-britain-and
Welsh, D. (2018, March). Piers Morgan Takes Heat For Making Light Of #MeToo Movement . Retrieved from Huffington Post: https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/piers-morgan-metoo-good-morning-britain_uk_5aafa11de4b0c33361b23dde
Women and Equalities Committee. (2018). Sexual harassment of women and girls in public places. London: House of Commons.