On the 5th of October the New York Times published a report on film executive Harvey Weinstein. 13 women detailed experiences of sexual harassment and assault by Weinstein over more than two decades. Subsequently Weinstein has been fired, and an international social campaign of solidarity has taken off on social media. The #MeToo movement has shown us the staggering strength of women’s voices. We’ve also seen the insidious magnitude of sexual violence. Speaking at the Women Empowerment Summit at the Cornerstone Institute Cape Town yesterday, South African publishing legend Jane Raphaely described #MeToo as the weapon of our time.
Weinstein, Richardson and Accountability
By now more than 50 women have publicly accused Harvey Weinstein, of sexual harassment or assault. Some of these celebrities include Ashley Judd, Rose McGowan, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie. Lupita Nyong’o recently shared a full and detailed account of her experience in The New York Times: “Harvey led me into a bedroom — his bedroom — and announced that he wanted to give me a massage. I thought he was joking at first. He was not… He told me not to be so naive. If I wanted to be an actress, then I had to be willing to do this sort of thing. He said he had dated Famous Actress X and Y and look where that had gotten them.”
Nyong’o elegantly makes a bigger point about why it is so hard for victims to speak out: “That’s why we don’t speak up — for fear of suffering twice, and for fear of being labeled and characterised by our moment of powerlessness.”
#MeToo as the Weapon of Our Time
#Metoo was initiated by actress Alyssa Milano in support of the women who had come out against Weinstein. Women all over the world have told their own stories of harassment and assault on social media. The significance of the movement has been undeniable. Millions of Facebook posts and thousands of tweets followed as the world responded, confronting and sharing traumas on social media. The viral awareness campaign gave survivors a platform to emerge in solidarity and experience the power of a firm collective voice echoing globally.
The wave of accountability has spilled over from Hollywood into the fashion industry. Model Cameron Russel’s testimony last week encouraged models to share under the hashtag #myjobshouldnotincludeharsassment – the fashion industry clearly has similar problems. Yesterday famous fashion photographer Terry Richardson was banned from working with major magazines including Vogue. Like Weinstein, Richardson has received numerous allegations of sexual exploitation from models he’s worked with and is finally facing the consequences.
This movement has created a culture of rising up together against sexual exploitation, harassment and assault, and judging by the actions against Weinstein and Richardson, it’s more than just a social media campaign. It’s started “a clamour that cannot be silenced or stopped” in the words of South African publishing legend Jane Raphaely.
The Women’s Empowerment Summit: from movement to corporate culture
Speaking yesterday, Raphaely addressed this rising up of women throughout the world. She described the phenomenon as follows:
“Not crying out, but shouting out about a much bigger and more pervasive problem: sexual harassment in the workplace and the possible effect this has had on female performance and female appointment in key positions, which has led to the ongoing inequity of men and women in executive ranks, and therefore to an ongoing systematic disempowerment of women in power.”
The theme of the summit was “Women Empowerment: the road ahead in comparison to the current state”. In her speech, Jane addressed the pervasiveness and power of the #metoo campaign in what she calls the weapon of our time:”Right now, we are witnessing women all over the world using the weapon of our time which does not require money: #MeToo, indicting sex offenders and demanding serious financial consequences, for their crime, for the first time.”
The next step is to take this activism, this global momentum and to localise it into actionable ways forward:
“[We must] frame a call for actual action across the business board in South Africa to change the workplace so that complainants can be made safe from retaliation. Companies where this is happening will suffer serious financial consequences. Heads of companies where this occurs will be held personally responsible,” she said.
This is the hope, that the consciousness, solidarity and demand for accountability will filter through into all corners and contexts that need it. Now that the collective traumas have been confronted, revealed, shaken the world and become inescapable to every person who uses the internet, we need to see it work for us; we need to make it work for us all and never allow it to go cold again.