The last few weeks have done more to bring in the open the sheer degree of violence against women in our society than anything else in a long, long time. Following a New York Times exposé that revealed movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual misconduct, actor Alyssa Milano initiated a social media campaign via her Twitter feed that transformed into a movement where thousands of women across the globe shared their experiences of sexual harassment.
Injustice, believed Voltaire, in the end, produced independence. Something similar happened with Alyssa Milano’s call for her action where she wanted all women who had been sexually harassed or assaulted to write ‘Me too’ as a status to “give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”
The outpour on Twitter via ‘#MeToo’ only revealed what has been an open secret. Although it might have spawned off with Harvey Weinstein but just as the problem of sexual harassment or violence against women is not about one man, the movement, too, was more than an indictment of an individual.
Beyond common people, many public figures including singer Björk felt empowered to share their stories and it empowered even men to speak up. Had it not been for the #MeToo campaign, perhaps Star Trek actor Anthony Rapp might not have felt ready to open up about the then 26-year-old Kevin Spacey’s allegedly sexual advance on him back in 1986 when he was just 14 years old.
The campaign reached the European Parliament where many members spoke about their experiences with sexual harassment during a debate.
Many of us have known about similar incidents that happened with women around us and yet more often than not we simply stand mute as these are brushed under the carpet. The general societal attitude towards such incidents is also reflected in our popular culture where powerful men, often the perpetrators of such behaviour in real life, decide how such stories would be represented.
People like Harvey Weinstein are the perfect embodiment of both shallow as well as strong men described by the American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson—“Shallow men believe in luck or in circumstance. Strong men believe in cause and effect.”
Initially our behaviour and later our conduct towards the Weinsteins, Bill Clintons, R K Pachauris and Tarun Tejpals of the world is what fuels shallow men to take advantage of circumstances and then transform into powerful symbols who understand the cause and effect athematic. In the wake of the Weinstein revelations, doyens of the world of cinema such as Quentin Tarantino, George Clooney, Ben Affleck, Brad Pitt, Woody Allen and Matt Damon in more ways than one suggested that they had heard rumours for nearly two decades and yet chose to do nothing.
While Clooney said that he had ‘never seen any of this behaviour’ in front of him, Tarantino, in fact, said that he knew enough to do more than what he did. When Priyanka Chopra was asked if there were any Weinsteins in Bollywood, her response—“I don’t think there’s ‘a’ Weinstein”—captures how one must look at things in the right perspective.
The Harvey Weinstein scandal has fortified women to share their experiences of sexual harassment or misconduct and both celebrities, as well as the common folk, have strongly condemned the brazen sexism in workplaces. But more than that it has laid a cornerstone that has sent a message out that the power trip about putting a woman in ‘her lane’, or the boys club shunning women who do not stroke the male mogul’s ego enough won’t be tolerated or swept under the rug anymore.
Film historian and best-selling author