Sexual Harassment: A Reckoning
By Cynthia Dominguez, Entertainment & Opinion Editor
Sexual harassment is defined as, “harassment (typically of a woman) in a workplace, or other professional or social situation, including unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks.” The first action taken in establishing a legislative foundation against sexual harassment was the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but the introduction of sexual harassment cases into the national legislative branch would not be until the 1970’s. Despite the recent surge in publicity received, sexual harassment has been a problem within the workforce as long as women have participated.
The public awareness surrounding sexual harassment increased in 2017 with large cultural movements emerging from social media, creating a more open and supportive environment for victims. October 2017 marked the change in social attitudes towards sexual harassment when accusations against media mogul Harvey Weinstein emerged in a New York Times article. The article, which detailed unwanted, often aggressive advances towards women also cited instances when Weinstein payed off women who accused him of sexual harassment. A chain reaction, often called the “Weinstein effect”, was set off; hundreds of women came forward on social media with their stories of sexual harassment, often tagging their posts with the hash tag “MeToo”.
The movement proved to empower women and other victims of sexual assault and harassment, taking over social media during the latter months of 2017. The movement did not lose momentum when the Time’s Up movement was announced early 2018 in a New York Times article. Time’s Up is an initiative to end sexual assault and harassment in the workplace with a $13-million legal defense fund to help low-income women in their legal battles to confront sexual harassment, and efforts for changes within businesses to change the attitude towards sexual misconduct in the workplace.
The night of the Golden Globes, celebrities in attendance wore black to demonstrate their support for sexual assault victims and to stand against those who tolerate such abuse. Ironically, the same black-clad celebrities participated in a standing ovation to celebrate the 100th birthday of Kirk Douglas, a man accused of sexual harassment. Despite the several women who have come forward, whether or not Douglas sexually mistreated women is still debatable. Douglas spoke out, proclaiming his innocence and his support for the #MeToo movement after the accusations brought forth.
The hypocrisy is not limited to the night of the Golden Globes; powerful men, accused of sexual violence, have maintained uninterrupted success in part due to both male and female celebrities continuously supporting and working with these men. L.A. Reid, former head of Epic Records, left the label after accusations of sexual harassment. Reid’s departure was discussed in a Newsweek interview with Camila Cabello, in which she stated, “I’m sure he’s going to make a comeback…I still really trust his opinion, and I have a lot of respect and gratitude towards him.” Aside from individuals, companies within the entertainment industry demonstrated their tolerance of sexual misconduct; Fox’s reported $13 million spent on payouts in instances of Bill O’Reilly’s inappropriate behavior towards women illustrates the company’s standing on the issue of sexual harassment. The tone set in Hollywood towards sexual harassment is disastrous and fosters the increase of instances that put women in danger and stifle their potential in a given field. Though the entertainment industry is not the only field in which sexual harassment is prominent, the media highlights the behaviors demonstrated within the lives of prominent individuals. The attention placed upon both the individuals we see in the entertainment industry and those who create these popular vessels of entertainment are crucial in forming cultural attitudes.
Aside from the constant hypocrisy demonstrated with the actors and actresses that continue to work alongside individuals accused of sexual harassment and assault, certain public figures continue to make jokes regarding these topics. In November of 2017, several distasteful jokes were made about sexual harassment by Ben Affleck, Chris Rock, and George Takei, just to name a few. Takei jokingly implying he put forth unwanted sexual advances on men, and Affleck, when asked what would happen if more women became involved in the Justice League franchise, joked, “You following the news at all?”
The National Sexual Violence Resource Center reported in 2015 that “One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives.” When specifically addressing sexual harassment, The National Women’s Law Center reported that at least one quarter of all women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. The commonality of sexual harassment and assault has been a problem in the United States for years and the understandable hope with the #MeToo movement is to bring a cultural shift in the troubling amount of sexual assault which, “has a cumulative, demoralizing effect that discourages women from asserting themselves within the workplace, while among men it reinforces stereotypes of women employees as sex objects,” as stated by the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights.
However hopeful the movement may be in solving the irrefutable trouble sexual assault causes women, many male victims of sexual assault have been heavily disregarded within both social and traditional media. Early in the #MeToo movement, Terry Crews, an actor who has been in the business since 1997, revealed his experience with sexual harassment and shocked individuals both inside and outside of the movement. Many commented on the disbelief that someone as physically intimidating as Crews would be a victim of sexual assault, but many others pointed out that the reactions of doubt rather than support could account for the lack of male victims coming forward with formal or informal accusations of assault. A culture of silencing male victims from speaking out can be attributed to the “emasculating” connotations of sexual assault. This attitude, however, bolsters the continued tolerance of sexual assault extending far too widely in the American workforce and American society as a whole.
The heightened awareness surrounding sexual harassment and assault within 2017 provides an important opportunity for American society to take steps towards a change in cultural attitudes towards not only the crimes mentioned, but towards the victims. The #MeToo movement, despite the flaws, pushes the stories of victims into the mainstream, which has so adamantly refused to acknowledge them in the past. New movements, like the Time’s Up movement take steps towards not only unifying those impacted by the thousands of instances of sexual violence every year, but towards providing everyone with resources necessary to stand up for themselves in situations that should never be tolerated. While demonstrating support for all forms of advocacy in decreasing sexual violence is important, taking a step back to analyze what is truly helping society move towards a more productive and safe state.