Sexual Harassment: In the News and in Our Lives

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Lauren Salzman and Olivia Baker There’s always someone to replace you. When you’re an actress or actor trying to make it big, or stay big in Hollywood, there’s always someone to replace you.   It’s no secret that Hollywood possesses a distinct sink-or-swim culture, which seemingly could lead to a state of helplessness amongst actors. When looking at the current climate of Hollywood, particularly surrounding allegations of sexual assault, there’s a chain reaction happening. Harvey Weinstein is probably the most notable figure facing allegations—upward of 50 women claim to be assaulted and/or harassed by him in varying degrees. It seems each day more prominent figures like Kevin Spacey and Louis CK are accused. Brit Marling wrote a personal piece for The Atlantic in which she talks about the “economics of consent.” “Weinstein was a gatekeeper who could give actresses a career that would sustain their lives and the livelihood of their families,” Marling wrote. “He could also give them fame, which is one of few ways for women to gain some semblance of power and voice inside a patriarchal world. They knew it. He knew it. Weinstein could also ensure that these women would never work again if they humiliated him.” For so many males and females, saying no doesn’t seem like an option. Victims are coming out one after another. The “Me Too” hashtag has been used over 4.7 million times on Facebook alone. And while this hashtag is not solely used by celebrities, they have majorly kickstarted the campaign. Creator of the Me Too hashtag, Tarana Burke, recently said in a CNN interview that, “The names of perpetrators don’t matter anymore. It’s time to focus on the system that allows sexual violence to flourish.” There is a name and a face behind every #MeToo, yet it took a celebrity scandal and uproar from Hollywood to bring this issue into mainstream media. Burke hopes her hashtag can help those who have been assaulted not only process what has happened to them but find resources and most importantly, support. Arguably and dishearteningly, these accusations wouldn’t be taken as seriously if they were looked at independently. This chain reaction not only sheds light on the sheer amount of sexual issues in Hollywood, but makes those who have been assaulted more likely to come forward. Will this set a new precedent? Or, will this revolution fizzle out as most things do in modern day media? It may depend on how perpetrators like Weinstein are prosecuted, but regardless, hopefully this movement will provide more light and empathy towards the harassment and violence people face, in Hollywood and elsewhere. It’s easy to initially feel empathy for those slammed in the media— we’ve laughed at their jokes, extolled their films, binged their shows, and it’s hard to believe they could have done something so atrocious. Perhaps we’ve looked up to them, yet they are anything but perfect. On the flip side, it’s a harsh truth that these actors and actresses who seem to lead perfect lives may have been harassed and/or assaulted. What’s more, the problem of assault rests in our own community, and that idea is much harder to grapple with. Latin’s Alliance for Women had an open meeting addressing sexual assault and harassment. It began with a video of Ashley Judd recounting the evening when she was sexually harassed by Harvey Weinstein, alongside her ideas of how to stop, react, and speak on assault. The attendees then split into four separate groups for discussion. There, the discussion became more intimate. It was spring, so I was wearing shorts. Someone I considered a friend came up behind me in the cafeteria line came behind me and grabbed my ass. I immediately turned around and started to yell. ‘How can I not grab it when you’re wearing those shorts?’ I threw them out that night. The crux of the discussions revealed the overwhelming prevalence of sexual assault in and around Latin, even in groups of merely a dozen girls. About 36% of assault victims are ages 12 to 17; stories were copious, and inevitably, common ground was found. I was at a conference for something out of state. This guy was in my committee, and we started talking a little bit during the session. I don’t know if he thought I liked him, but I didn’t. Anyways, we were at the dance the conference holds. I was just standing there, and this same guy comes behind me and touches my ass. I turned around, slapped his hand away, and told him to f— off. Judd offered verbal measures to combat encroachments of the like. These were unyielding phrases, powerful and unapologetic. A simple “no” was even among them, coupled with a physical gesture of holding out one’s hand. But that, for many attendees, was just the problem.  If in a situation where they would feel significantly lesser-than, many found it unlikely that they could muster up the courage to stand up to their perpetrator. I want to say I’d say ‘no’, but I don’t know if I can In her video, Judd mentions that after saying “no” repeatedly, she said something to the effect of how Weinstein could have sex with her after she has won an Oscar. Some thought that she was trying to express how she could win an Oscar without the help of Weinstein. Others thought that saying yes in a nuanced way was the best way to proceed because Weinstein clearly did not understand the meaning of the word, no. Well, what were you wearing? Multiple groups also touched on the complexities of victim blaming— placing blame on someone for something completely out of their control—and considered ways to go about dealing with an assault victim, be it a friend or an acquaintance. Members concluded that, in said situation, the last thing to do is make the victim feel like it was their wrongdoing. Members agreed on one thing: Judd shouldn’t have had to think and rethink that spur-of-the-moment statement that she clearly did not mean. Further, victims should not revert to blaming themselves by thinking about what they could have done or said differently—blame lies in the perpetrator, not the victim. They were [in kindergarten] with me, they would never do that… Lupita Nyong’o wrote of her interactions with Weinstein, “I wish I had known that there were ears to hear me. That justice could be served.” There will never be an end to sexual violence, but this publicity and #MeToo campaign can increase the number of ears that are willing to help, listen and spread awareness. It has to.    ]]>