Steven Spencer

Naked Politics Blogger

On the 5th of October 2017, the New York Times published the first of many allegations about the deeds and misdeeds of Harvey Weinstein. This very public revelation about something most people assumed happens in Hollywood has ballooned into a global movement, centred on the ‘Me Too’ hashtag. This was spawned by people wanting to share their own ‘Weinstein’ experiences and has entered everyday speech and become ‘normal’. But, what has this very public conversation achieved?

The most obvious impact of ‘Me Too’ hashtag has been to create conversation about an issue that has been hidden in plain sight. Namely, that many women (and some men) suffer from unwanted sexual attention on a constant and daily basis in all environments. Unsurprisingly, when there is a power relationship, the degree and seriousness of the harassment is amplified, as told in countless stories of bosses and other authority figures “taking advantage” of younger, mostly female employees and hiding behind their position.

The most surprising thing about the whole debate and what this sharing has prompted, is that people seem to be genuinely surprised. This is despite the fact that jokes about the boss and his secretary have been as common as the ones about the priest and choirboy for decades; the last ten years of scandals have shown that there is fact behind the latter and even a cursory conversation with one’s own circle of friends would reveal there is substance to the former.

A second impact has been to reveal a marked difference and division between what one might call screaming liberals on the one hand and more cautious voices on the other. This came to a head in two stories that exploded into the press this year. In January, the Professional Darts Corporation banned the use of ‘walk on girls’, ending a long tradition. Many cheered this enlightened response to the ‘Me Too’ debate and chalked it off as one more move in the direction of treating women as more than window dressing. Others, including Karen Jean Cookson, a former walk on girl, asked why the women who are employed and support themselves and their families are to be denied what is a legal and legitimate job. To them it was the liberal left’s hypocrisy denying rights to women, rather than a positive move to increase the status of women.

Similar arguments were rolled out in response to the Presidents Club dinner, at which hostesses were allegedly exposed to a full array of misogyny by the all male clientele. Looking back through the press coverage, it is clear that the same division existed, even amongst the hostesses. For some it is a legitimate working choice, a way of earning good money in an environment that is no more exploitative than many other roles. For others, having any job in which women are asked to face what would be harassment in any other environment, is a problem that cannot be explained away. Liberals may well disagree with the choice to subject one’s self to harassment, but liberality demands personal choice is respected, or so the argument goes.

This brings us to the crux of the effect of ‘Me Too’ so far. The main impact has been to divide opinion. Whilst virtually all can agree that women should have equality and should not be subjected to sexual abuse or harassment, whether at work or in any other sphere, the argument about what should be done to support that aim is fractured and emotive. Whilst Germain Greer tells women to be tougher, stop whinging and appeals to us all to use more common sense when judging what is ‘wrong’. The likes of Janet Jackson and Oprah Winfrey appeal for more action, greater changes and a societal shift in attitudes.

Thinking about the effects in a more ‘concrete’ way, it can be argued that little has changed, yet. The opening of a space in which victims of harassment can share, discuss and legitimate their experiences has clearly been a very positive step towards where we want to be, but it has also revealed even more starkly that laws and rules are not protecting people from falling victim to harassment and abuse. A change in narrative does not convict more perpetrators or make sure colleagues are fired. Nor does it change the power relationships that create conditions in which this type of behaviour can happen and remain unchallenged. So, society is changed, but the laws and structures have not yet flexed in response. The change for Weinstein has been profound, with his reputation in tatters and his company forcibly sold, whilst he faces the prospect of multiple trials for his alleged crimes. His victims hope he will be convicted, not just to be punished for crimes against them, but more importantly, as an example of what should happen when great wrongs have occurred.

What next? Hollywood actresses exposed an issue that resonated in society, where most victims live ordinary lives in the real world, and where history and culture combine to create the lived experience. With so many voices pulling in different directions and against a backdrop of large-scale political changes, one might say all bets are off. A year on from Weinstein, the ripples continue their path through global society; who, what and where they affect is largely yet to be seen.


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Last Update: May 24, 2024