PHOTO-ILLUSTRATION BY GLUEKIT
BY KATIE MAGUIRE, North America Editor
The first in a three-part series looking at the #MeToo movement.
One year on from Alyssa Milano’s now infamous tweet calling for women to share their experiences of sexual assault under the hashtag #MeToo, exactly how much has changed?
Over the past twelve months, the Me Too and Times Up movements have appeared to be the potential beginning of the toppling of the long-entrenched system across all industries, that has protected and enabled sexual harassment, from the average workplace to the House of Commons. Since April 2017 252 celebrities, politicians, CEOs, and others, have been accused of sexual misconduct.
The movement initially gained much attention following a number of high profile allegations of prominent figures in Hollywood that shocked the world and broke open the debate about sexual misconduct, launching the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements into the public consciousness.
The accusations against Harvey Weinstein in particular, seem to have been the catalyst for change. They sparked global outrage due to both the gravity of the charges made against him, and the fact that so many in Hollywood knew about the allegations and turned a blind eye, or worse, engaged in covering them up.
The initial allegations were made by two women but, as of now, more than 80 women have come forward to accuse him of misconduct ranging from verbal abuse to sexual harassment to rape. Weinstein was fired from his company, ejected from both the Academy and pushed out of the Directors Guild of America, but did not face any criminal charges until May 2018, more than six months after the accusations surfaced.
The power Weinstein wielded in Hollywood caused a broad re-evaluation of the way we as a society view sexual assault in every sphere, and the abuses of power that disproportionately affect women in the home, school, and workplace.
More allegations against sexual misconduct in the entertainment industry followed, including against Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey, and Louis C.K. Five women came forward in the New York Times, after years of unsubstantiated rumours about Louis C.K. masturbating in front of associates, emboldened by the climate of reckoning for powerful entertainers who had abused their power, with allegations against comedian Louis C.K.
Similar to Harvey Weinstein, the power discrepancy between Louis C.K. and his accusers was particularly unpalatable to the public and C.K. issued an apology, confirming their allegations, and promising to “step back and take a long time to listen.”
This summer, however, C.K. has returned to stand up, seemingly on his own terms beginning with a surprise appearance at New York’s Comedy Cellar in August, with some new material that surprisingly had no mention of the last six months. The audience was unaware that C.K. was going to be performing that night, removing the agency the audience had to consent to a comeback. Two women told Vulture about the “uncomfortable” nature of his set, which featured a gag about rape whistles.
Louis has continued to perform, with jokes about his ‘weird year’ and how he ‘Lost $35 Million in an Hour’, though it is unclear how much of the promised listening he has done, or indeed whether he has done anything to repair the damage he has done. As Schaachi Koul reported for Buzzfeed News, C.K seemingly is orchestrating his return only in a way that feels safe to him, comes with a forgiving audience, and allows him to avoid answering any uncomfortable and tough questions. And he’s getting it.
Meanwhile, after her controversial photo shoot with the decapitated head of Donald Trump, Kathy Griffin’s career was in tatters. She was fired from her New Year’s Eve special on CNN, was under a secret service investigation, and had to cancel her live shows after receiving death threats. Only now, nearly a year and a half later, is her career starting to recover. Her “Laugh Your Head Off World Tour” — faced a vast lack of publicity with no significant mainstream media coverage. “Touring is a business I’ve built that does a hell of a lot better when you have a regular TV presence,” she told Forbes in June. She says that because she’s still unable to get booked on most programs, she’s started a mailing list to promote her tour.
What does this then mean for #MeToo? How much accountability is there when female comedians suffer more from taking a satiric photo than male comedians do from sexual assault? C.K. has elected to abstain from the narrative around him after his initial statement; meanwhile, Griffin, again and again, has had to beg for forgiveness.
Forgiving C.K. and other abusers may be the healthiest step as a society, but forgiveness seems to be a heavily uneven concept when the double standard lies that returning to the spotlight after less than a year with no proper atonement or repair results in a standing ovation, while others have to work and apologise for over a year to be accepted again by audiences. These are certainly questions that will plague the #MeToo movement as more entertainers attempt their comebacks following abuse allegations.