Abcarian: On the fifth anniversary of the #MeToo movement, the reckoning continues

What a great coincidence!

On the fifth anniversary of the #MeToo movement’s explosion, disgraced movie mogul and convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein faces another rape trial, this time in Los Angeles.

And “She Said,” a feature film about the New York Times reporters who exposed his decades of sexual assault, has just opened in theaters and has received generally positive reviews.

Both come at a time when the intensity unleashed by the #MeToo movement seems to be fading in the public imagination and the powerful men who were knocked over like bowling pins five years ago – strike! – have largely been forgotten. Where are you now? Who cares?

Spotted portrait illustration of Robin Abcarian

opinion columnist

Robin Abcarian

At the Los Angeles trial, Weinstein’s attorney Mark Werksman felt emboldened to refer to alleged rapes as “transactional sex,” using a misogynist term to describe the many aspiring actresses his client allegedly assaulted, including California first partner Jennifer Siebel news.

Seventeen years ago, when she was a struggling actress, Newsom testified that Weinstein raped her at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills. She also testified that she faked an orgasm to get the attack over with. This is a survival strategy, not consent.

Werksman, who asked her to re-enact her fake climax, suggested she was “just another chick who slept with Harvey Weinstein to get ahead in Hollywood.”

I hope the jury sees this outlandish remark as a desperate defense attorney’s move, but sexist attitudes die hard. Many rape juries have returned acquittals because of a victim’s clothing. “You have to look at how she was dressed,” a defense attorney told a jury in an Irish rape case in 2018. “She was wearing a lace-front thong.” The accused was acquitted, sparking a backlash. Women posted photos of their underwear with the hashtag #ThisIsNotConsent.

I would suggest if the power imbalance is as one-sided as it is between Weinstein, then one of the most important actors in Hollywood, and the many aspiring actors and assistants he has attacked, then there is no “transaction” in the game. At least not in the traditional sense. He punished women who successfully fought him off and some who were unable to do so. He has ruined careers. He paid large sums of money to numerous victims and had them sign non-disclosure agreements. Gagging so many women meant he could always be a victim.

The “transaction” was essentially “submit yourself and shut up or never work again”.

“He took my voice just as I was about to find it,” says one of his victims in She Said.

Rather than focusing on Weinstein, “She Said,” which is closely adapted from the book of the same name by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, focuses on the experiences of women and their struggle to overcome the perfectly legitimate fear of going public and then being labeled as transactional chick.

I was moved by the empathy and kindness that Reporter Kantor, played by Zoe Kazan, showed to Weinstein’s victims. She and her correspondent Twohey, played by Carey Mulligan, feared that the story would not see the light of day if none of the women who told the horrific tales allowed their names to be printed. But they did not coerce or cajole. They let their sources make their own decisions, and the film’s emotional climax comes when actress Ashley Judd, who plays herself, decides to go public. She is at the forefront of her explosive story, which was released on October 5, 2017. Days later, the New Yorker published Ronan Farrow’s equally damning Weinstein investigation.

After that, a spate of women — at least 100 according to New York Magazine in 2020 — came forward to say they had been abused by Weinstein.

One of the great results of #MeToo has been the increasing willingness of lawmakers to ban the use of non-disclosure agreements. One of Weinstein’s victims, Zelda Perkins, co-founded the global anti-NDA campaign Can’t Buy My Silence. She played a pivotal role in the New York Times investigation, breaking the NDA she signed with Weinstein decades earlier.

Last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation banning non-disclosure agreements for all forms of workplace discrimination, including sexual harassment. Many other states have done the same. A federal law, the Speak Out Act, which bans non-disclosure clauses in employment contracts (as opposed to ex post settlements), has passed both branches of Congress and is awaiting signature by President Biden.

In practice, laws like those in California mean that victims who receive settlements have the right to publicly discuss their cases. If they don’t want to talk about it, they don’t have to, but they won’t be gagged anymore. It puts the power in their hands.

And men, at least some, are re-evaluating their own role in enabling horrible behavior in the workplace.

Last week, the LA Times published an essay by Irwin Reiter, the Weinstein Co.’s longtime executive vice president of accounting and financial reporting. Reiter, a key character in “She Said” played by actor Zach Grenier, gave the New York Times an internal company memo , which confirmed Weinstein’s toxic behavior past and present.

The outrageous manner in which Weinstein’s attorney treated Jennifer Siebel Newsom was what prompted Reiter to write the essay.

“I hope that the defense’s victim-blame tactic will fail in this era,” he wrote. “Survivors carry enormous burdens. You shouldn’t have to speak up alone, either. Men in positions like mine can and must reinforce that truth.”

Five years later, it looks like the #MeToo movement has helped the world shift on its own axis. We owe these changes to dogged investigative journalists and the incredibly brave women who chose to speak truth to those in power, be damned the consequences.

@AbcarianLAT Abcarian: On the fifth anniversary of the #MeToo movement, the reckoning continues

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