Katie Breen asks why it is left to women alone to challenge rape culture and sexual assault.
In the wake of the allegations made against American film producer and mogul, Harvey Weinstein, countless women have said #MeToo and come together to condemn sexual misconduct and say enough is enough when it comes to sexual abuse and harassment in work, on the street, or elsewhere. However, a key and powerful voice is absent from this conversation. Men, as both the perpetrators and victims, have stayed largely silent in this movement when their collective voice is arguably the most needed, with many who have spoken out being accused of missing the mark or being tone-deaf in their responses.
Liam Neeson told Ryan Tubridy on RTÉ’s The Late Late Show that “there is a bit of a witch-hunt happening” and spoke about Dustin Hoffman, who has been accused of exposing himself to his daughter’s then 16-year-old friend and of sexually assaulting two women. “I’m on the fence about that” Neeson said, “I’m not saying I’ve done similar things like what he did… apparently he touched another girl’s breasts and stuff but it’s childhood stuff.” Neeson went on to say that there is a “healthy” movement happening.
The possibility of being outed as an abuser could be one reason why men do not speak up
Ben Affleck, on the other hand, condemned Weinstein on Twitter, saying: “I am saddened that a man who I worked with used his position of power to intimidate, sexually harass, and manipulate many women over decades … we need to do better at protecting our sisters, friends, co-workers and daughters.” Affleck seemed to forget that in 2010 his brother Casey Affleck was involved in sexual harassment lawsuits against two former co-workers. Hours after Affleck spoke out on Weinstein, he was accused of sexual misconduct. Speaking to The Associated Press, Affleck said he is “looking at [his] own behaviour and addressing that, and making sure [he’s] part of the solution”.
This is one of many reasons why it is important for men to speak out; it causes them to have their views challenged and to check their own harmful behaviours. There can be no discourse without self-awareness, and there can be no self-awareness without the voicing of opinions. The possibility of being outed as an abuser could be one reason why men do not speak up, but if a man is innocent, what other reasons could there be for distancing themselves? Do they not believe it is an important issue, or if they do, do they believe that it is purely a women’s issue?
At the 75th Golden Globes, the male winners of the evening faced an audience of uniformly black-clad women who were ambitiously declaring that the time for the perpetration of sexual assault with no repercussions is up. Not one man mentioned the most topical story of the night. Many male stars, including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, said that they too would wear black to show support for the movement, a weak and ineffective move considering black is the default colour worn by men to red carpet events. Among those who called it quits after sporting a black tuxedo and ‘Time’s Up’ pin was James Franco, who angered many after he was accused by five women of an “abuse of power,” allegations which Franco and sister-in-law Alison Brie have both said are “not accurate”.
To enact real change, participation is needed by both men and women equally
Another problematic aspect of the Hollywood debate seems to be female forgetfulness. On January 20th, Scarlett Johansson blasted James Franco during her speech at the Women’s March 2018. However, Johansson has featured in three Woody Allen films and said that paedophilia accusations against Allen were all “guesswork.” The same can be said of Greta Gerwig’s avoidance of the issue when asked about Allen, Alison Brie’s dismissal of accusations against her brother-in-law Franco, and Lena Dunham dismissing accusations against her friend.
The list goes on, and begs the question: can sexual abuse be swept under the rug if the perpetrator is talented, or if there is a personal connection? Why do women in Hollywood speak up but not put their words into action? It reflects our culture on a wider scale in the misogyny perpetrated by men and internalised by women in such a way that they feel ashamed for speaking up, and that the onus is placed solely on women to fight this battle.
In the wake of #MeToo and ‘Time’s Up,’ a debate has been opened about what constitutes sexual harassment, such as catcalling or groping, and whether this behaviour is worthy to be career-ruining. Some men are more likely to call it a ‘witch-hunt’ and play the victim than to condemn their fellow actors, or at the very least take part in the dialogue surrounding the nuances of the debate.
They do not seem to understand that it is not about hating men or believing that any situation can be interpreted as sexual harassment with the right lawyers. It is a rightful call to challenge the inherent power structures which are embedded in our society, a call made all the louder by the behemoths of Hollywood debating the issue on the world stage. To enact real change, participation is needed by both men and women equally as victims, enablers, and abusers, to guarantee that the abuse of power in Hollywood and other industries eventually ends.