social & justice

Me Too Movement: The Story So Far And The Way Forward

Karthika S Nair | Feb 15 2019
Image credits: pixabay

October 2017 saw the rise of the #metoo movement in the US that eventually spread around the world through media and workspaces. It is the movement that witnessed women coming forward with their stories breaking the long silence which was earlier sealed with fear and scrutiny.

As the perpetrators have been held accountable for their actions, many powerful men saw their downfall since then though many are still protected by some strong institutions and influential people.

History of the #metoo movement: the origin

Image credits: Flickr

American social and civil rights activist and organiser Tarana Burke started using the phrase ‘me too’ back in 2006 to raise awareness on sexual harassment and related consequences as women have been forced into silence. She founded ‘Girl for gender equity’ which is meant to empower girls of colour to have better voice and representation through classes and training. Burke’s work has been appreciated throughout.


Allegations against Harvey Weinstein and popularisation of #metoo by Alyssa Milano

Actress and activist Alyssa Milano popularised the term #metoo after she took to Twitter to call out Harvey Weinstein and encouraged the survivors to come forward with their stories.

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It created a ripple on Twitter and other media platforms as so many girls and women came out with their stories and horrifying accounts on how they were shamed or coerced into silence due to their perpetrator’s power.

Harvey Weinstein was a powerful man in Hollywood who made a lot of movies including award winnings films. After the term #metoo was popularised, actresses, models and media workers came forward sharing their stories with proof against him.

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Rose McGowan was one of the most powerful voices against Weinstein. She spoke candidly about how Weinstein raped her when she was a teenager. Other actresses like Asia Argento, Angelina Jolie, Lupita Nyongo, Salma Hayek, Connie Nielsen, Darryl Hannah, Uma Thurman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd and others also broke their silence.

Actors irrespective of genders supported the #metoo by giving leverage to the woman’s claims on what they knew of Weinstein’s behaviour. Actor Matt Damon, who made Oscar-winning film Good Will Hunting with Weinstein said, ‘you should talk to him for 5 minutes. You will know that he is a bully. While working with him, I knew that he was a womaniser. I wouldn’t want to be married to him’.

Actress Uma Thurman called out Quentin Tarantino for not supporting her when spoke about her experiences with Weinstein. Tarantino apologised. At the same time, he faced heat when his interview supporting Roman Polanski and blaming his victim went viral.

Director Peter Jackson apologised for replacing an actress who dared to speak against Weinstein in his blockbuster series ‘Lord of the rings’. Weinstein coerced him into rejecting her.


#MeToo in American politics

Politicians like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, whose campaigns were funded by Weinstein, condemned him publicly. Obama expressed his support for #metoo survivors.

Politician Roy Moore witnessed a defeat in his race for Alabama senate seat as he was accused of paedophilia and sexual misconduct.

US president nominated Brett Kavanaugh as Supreme Court justice. Kavanaugh is known for his controversial views on women’s right to safe abortion and said that he will have Wade vs. Roeoverturned. Kavanaugh himself faced sexual misconduct allegations by Dr Christine Ford who openly testified against Kavanaugh and he retaliated with an emotional response.

President Donald Trump slammed Dr. Ford with misogynist remarks and expressed his support for Kavanaugh. He even used the infamous term ‘it is a scary time for men’ which was also echoed by his son Donald Trump Jr.

Kavanaugh’s nomination was passed and he became the SC judge backed by Trump. Even Trump himself faced allegations of sexual misconduct, including from women who were minors at the time.


Kevin Spacey and allegations against other powerful men

After the allegations against Weinstein made ripples in the media, more people started calling out their abusers. Actors Dustin Hoffman, Ben Affleck, James Franco, Aziz Ansari, comedian C.K Louis, journalist Matt Lauer, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and others were called out and some faced consequences for their actions.

Actor Anthony Rapp named Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey for sexually harassing him when he was just 14 years old. Spacey added insult to the injury by calling it an ‘inappropriate drunk behaviour’ and conveniently came out as gay. Several LGBTQIA rights activists slammed him for coming out as he furthered the notion that homosexual men are paedophiles.

Following this 20 other men from both the film industry and stage came out with their stories against Spacey. Subsequently, Spacey’s role as J Paul Getty was removed from Ridley Scott’s film ‘all the money in the world’ and he was replaced by actor Christopher Plummer. His iconic character Frank Underwood met his demise on the house of cards season 6. Celebrities who got away like Roman Polanski were further scrutinised. Harvey Weinstein ironically has spoken in defence of Polanski’s arrival in the US and leniency.

Screen Junkies and Defy media fired creator Andy Signore over sexual harassment allegations by the female employees. However, a lot of actors like Meryl Streep, Matt Damon, and George Clooney were questioned about their awareness of the Weinstein scandal. There were placards of Streep shown with the caption ‘she knew’. Streep has in fact spoken on-record that Weinstein was like God for her.


#MeToo movement in India

In 2017, activist Raya Sarkar prepared a list of sexual harassers in educational institutions. Many women did reveal their stories but the movement gained its momentum only in 2018 when actress Tanushree Dutta retold her harassment story with Actor Nana Patekar.

Image credits: Instagram/tanushree

As reported by Tanushree Dutta, Patekar misbehaved and tried to take sensual steps with Dutta against her will on the sets of “horn OK please” where her role had been that of an item dancer. She was told that it was a solo sequence, but she noticed Patekar eyeing her the first few days. Eventually, he came over to teach her how to dance, touch her body and started pushing her around which made her feel uncomfortable.

Dutta says her complaints were disregarded by the filmmakers who insisted that she continue with those steps that finally prompted her to walk out of the set. Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), was working closely with Patekar at that time and they attacked the car with Dutta and her parents in it.

Image credits: Twitter/nanapatekar

Tanushree Dutta spoke candidly about how her complaint was not taken seriously at all and how badly it affected her career. She went through a phase of depression. Several celebrities like Farhan Akhtar, Twinkle Khanna and Preity Zinta supported her during her ordeal.

Several prominent filmmakers like Sajid Khan, Subhash Ghai, Alok Nath, Vivek Agnihotri and media heads like M. J Akbar, Gaurav Sawant were named by both known and anonymous women.

Gaurav Sawant vehemently denied the allegations while Subhash Ghai was given a clean chit by the police. Sajid Khan’s projects were shelved and Alok Nath was ousted from CINTAA. Noted actors Aamir Khan and Akshay Kumar expressed support for the #metoo survivors following the allegations.

One of the biggest setbacks was faced by All India Bakchod(AIB), a popular comedy group which gives out contents in hotstar and Amazon. Women made reports against the co-founder Gursimran Khamba. Members of AIB including Tanmay Bhatt admitted their knowledge of various misconduct incidents within the organization. Added to that, insensitive and sexist comments made by AIB members Tanmay Bhatt and Rohan Joshi about children on Twitter went viral on social media. As a consequence, Hotstar cancelled the contract with AIB. Besides, Bhatt and Khamba were asked to step away from the group.

Allegations were also made against lyricist Vairamuthu, Malayalam actors Mukesh, and Alencier Ley Lopez and the like.

Association of Malayalam Movie Artists (AMMA), faced issues over the demands for setting up and Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) by three female members, Revathy, Padmapriya and Parvathy. Actresses like Parvathy, technician Divya Gopinath, Rima Kallingal and others spoke candidly about their experiences with issues like casting couch, on-set harassment and cyberbullying.  


Criticisms, bullying and #himtoo

While the movement created a storm, the survivors also had to face a storm. Several right-wing and men’s rights groups criticised the movement. Survivors faced the heat for speaking decades after the incident. Actor Anthony Rapp faced cyberbullying for speaking against Kevin Spacey. Actress Asia Argento was forced to leave Italy following the wave of victim blaming she faced in the country. Actors like William H Macy and Sean Penn criticised the movement with former calling it a ‘witchhunt’. Actress and model Pamela Anderson said that the #metoo movement has gone too far.

US President Donald Trump while dismissing Dr Christine Ford’s testimony against Supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh said that this has become a ‘scary time for men’. Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr echoed that, adding to his earlier statement that ‘women who can’t handle sexual harassment at the workplace should not go to work’ while defending the allegations made against his father during his presidential bid.

Actor Johnny Depp had abused his then-wife Amber Heard who then filed for divorce and was granted a temporary restraining order. Amber Heard showed up in the court with bruises on her face and broke down in tears inside her car after the proceedings.

Amber had photographic and videographic evidence of Depp’s temper and tantrums. Depp was cast in the movie Fantastic Beasts, garnering waves of criticisms against the filmmakers from fans and feminist groups.

Harry Potter franchise had actually spoken at lengths against bullying and domestic violence. However, the director David Yates defended Depp saying that the person he worked with had been very ‘kind’ and that it was just one complaint against him when compared to that against Spacey and Weinstein. The writer Rowling also faced the heat for defending Depp’s casting as she herself had been a survivor of abuse. Depp survived the storm; however, he has reportedly been removed from Pirates of the Caribbean, the franchise that had launched him into superstardom. His personal, as well as professional reputation, might have affected the box office of the 5th instalment.

In India, Tanushree Dutta faced criticisms and bullying in social media. Many called her an attention seeker and drama queen and even “slut” and shamed her for doing an erotic scene in the hit song “aashiq banaya aapne”.

South Indian actress Sanjjanaa Galrani, who spoke about being forced to do erotic scenes in Genda Hendathi was yelled at by director Ravi Srivatsa. She was forced to apologise in a video as requested by actor Ambareesh in the presence of director Roopa Iyer. Many actresses spoke about how speaking up openly ruined their careers.

When Women in Cinema Collective(WCC) demanded the need for ICC in the Malayalam industry, actor Siddique called for a press conference and criticised the actresses for creating issues. He declared that he will protect actor Dileep who has been charged with sexual harassment until proven guilty.  He reiterated that action will be taken against the three actresses for speaking against AMMA. Afterwards, following a discussion, a truce was made and AMMA constituted ICC under pressure. Actor Dileep’s resignation was also accepted.

Actress Preity Zinta faced fire for her insensitive comment on #metoo movement but apologised on social media. Similarly, Raya Sarkar’s list of accused faced opposition from mainstream feminists like Kavita Krishnan and Nandita Menon.

Men’s rights groups launched #himtoo movement saying that men are also falsely accused of harassment and such allegations ruin their career and image.


Aftermath and legacy

The most important achievement of the #metoo movement is the whole shift of perspective from the victim to the perpetrator. In a culture that holds survivors accountable and where women and children are overprotected in the name of safety, the movement builds them their autonomy and the basic right to mobility. Perpetrators are being questioned and removed from their position of power. Years-long silence is broken, and one person’s voice has inspired many others.

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After the allegations were made against Harvey Weinstein, he was removed from the Weinstein Company and academy. His wife Georgina Chapman left him. Over 100 actresses spoke about their harassment by Weinstein. The release of the Weinstein’s film ‘the current war’ was on hold. Police department began an investigation which eventually got him arrested. Weinstein himself admitted that he offered women roles in exchange of sexual favours. He and Kevin Spacey got themselves admitted to sex addiction rehab for months.

Comedian Seth Meyers, during Golden Globes 2018 opening said ‘he will be the first celebrity in history to be booed at ‘in memoriam’ segment’. Actor Tom Hanks accentuated that the actress’ voice served as a ‘watershed moment’ and that Weinstein cannot come back. Actress Lindsay Lohan faced heat for supporting Weinstein but she made her stance in the issue clear.

Actress Rose McGowan, one of the most vociferous allegers of sexual harassment called out Amazon and other executives. She wrote a book titled ‘brave’ where she speaks in detail about how the sexual assault incident changed her life.

‘Feminism’ was Merriam and Webster dictionary’s word of the year.


Time’s Up initiative

“And for too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak their truth to the power of those men. But their time is up”. 

-Oprah Winfrey

In response to Weinstein effect and #metoo movement, ‘Time’s Up’(#TimesUp )initiative was announced on Jan 1st 2018 in New York Times. Lisa Borders is the current president of Time’s up and it has taken over $22 million to help vulnerable women, men, people of colour and LGBTQIA community who have faced sexual harassment and assault.

Over 800 lawyers have volunteered for the initiative. Actor Mark Wahlberg donated his $1.5 million salary from the movie ‘all the money in the world’ to the initiative to show solidarity along with Michelle Williams who received just $800 dollars for doing the same work as him, despite being in the lead role. They had to reshoot the scenes where actor Kevin Spacey was being replaced.

Celebrities wore black dress during golden globe awards to make a statement against sexual harassment. Tarana Biurke was invited to the event as the guest of actress Michelle Williams. 2018 Academy awards spoke at lengths about gender inequality, racism and the importance of #metoo.

Time magazine featured ‘silence breakers’ in the cover as the ‘person of the year’. The cover featured Ashley Judd, Susan Fowler, Adama Iwu, Taylor Swift and Isabel Pascual.

Swift broke her silence about sexual harassment by slapping a lawsuit against a disco jockey. She won the lawsuit and received $1. She even featured the ordeal in her music video ‘look what you made me do’. Male celebrities like Brendan Fraser and Terry Crews spoke about how sexual assault ruined their lives. Fraser literally disappeared from Hollywood while Crews testified.

#MeToo, #TimesUp and #WithHer are just the icebreakers. Sustainable behaviour change and reestablishing the democratic value of rights to equality should be the final verdict.