American bustle


photo by Amani Canada

The recent sexual assault and harassment scandal concerning Harvey Weinstein has propelled the issue back into the spotlight, one only widened through remarkable, grass-roots social media movements such as #metoo (beginning in the U.S.) and #outpig (centered in France). The different foci between these two movements are fascinating.

In the American context we have a plethora of voices courageously coming forward to publicly share their pain. In the French case the sharing is less about the pain and more about shaming the perpetrators. I’m here for both. However, since my understanding of French culture is limited to my struggle asking for mustard on a sandwich in Paris, I’ll keep my remarks closer to home.

In a Buzzfeed article from Oct. 9, 2017, the reporters summarize the accounts of 70 (!) victims, many celebrities, of Harvey Weinstein. The accounts are stunning in their creepy similarities from the open bathrobe to the coerced massages and more. Perhaps due to the sheer number and the similarities, I started to feel numb.

However, one voice stood out among the almost interchangeable horror: Mia Kirshner.  (Kirshner is best known for her role as Jenny in Showtime’s “The “˜L’ Word.”) Her contribution is notable for a practical step to help stem the tide of misogyny in her field. Kirshner suggests that the largest trade unions in Hollywood ban the practice of taking meetings in hotel rooms.

  Think of how this one move might force a public light on so many cowardly Weinstein’s who take to closed doors to wield their power for ill. Hopefully, the unions will intervene to help change a toxic culture, but there is no reason why similar steps could not be taken in other industries. No, really, think about it.  What could you do, regardless of your gender or your position, to change the structures of harassment?

The spate of high-profile firings from the late Roger Ailes to Bill O’Reilly to Harvey Weinstein to Kevin Spacey to Michael Oreskes (the former head of NPR News) is surprising given that the President of the United States was caught in a recording bragging about sexual assault and still won the highest office.  One would think that in a culture where many people dismissed Trump’s vile words as “locker room language,” we might not see the current wave of support for speaking truth to power.

Then again, one could point to numerous trends in the other direction, where the downtrodden, from immigrants to those without healthcare, continue to struggle largely in silence. Maybe I do not understand American culture as well as I thought.

Regardless, I will take the victory here, and look forward to the kind of structural changes that Kirshner suggested so that we move from powerful, collective words to even more meaningful actions. The new global rhetoric empowered by the aforementioned social media movements is a source of hope in a bleak time. Oh, and #metoo.