In this op-ed, Teen Vogue wellness editor Brittney McNamara examines what the silence on sexual assault and harassment at the Golden Globes 2019 said about the progress of Time’s Up and #MeToo.
Last year’s Golden Globes red carpet looked more like a funerary procession than it did a celebration of television and film — and that was on purpose. Many actors and actresses purposefully donned black to mark what some hoped would be the ultimate death of tolerating sexual assault and harassment in the entertainment industry.
But even as we watched a black parade march down the red carpet, it was clear nothing would actually die that night. It, of course, takes much more than a dress code to change rape culture. Take for example, Justin Timberlake, who wore a Time’s Up pin at the awards—but never addressed his prior work with accused abuser Woody Allen. Many called Alexander Skarsgård out for accepting an award for playing a rapist and abuser on Big Little Lies, without mentioning the abuse women in real life face — he, too, wore a Time’s Up pin. Others noted that a more impactful protest might have been women and their allies not showing up to the award show at all.
But while many criticized the red carpet protest, the effort at least addressed the elephant in the room. This year, that elephant sat nearly unchecked. During the 2019 Golden Globes, almost no one mentioned the topic that pervaded award shows, Hollywood, and our society last year. In total, awareness raising around sexual assault and harassment in Hollywood was largely missing from this year’s Golden Globes.
It wasn’t for lack of effort that the topic was absent. Time’s Up launched its latest effort, Time’s Up x2, to mark the second year of the initiative and pledge to “double the number of women in leadership and across other spaces where women are underrepresented,” according to the website. It even marked the renewed effort with ribbons for stars to wear during the ceremony, though it looked that only a handful did. Beyond the small crowd of celebrities who wore the ribbons, even fewer mentioned aloud Time’s Up, #MeToo, or the pervasive sexual harassment and assault issues that people face across industries.
One notable exception was Regina King, who pledged to make everything she produces going forward 50% women. She challenged others in positions of power to do the same. Her son, Ian Alexander Jr., wore a Time’s Up pin and spoke about its significance on the red carpet. Patricia Clarkson also made a reference to the movement when she said to Sharp Objects director Jean-Marc Vallée, “you demanded everything from me except sex, which is exactly how it should be in our industry.” (That, of course, shouldn’t be worthy of a shout-out during an award show.) Glenn Close got a standing ovation when she spoke about women’s equality and celebrated her own accomplishments. Still, other mentions of Time’s Up were seemingly hollow, like Timberlake and Skarsgård’s the year prior. Ryan Seacrest, who was accused of “unwanted sexual aggression,” according to Variety, in 2018, wore a Time’s Up bracelet this year. He has repeatedly denied the allegations against him.
But in a world in which the modern #MeToo movement has arguably made talking about sexual assault and harassment more acceptable, and one in which people might be more apt to listen, where was the chorus of voices against these issues that Hollywood literally provided last year?
The absence was a reminder that we haven’t solved the problem. Girls and women still face abuse and violence. An American is still sexually assaulted every 98 seconds, and they still may not have necessary resources and legal recourse to cope. And still, a 2018 online survey found that as many as 81% of women report sexual harassment in the workplace.
This is all a double-edged sword because we haven’t solved the problem yet. Not in just a year’s time, and certainly not because some stars wore black on a red carpet. Celebrities speaking out on stage or wearing a ribbon will never be enough.
Some might even call these efforts frivolous because they are, in the grand scheme of things, so small. No amount of hashtag activism can make right what survivors of sexual assault and harassment, and abuse at large, have gone through. The only thing that can make these things at least a little more right, though, is systemic change. And the way we get to that change is to keep shining light on it, over and over, year after year, even when the conversation has become less trendy. Even when the conversation stops making you money.
“Standing alone, these moments of individual accountability are insufficient to create the lasting change we need and deserve,” Joanne Smith, founder and executive director of Girls for Gender Equality, previously told Teen Vogue when asked about what change the modern #MeToo movement had made after a year. “Our challenge now is to meet the courage these survivors have shown in speaking out, again and again, with institutional courage.”
Smith is right. Speaking out on stage isn’t enough. Neither is firing one predatory Hollywood mogul or blacklisting another. Sharing personal stories of sexual assault and harassment, while important and require tremendous courage, must be paired with collective solutions and structural change for the long-term eradication of rape culture.
It’s when we’ve shifted how we think about what is and isn’t acceptable, institute policies and procedures against these things, and start believing survivors that we will know change has been made. And until then, it will take many years of speaking up and speaking out. That’s why the silence around sexual assault and harassment at the 2019 Golden Globes was so disappointing — because it’s right now, when the conversation is in danger of dying down, that we need people with platforms to keep talking about it and keep compounding these smaller moments of justice until we can leverage those into institutional change. Taran Burke, the founder of the term #MeToo, spoke to the importance of this not long after last year’s Golden Globes.
“Inherently, having privilege isn’t bad,” she told the Guardian, “but it’s how you use it, and you have to use it in service of other people.”
There’s plenty to celebrate, from today’s film and television to the work we’ve done in the past year to combat sexual assault and harassment. Time’s Up made those victories for the latter quite clear in their announcement of their renewed initiative. But until we don’t need to renew the initiative we need to be loud, even when our friends are doing it.
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