Social Media raise the voice against sexual harassment
It took only two words and a hashtag for millions of people to start talking openly against the normalization of sexual abuse.
Comments on the streets, whispers in the subway and unwanted caresses are only a small part of what women and men alike suffer on a daily basis.
But it was the scandal of one of the most important producers of the film industry what brought to social media a reality normalized by the silence and the shame.
Harvey Weinstein (65) is one of the heavyweights in Hollywood - known for producing such masterpieces as Pulp Fiction (1994), Shakespeare in Love (1998) and Gangs of New York (2002) - but his reputation was spotted and destroyed following the publication of several reports against him for sexual harassment.
In October of 2017, the New York Times and the New Yorker published the statements of at least twelve women who claimed to have been assaulted, insinuated and even sexually abused by the producer.
For the substance of the allegations, Weinstein was dismissed from his own company - The Weinstein Company - and expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, as well as from other professional associations.
Weinstein and his brother, Bob, built the Miramax film production company from scratch and spearheaded its renowned work between 1979 and 2005 when they founded the family company and separated from their first enterprise.
For years, rumors of Weinstein's "couch practices" have become an "open secret" in Hollywood, just as it happens everywhere else in the world. But it was the will of these women, and the perspicacity of the Times, what opened the Pandora's box and put on the mat a twisted normalized reality, which has condemned so many women and men to silent suffering.
More than 40 women have finally spoken up about what they had to deal with in Weinstein's hands in order to find a place for themselves in the difficult world of entertainment. Personalities like Kate Beckinsale, Cara Delevingne, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Léa Seydoux, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashely Judd and Angelina Jolie gave their testimonies to the media, confirming the reality of anonymous women whose voices didn’t manage to go as far.
Several of them told CNN of the systematic and twisted behavior of the producer, claiming in many cases that that was the reason they had abandoned their careers as actresses. "That's his way. It's the way you're silenced. A call from Harvey Wenstein could leave you out of work and his lawyers could hunt you down," they confessed.
But it was the actress Alyssa Milano (Who's the Boss?, Melrose Place, Charmed) who turned to social networks on Sunday to make viral the hashtag #MeToo, with the clear intention to stop silencing the cases and open up the battle against the normalization of sexual harassment.
"Suggested by a friend: 'If all women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote' Me Too ' as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem," said the actress, inviting her followers to "reply" to her tweet with the tag if they had also been victims of a similar situation.
According to CNN, since Milano posted her invitation, Twitter has reported more than 1.2 million responses to the tag while Facebook says there are millions more on its platform.
"I'm not surprised by how many people are posting about it," said clinical psychologist Sara Lowe, who studies the long-term psychological consequences of traumatic events at Montclair State University in New Jersey.
"Generally studies say one in four women have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime, and one in ten men," added Lowe, "and those numbers definitely underestimate the problem, considering the hesitation by many to report sexual assault."
The domino effect of the hashtag has allowed the unleashing of a worldwide phenomenon, where the fact that several people dare to speak about it has helped many become emboldened and also talk about their personal experiences.
"If you have an impulse to speak out that you've been holding onto for 20 years, and you see others speaking out, you do it," said trauma therapist Kathleen Carter Martinez, author of "Permission Granted: The Journey from Trauma to Healing from Rape, Sexual Assault and Emotional Abuse" to CNN. "Years ago we did not have that, and it was far more difficult to speak up,” she added.
For therapist Joyce Marter, founder of Urban Balance, "There's normalization and validation in this movement, as it takes away the shame, secrecy, and stigma that is so common in situations of abuse."
Despite its many benefits, some experts say that this new phenomenon also corners up those who are not ready to talk about it. "Because #MeToo is so prominent, a lot of my clients feel it's inescapable," said Boston therapist and sexuality educator Aida Manduley,
Trauma specialist Linda Curran added that "Making your history public should only be done when you feel resourced enough to tolerate the effects of the disclosure," she said.
But one of the most important aspects of the #MeToo phenomenon has been not only openness to a debate condemned to the darkness of shame but the revelation that it is not just a women's issue.
Actors such as James Van Der Beek (Dawson's Creek) and Javier Muñoz (Hamilton) have spoken publicly about their experiences with sexual abuse.
Van Der Beek wrote on Twitter that "I’ve had my ass grabbed by older, powerful men, I’ve had them corner me in inappropriate sexual conversations when I was much younger… I understand the unwarranted shame, powerlessness, and inability to blow the whistle. There’s a power dynamic that feels impossible to overcome", proving that perhaps the statistics also include many more men but that social standards don’t allow us to perceive it that way.
Muñoz, meanwhile, responded to Mylano's invitation by writing on Twitter: "Me too. I do not know if it means anything coming from a gay man but it's happened. Multiple times."
Director Alex Winter (Downloaded, Deep web) and Terry Crews, former footballer, and actor known for The Wedding of my best friend, also joined their voices to the campaign, as El País reported.
For better or for worse, the suffering of so many women in the hands of Weinstein has allowed to speak up and debate what many have thought was a "female exaggeration".
It is now time for the battle against abuse and harassment to come to an end with the aim of overthrowing the older paradigm in the debate on gender equality.