01 Nov 2017 14:06 IST

Predators vs social media: the dawn of justice?

The sheer volume of revelations emerging from the #MeToo campaign points to the power of social media

In the few weeks since The New York Times published explosive revelations about sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein (the famous Hollywood producer of such iconic movies as Shakespeare in Love, Gangs of New York, Master and Commander, Pulp Fiction and Good Will Hunting),Twitterverse outraged in unison. The hashtag #MeToo was born out of anger against the injustice women face at the hands of powerful men. It condemns sexual assault and one estimate had it that over 1.8 million #MeToo tweets or retweets had been sent in over 60 countries.

The movie-maker

So, who in the world is Weinstein? Along with his brother Bob, Harvey founded and ran the famous Weinstein Company and has made over 200 movies and TV shows during his long career in Hollywood. He was a serious fundraiser for liberal causes and heavily supported Democratic candidates for high office, including the Clintons and Obama. Today, these powerful politicians are quickly distancing themselves from all those awkward hugs and intimate dinners they participated in with Weinstein.

The Times reported on a dark side to his life that young women have known about for decades. Weinstein has been reported to be a serial harasser of women, of using his extraordinary power to offer roles to aspiring actresses in exchange for sexual favours — almost all of them forced.

The response

The #MeToo hashtag has been a response by tens of thousands of women around the globe, saying that they too have faced similar harassment from men, powerful and otherwise. Sexual harassment, assault and rape are the most sensitive, consequential, painful and difficult among human crimes. In almost every case, it involves one person’s word against another’s.

Given that humans have lived within largely patriarchal societies for thousands of years, the power of men over women has been unsurpassed. It is therefore unsurprising that women have been harassed to give in.

Feminist movements since the 1960s have sought to elevate the status of women but, even after six decades of effort, there’s still a huge abyss between the position, compensation and rights men and women enjoy. This is why women around the world generally earn less than men for the same work; this is why there are fewer women in positions of power, whether in public service or in private enterprise.

A young actor wants her artistic talents to be discovered and promoted on their merit in the dog-eat-dog, highly competitive environment of the movie industry. Anyone who calls out a predatory move by a Weinstein-like individual risks being laughed off. Or worse, a phone call from such a person to his fellow producers (mostly men) could nip the young person’s career in the bud.

In the meantime — and this is the truly sad part — dozens of other aspiring young women may be willing to give in to the predatory moves, realising, and internalising, that doing so is the cost of ascension to stardom.

The vicious cycle

This creates two problems. The predator feels more empowered in his efforts to reach out to more women at will. The hapless women submit even more, seeing that taking on such a powerful person will bring zero gains. Some women may even begin discrediting the ‘troublemakers’ and, motivated to succeed at all costs, carry out a private whisper campaign with the powers-that-be, sealing the fate of the ‘troublemakers’ forever.

This is why it has taken 20-30 years for these women to come out. The famous Ashley Judd, seen in movies such as Double Jeopardy, High Crimes and Dolphin Tales, was one of the first to come out on record against Weinstein.

And she did so at the age of 49, when her career as a leading woman in Hollywood movies had ended. She dared not cross Weinstein when, in 1997, “he had her sent up to his room, where he appeared in a bathrobe and asked if he could give her a massage or she could watch him shower,” she recalled in an interview, according to The New York Times.

Over 60 women have since come out with similar complaints against Weinstein. Most spoke out not during the initial stages of their careers but only later, because they were afraid of the consequences they would face if they reported the harassment. Now, hundreds, even thousands, may be emboldened to speak out though once they may have feared ridicule, felt it was not such a big deal.

The underlying issue

But it is a big deal. This kind of behaviour is completely unacceptable; it has no place in modern times. From the eve-teaser who attempts to squeeze closer to women in a crowded bus to the person who harasses a girl by sending her lewd pictures, these men deserve to be punished.

This is the bottomline: Adhering to being righteous and fundamentally knowing good from bad. Morality is taught at home and school, and at religious institutions. But despite all of this pressure in imparting an understanding of good behaviour among us, it is shocking that the wealthiest elite have repeatedly chosen to engage in seriously unacceptable and dastardly conduct.

In the last year alone, the careers of powerful men have tumbled, including those of Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes and, just this week, Mark Halperin — all, incredibly talented media icons who succumbed to their most primal instincts, hoping that no one would notice or, worse, report them.

The millions of tweets bringing into the public sphere the names of those who assaulted or molested a woman have effectively put the trauma of thousands of women out there in the court of public opinion. Traditional justice in a court of law takes far too long. If the #MeToo campaign results in some of the predators being shown the door, or worse, good riddance. The workplace will be better off without them.

More importantly, any predators-in-waiting better be forewarned! Social media can bring you down as quickly as you climbed the ladder of success.

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