By Megan Snow ‘20
Fame, popularity, wealth, glamour; all perfect words to describe Hollywood, the city of entertainment, but would you use “sexual assault” to describe Hollywood too?
For decades, men have dominated the entertainment industry, whether it be lead roles, script writing, or directing. Now in 2017, more and more women have earned leading roles in popular movies than ever before and are finally receiving the platform they deserve. This advancement is remarkable, but the sad truth is that Hollywood has put up a façade for years regarding the suffering women encounter in this industry. Sexual assault and harassment has been an issue in Hollywood since the beginning of movie making, yet is not talked about and taken seriously.
Since Oct. 5, more than 50 women have accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault, and the list continues to grow as more women are encouraged to come forward. The scandal has raised the attention of many, and social media has been a huge influence. Just typing in Harvey Weinstein into the Google search bar brings about thousands of articles regarding the scandal. Weinstein is under fire as an increasingly number of women are expressing their stories of being assaulted and manipulated for a job.
When incidents are exposed in the media, professors at Merrimack take full advantage of connecting class discussions to real life situations. “I think something like this gives us an opportunity to engage in a dialogue about how we can all work to fundamentally change our culture,” says Elizabeth Leahy, an adjunct Women’s and Gender Studies professor. “How do we raise our sons and daughters to be aware of and combat gender norms that exist and serve to perpetuate abusive behaviors?”
Discussion about the issues are important when it comes to changing something that has been continuous for decades. “We’re having the conversations, which is something that didn’t really happen before outside of the feminist circles I run in,” says Leahy.
The allegations have been emerging for almost a month, as Weinstein is now facing backlash from his actions. He’s had his Oscar voting privileges revoked, Harvard University rescinded its Du Bois medal Weinstein received in 2014, and he’s resigned from the company under his name. Although Weinstein is rendering consequences for his actions, many men in powerful positions do not. Bill O’Reilly of Fox News was accused of sexual assault by a former employee at Fox and did not receive any punishment from the allegations until more women expressed their horror stories of being sexually assaulted at work by O’Reilly. O’Reilly was fired once his contract had expired. Sexual harassment in and out of the workplace happens every day, so why aren’t people talking about it?
Initial reactions to the scandal have been exclusively specific amongst most individuals. “I’d like to say I was surprised that it was going on, but sadly, sexual harassment and assault has been a part of Hollywood’s history pretty much from the start,” says Debra Michals, assistant professor of Women’s and Gender Studies. “Weinstein isn’t the only one, he’s just the only one being named so far. That is the worst kind of abuse of power.” She remarks about the lack of talk about the issue of sexual assault given the severity of it by saying, “The Weinstein scandal is just the tip of the iceberg, women face harassment and assault on a daily basis in this country- this is all about a systematic lack of respect for women.”
Women’s and Gender Studies professors encourage students to participate in conversation to fight the battle of sexual assault and harassment. “Silence should not be shameful,” says Leahy. “Survivors should not need to do the work for everyone.”