Hollywood may be wearing black, but sexual assault isn’t dead

By Sam Johnson-Audini

Justin Timberlake wore black to the Golden Globes in support of the #TimesUp campaign. Justin Timberlake’s latest project was working with Woody Allen – a man who allegedly assaulted his own daughter.

James Franco wore black to the Golden Globes. Four days later the Los Angeles Times reported the stories of five women that Franco allegedly assaulted.

Aziz Ansari wore black to the Golden Globes. A week later a woman came forward with claims that Ansari assaulted her.

Endemic sexual assault is not something that can be changed with a hashtag or a clothing movement. It requires introspection and analysis of the power structures and beliefs that allow these assaults to happen. It’s too easy to wear a certain outfit or buy a certain pin; it’s much harder to question your own beliefs and actions.

Ansari was unable to apply a basic understanding of consent to his own relationships.

The black provided a mask – the same mask men like Ansari have been wearing for years. A mask that tells you, “It’s okay, I’m with you”. This can make the allegations even more terrifying, that it can be the men you trust, the men you would never expect. Men like Ansari and Louis CK, who made jokes about how scary men are and yet could apparently not see, nor care, that they were the scary men. One of the horrifying things about the accusations levelled at Ansari is that he claims he did not realise the woman felt uncomfortable, even after repeated attempts to tell him to slow down and stop. Ansari openly identifies as a feminist and yet was unable to apply a basic understanding of consent to his own relationships.

Endemic sexual assault is not something that can be changed with a hashtag or a clothing movement.

Wearing black is easy for men. It requires minimal changing of your traditional ‘red carpet’ tuxedo. Meanwhile, actresses were expected to entirely change their outfits, or be faced with scorn from the Hollywood and feminist community. Barbara Meier wore a silver and pink gown to the ceremony and was accused of disrespecting the #TimesUp movement. Meier argued that restricting women’s choices because of the misdeeds of men was a “step back”. How ‘feminist’ is a movement that limits the autonomy of women, many of whom are survivors, whilst men are required to make only minimal changes?

Change is never easy. It is even less easy when it involves analysing your own choices and being open to criticism. There needs to be some recognition of responsibility from those who propped up known-abusers like Woody Allen and Johnny Depp. Supporting one abuser does not just affect that abuser and those survivors, but creates a culture in which that behaviour becomes acceptable. A culture that tells survivors that they will only be supported when it is convenient.

Wearing black is easy for men.

Power imbalances are a problem in every industry in which assault happens. In Hollywood, women are frequently paid less than men, are presented with fewer opportunities, and are less powerful as a result. Abusers like Weinstein are able to manipulate these imbalances to silence their victims. Targeting young actresses was a Weinstein staple, as he knew he held all the power and they did not have the means to expose him. Moreover, women, particularly young women, are unable to speak out about their experiences for fear of becoming blacklisted.

Change has to come in the form of dismantling these power structures, not just between directors, producers, and actors, but also between cleaners, runners, and assistants. Sometimes these are problems that can only be solved with money – it is incredibly hard to come forward with your story if you are low-paid and are likely to be sued for doing so. Structures need to be put in place for survivors to be able to speak out without fear of losing their jobs or further harassment.

Raising awareness is helpful: the #MeToo campaign has enabled women to talk en masse about their experiences with sexual assault. More people are coming forward every day with their stories. But we need to ensure it does not end there. Those that come forward need support and should be believed and respected. To prevent assault happening in the future, however, the power structures that facilitated such abuse need to be scrutinised and revised.

Photograph: Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr and Creative Commons

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