On October 5, a New York Times exposé uncovered decades’ worth of sexual harassment and assault allegations levelled against influential Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Since then, over 40 women, including stars like Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie, have come forward with their uncomfortable Weinstein stories. The allegations swiftly toppled Weinstein’s career. Three days after the Times report, Weinstein was fired from the production company he founded, and was later kicked out of the very Motion Picture Academy he had once lorded over.
It’s not just that Weinstein has faced real consequences for his actions. His downfall spurred a domino effect that's resulted in other prominent men being publicly accused of sexual misconduct, and facing similarly seriously professional repercussions. This global movement of taking accusations of sexual misconduct seriously, and responding with adequate force, has been dubbed “The Weinstein Effect.” The phenomenon even has its own Wikipedia page.
The Weinstein Effect is the culture of silence that protects powerful men being rapidly eroded. It's survivors feeling emboldened to speak up against misconduct. And it's resulted in reports of workplace harassment skyrocketing.
"There’s not a lawyer doing the kind of work we do whose phone is not ringing off the hook," Debra Katz of Katz, Marshall & Banks, told USA Today. "Women have gotten to a place where it’s much safer to stand up to it and employers are more concerned about damage to brand."
Lately, the individuals ousted by the Weinstein Effect have replaced Weinstein himself in the forefront of the news. Following allegations of sexual misconduct and assault, Kevin Spacey was fired from House of Cards and replaced by Christopher Plummer in the upcoming film All the Money in the World. Louis C.K.’s movie release was delayed indefinitely after a Times exposé contained accounts of women accusing him of sexual misconduct. NPR news chief Michael Oreskes resigned after being accused of inappropriate behavior. Since being accused of harassment by seven women, journalist Mark Halperin has been fired from NBC, and his miniseries project with HBO has been cancelled.
The list of men who have faced professional consequences after being accused of sexual misconduct in recent days is constantly growing. We could keep going: director James Toback, celebrity chef John Besh, UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, former Nickelodeon showrunner Chris Savino, Israeli media mogul Alex Gilady, literary critic Leon Wieseltier, photographer Terry Richardson.
In the past, these men may have been able to shoo away accusations through large settlements, or carefully worded public apologies — yet those deflections aren’t protecting people any longer. Employers seem to be — gasp! — taking allegations seriously.
"Because of sheer number and the similarities of stories, we're actually exploring why it happened and not whether it happened," Noreen Farrell, executive director of Equal Rights Advocates, told CNN. "This feels different."
Were it not for the #MeToo viral campaign, which exposed how far-reaching the problem of assault is, there may not be a Weinstein Effect. The #MeToo hashtag was reinvigorated by actress Alyssa Milano on Twitter on October 15 (the catchphrase had actually been created 10 years prior by activist Tarana Burke to provide a support system for assault victims). “If all the 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,” Milano wrote. The hashtag spread to 85 countries around world; Italy and France made their own versions.
"Social media is the big — to use a cliché — game-changer here. I mean, that's why we're seeing so many women being heard," said Mary Schmich of The Chicago Tribune in a conversation on NPR.
So far, the Weinstein Effect has played out in newspaper headlines, and has toppled careers of powerful and famous men. Yet as the #MeToo campaign clearly demonstrates, harassment clearly isn't limited to rarefied, privileged L.A. circles. The tremendous breadth of the #MeToo campaign links Alyssa Milano with your next-door-neighbour, Gwyneth Paltrow with your high school friends, the cast of One Tree Hill with yourself. There are more perpetrators of sexual misconduct than Harvey Weinstein; there are more survivors than Hollywood actors. So, the Weinstein Effect's greatest legacy may be in the way it spurs dialogue about sexism and misconduct in the average, everyday, not Hollywood workplace.
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