There’s a question that’s been asked in hushed, don’t-jinx-it tones since the Weinstein case broke and the floodgates opened. Something that we’ve always thought out of reach, because it was just ‘the way things are’, but is now starting to seem like a plausible reality. On social media platforms, in private conversations and in our own minds, we’ve asked each other and ourselves: is this the age of predatory men being held accountable for their actions?
Time magazine has today revealed that their coveted Person of the Year cover goes to the people they are calling the Silence Breakers: people, overwhelmingly women, who have come forward to speak out against their sexual abusers. The video and article (both conceived, reported, written, shot and edited by women) accompanying the cover is powerful. It features everyone from Selma Blair and Ashley Judd, to university professors and senators, to activists and engineers, to housekeepers and dishwashers. Also, Terry Crews. All speaking out about and against sexual assault and harassment.
— TIME (@TIME) December 6, 2017
It follows something of a whirlwind few months of revelations, referred to often as ‘open secrets’, about powerful men and their inability to respect boundaries (to put it extremely mildly). These are things that people had known about, and indeed talked about, for years. The people that came forward had stories to tell from last decade as much as last week, finally opening about traumas they had carried with them for years.
People have called out sexual abuse for as long as people have been sexually abusing – those who spoke out before now are no less brave or important. The difference it seems, this time around, is that it wasn’t just swept under the rug (though of course, it is extremely likely that we have still only seen the tip of the iceberg). Harvey Weinstein was fired from The Weinstein Company and expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Kevin Spacey was recast in a movie due for release five weeks later. Matt Lauer’s fellow newsreaders reported his own dismissal from the Today Show.
“There are undoubtedly stories we are yet to hear, but it appears that the tables are beginning to turn.”
Make no mistake – corporate and Hollywood giants are not firing people because they’re sexual abusers. They’re firing them because they got caught, because their victims had the courage to come forward. For the most part, they merely care about their bottom line. But here’s the thing; we’re influencing those decisions by voicing our outrage at the actions people have been getting away with for years.
People who have previously spoken about these same predators are no longer being silenced, but listened to. After years of being told their stories don’t matter, that their bodily autonomy was worth less than the reputation of a powerful man, or that their own jobs would be in jeopardy should they talk, there are finally consequences for those that have assaulted them. There are undoubtedly stories we are yet to hear, and those that are still getting away with their crimes. This is a movement that has been a long time building, and we are just now starting to see some results in the mainstream.
The #MeToo movement, created by activist Tarana Burke over a decade ago, gives a voice to everyone. A global conversation (the hashtag was adapted into #BalanceTonPorc, #YoTambien, #Ana_kaman amongst others) is happening between everyone from Hollywood A-listers, to prominent activists, to… well, you. And while there is absolutely no shame in choosing not to talk about something that has affected you so personally, the conversation gives those with stories to tell the platform to speak out.
“It is by pure chance that now is that time we’ve started to pay attention.”
It cannot go unsaid that the majority of the stories being spotlighted come from white women, and that women of colour (who built this movement) are still being talked over. It is not by pure chance that now is that time we’ve started to pay attention. While many, myself included, welcomed these Silence Breakers, women of colour have spoken out against the inclusion of certain white woman known for their racism. While we are celebrating the advent of Men Being Held Accountable, it is vital that we remember to listen, and listen hard, to the voices that have been speaking out against this for years – and all to often ignored. Often the minority women who start grassroots movements are then ignored in its introduction to the mainstream, and it’s so important that the privileged amongst us recognise this, call it out, and elevate those minority voices.
Though change is definitely occurring, it would be naïve to imagine that the work is done. Change doesn’t come about easily, as those who have been fighting for it for years will tell you. Even if your eyes have only just been opened, don’t let those years with your head in the sand count for nothing.
“This is merely the beginning – and will be the end if we don’t keep momentum.”
We can’t relax, because this is merely the beginning – and will be the end if we don’t keep momentum. 2017 has been the start of a revolution, but we won’t be leaving sexual assault and harassment behind as we move into 2018 and beyond. It will continue, in homes and in workplaces and on the street, and there will be those who are shamed into silence. From Hollywood stars to the woman who sits next to you at work, sexual abuse of the past, present and, sadly, future, will continue to affect people as they just try to live their lives.
But this year marks a turning point, one that leaves this survivor hopeful for the future. Time magazine naming the Silence Breakers as Person of the Year does not signify that we’re done; it rallies us to continue.