In the months since actress Alyssa Milano’s promotion of the hashtag #MeToo sent it ricocheting through social media and into news headlines, numerous celebrities have used the hashtag to brand their stories about how common sexual assault and harassment is in entertainment industries. Inspired by the movement, celebrities walked the Golden Globes red carpet wearing black to support the celebrity-led #TimesUp initiative.
The celebrity women participating in #MeToo shape the movement, defining its contours and purposes through their tweets, speeches, interviews, and actions. Yet, the emerging resistance narrative is also being wrought in negotiation with the backlash it inspires from critics who claim it is a witch hunt or that it will spawn a sex panic. In particular, it is worthwhile to highlight the statements by celebrities who criticize #MeToo and #TimesUp from two very different perspectives and in so doing force the movement to defend and define itself.
Rose McGowan, whose many controversial statements have solidified her star persona as unruly and unmanageable, has been a prominent voice driving the #MeToo movement forward as well as an angry critic of #TimesUp and celebrities whose actions she deems inadequate. After it was revealed that McGowan was one of Harvey Weinstein’s alleged victims, her tweets attacking celebrities such as Ben Affleck and Meryl Streep as complicit in covering up Weinstein’s alleged assaults resulted in news reports that fit some of the characteristics of celebrity feuds. But, as the actors McGowan targeted responded to her attacks, the resulting media coverage of #MeToo contributed to real-time public discussions about who in the entertainment industries bears responsibility for pervasive sexual misconduct and what it means to have ‘open secrets’ about sexual predators.
Following the symbolic action of celebrities dressing in black, Catherine Deneuve signed an open letter criticizing #MeToo as potentially damaging to sexual freedom. She later apologized just as Brigitte Bardot called #MeToo “ridiculous and hypocritical.” Both actors argued that lines between flirtation and assault are becoming too blurred and reinvigorated public discussions about #MeToo and power dynamics in sexual encounters.
McGowan’s insistence that #TimesUp is merely symbolic action is telling, since celebrity activism often relies on visibility and staged events to draw attention to social issues and raise funds to support causes, but rarely engages in efforts to create structural change. As the resistance narrative coalesces, it is vital to notice the agitators at the margins who antagonize and propel resistance narratives.