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.
A branch narrative of the #MeToo movement has been the wave of actors and actresses expressing regret for their work with Woody Allen, most notably Greta Gerwig. In Gerwig's statement, she said, "if I had known then (2012) what I know now," but hasn't Allen's behavior been common knowledge for decades? Didn't all of these actors go in knowing exactly who they were working with, but turned a blind eye in favor of indy film credibility? Or should we take their expressions of regret with all sincerity? Or is there some middle ground? How do you feel about that?
All too easy to silence and disregard women
The Woody Allen case is really fascinating because it shows how a key mechanism for powerful men to maintain their careers and defend themselves against accusers has been to render those women "crazy, "unstable," and therefore unbelievable. In Allen's case, it was all too easy for him and his publicity team to convince audiences, actors, producers, and so on, that Mia Farrow was not to be believed and that the accusations from her daughter Dylan were all to be blamed on those typical insults slung at women and girls - they are jealous, delusional, conniving. The status quo gives the accused the benefit of the doubt, so is it any wonder that young actors would find it easier to disregard the accusations and take the prestigious role rather than believe the accusations and turn down opportunities to further there careers? Weinstein, it's been revealed, went to extremes to discredit potential accusers - including not on McGowan, but also Mira Sorvino and Anne Heche and Ashley Judd and others by using a similar tactic - spreading rumors that they were impossible to work with, unstable, and untrustworthy. They exploited the willingness of people around them to give them that benefit of the doubt while treating accusers as delusional. I think that one of the things #MeToo (and in fact, perhaps very potently and relatedly the U.S. Gymnastics case) reveals is the extent to which the path of least resistance involved many, many, many people just ignoring accusations in order to move through the entertainment industry. That is a form of complicity that some are waking up to and seem genuinely regretful about, but it still did immense damage by enabling serial predators.
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