After decades of holding back stories of sexual assault and harassment, Harvey Weinstein’s accusers are changing the victim narrative by voicing their experiences in public in their own form of retribution.
From Rose McGowan to Zoe Brock to Asia Argento, the accusers’ calls for accountability and action have replaced years of frustrated silence. Alyssa Milano initiated the #MeToo movement on social media, leading to a flood of confession and catharsis by women (and some men) with similar experiences.
“Certainly, women are taking matters into their hands,” Juliet Williams, a professor of gender studies at UCLA and author of a book about political sex scandals titled “Public Affairs,” told TheWrap. “There are women that are recognizing that they don’t need to be victims and that they are willing to use some of the power and status they they have to say what needs to be said.”
McGowan dropped any pretense of abiding by her settlement agreement and identified Weinstein as the man who raped her, called for the dissolution of the Weinstein Company board and waged a no-holds-barred campaign on Twitter to call people to account.
Another Weinstein accuser, model and writer Zoe Brock, is publicly asking people who were complicit in Weinstein’s behavior to step forward, particularly former assistant Rick Schwartz, who is now a producer whose credits range from “The Departed” and “Black Swan” to “Lip Sync Battle.”
In a blog post, Brock detailed how she was propositioned by a naked Weinstein at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival and that Schwartz apologized for leaving her alone with the mogul, telling her at the time, “I want you to know that of all the girls he does this to you are the one I really felt bad about. You deserve better.”
Now she demands Schwartz to go further. “His time as Harvey’s assistant and then his years in positions higher up in the company meant he was privy to a lot of Harvey’s abuse,” Brock told TheWrap by phone from New Zealand. “I call on him to tap into that emotion he felt when he apologized to me in 1998 and come forward as a redemptive figure and a hero to the women Harvey abused.”
Schwartz did not respond to TheWrap’s multiple requests for comment. Brock told TheWrap that Schwartz has not yet responded to her or any reporters to her knowledge, but that he is a “key to this investigation.”
Like Brock, McGowan hasn’t only targeted Weinstein and his company. She berated Ben Affleck when the actor denounced Weinstein, saying the actor knew of the harassment — a charge he denied.
And she demanded that Amazon chief Jeff Bezos “stop funding rapists, alleged pedo[phile]s and sexual harassers,” urging the company to sever ties with The Weinstein Company. (Amazon Studios head Roy Price resigned this week in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment against him.)
“It’s not the responsibility of the victims, it’s the responsibility of the perpetrators and the bystanders,” Shaunna Thomas, co-founder and co-executive director of UltraViolet, told TheWrap. “That is what Rose is calling for, and that’s what Zoe is calling for. Rose is pointing out who these people are, what complicity looks like and what the dangers are.”
The actress also sparked a 24-hour Twitter boycott when the social media platform temporarily locked her account over what the company said were “violations of its terms of service” for posting a private telephone number.
Many took McGowan’s side, including Ava DuVernay, Alyssa Milano, Chrissy Teigen, John Cusack, Debra Messing, Mark Ruffalo and Anna Paquin. Her struggle spawned a hashtag, #RoseArmy.
The social media campaign #MeToo — sparked by McGowan’s former “Charmed” costar Alyssa Milano sparked — is another example of women using their own stories to reverse a sense of victimization. Twitter and other social platforms have been flooded with messages from women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted.
To date, there have been more than 40 Weinstein accusers, and many more women have spoken out against the movie mogul. Stars like Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Lena Headey and Claire Forlani have joined the ranks of Hollywood women describing uncomfortable encounters from the ’90s involving the famous producer — and others in the industry.
“Rose is the hero for everybody in this country who understands or who is starting to understand the scope and scale of this problem and wants to fix it,” Thomas said. “She isn’t the only one, but she’s a very important leader of this moment in which people are saying, enough is enough.”
Thomas also pointed out that A-listers like Paltrow and Jolie only shared their stories after the New York Times exposé, which she said “really underscores how hard it is to stand up for yourself, how dangerous it is for any given woman. There are not many woman who are as powerful as Angelina Jolie, and even she couldn’t say or do anything publicly about [Weinstein] until now.”
Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have played a key role in both providing a platform for women to speak out as well as a community to support and affirm their stories.
“Social media is the fastest, most direct way to communicate with masses of people and it has transformed what activism look like, what community conversation looks like,” Thomas said. “It’s been a powerful tool in recent years for calling out the epidemic of sexual harassment in the country. ”
Williams added, “At its best, social media can liberate people from the feeling of isolation that so often accompanies sexual victimization.”
#MeToo follows on the heels of the Hollaback! campaign, which has been encouraging women to use social media to get back at the people who harass them on the street. The initiative was founded in 2005 and now operates in 26 countries and 14 languages.
But joining the #MeToo chorus is not without its risks. “It must be remembered that people with the courage to speak out on social media often pay a very heavy price in terms of harassment and threats,” Williams said. “Social media space still is a very hostile one, particularly for vulnerable people.”
Brock added, “I thank Rose for being so courageous. I wish I had known about her sooner so I could have backed her up. It’s time we stand up to our bullies and demand a change.”
The downfall of powerful men like former Fox News head Roger Ailes and Harvey Weinstein suggests there may be power in breaking their silence.
“These men do not like being outed — so why do we keep their revolting secrets? What is this code we feel we have to adhere to that stops us ‘airing our dirty laundry’ and making people feel uncomfortable?” Brock said. “It’s time for bald-faced truth, no matter what the consequences.”