Power-Shift or Placebo? – Two Years on from #MeToo

 

“Nobody is going to say anything?” erupted an audience member at a comedy show attended by Harvey Weinstein earlier this month before being escorted off the premises. The question and its reaction made Maeve McTaggart wonder – after #MeToo, where does all the power lie?

 

To The New York Times in late 2017, actress Ashley Judd recalled a 1996 hotel room encounter with a Hollywood producer who held her career in his hands. She was cornered and uncomfortable by the advances of the film mogul, later asking “how [was I to] get out of the room as fast as possible without alienating Harvey Weinstein?” A young actress, inexperienced in an industry which lauded the man who was now forcing himself upon her, Judd joined the roster of over 80 women who now allege sexual misconduct against Harvey Weinstein, each silenced by the pressure to accommodate the power of one of Hollywood’s most notorious predators. Non-disclosure agreements and behind-the-scenes settlements kept the Weinstein story suppressed to rumours for decades before Alissa Milano reignited a movement begun in 2006 by Tarana Burke – “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted,” she posted on Twitter, “write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” To date, almost ninety-thousand people have replied directly to Milano’s post. Was the power shift we felt all just a placebo? 

“It felt like David versus Goliath,” a Weinstein employee told The New Yorker in 2017 of the power imbalance between the accusers and the accused. Retribution for the man who many believed helped carve modern popular culture seemed impossible at the time – Pulp Fiction, Project Runway, Inglourious Basterds, Good Will Hunting – where would justice find the man mentioned more times than God in Academy Award acceptance speeches? Awaiting his January court-date, Weinstein and much of those struck down by #MeToo remain elusive to complete cultural annihilation – the aftertaste of power is a hard one to cleanse. These days, Weinstein frequents New York’s comedy clubs, fellow-accused comedian Louis C.K. has returned to the stage while Brett Kavanaugh sits on the U.S. Supreme Court and Donald Trump retains the nation’s presidency. Despite some public figures turning recluse in lieu of their exposure, the remainder still inhabiting positions of power is made the ever-more stark. 

When Dr Christine Blasey Ford sat before a judiciary committee in September of 2018, she was reluctant – the nomination to the Supreme Court of the highschool jock who she alleged to have assaulted her three decades prior had seemed like a distant nightmare. Testifying to a muddled memory of the night’s events, the allegation failed to impact the decision to grant Brett Kavanaugh the lifelong position of Supreme Court Justice. This year, TIME Magazine placed both Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh on the TIME 100 – a catalogue of one-hundred of the most influential people in the world. The dichotomous influence awarded to both Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh seems like a symptom of a culture at war with itself, unsure of where to go next. While survivors and their stories are revered, the place of cultural power for the accused still seems easily reconciled with allegations of abuse. To GQ, the preservation of the influence of Brett Kavanaugh is evidence of a society failing to follow through on #MeToo; it is a reminder that, still, “forgiveness always awaits powerful men who do wrong to others… all they have to do is ask.”

The promise of #MeToo was in its reckoning with the shadows of every social structure – from the workplace to the White House. Criticised as fuelling a ‘victim narrative’ by Irish author Ella Whelan or an exercise in ‘mob justice gone too far’ by Piers Morgan-types, the #MeToo movement seems to have failed to fully translate across the Atlantic. While credited as an influence in the increase in reports of sexual misconduct, structural change in how we perceive the tainted power of accused elites remains largely untested in Ireland. Have we already banished our ‘Weinsteins’ or are we yet to face our demons?