Until very recently, women who came forward with their accounts of sexual harassment at the hands of powerful men who held sway over their careers were viewed as traitors, whiners or pitifully naive to the ways of industries where a barter system — sex for fame — was all but implicit.
They sold their sexuality on screen and on stage, after all, the thinking went, so what did they expect when the cameras stopped rolling or the arena lights dimmed?
The few who were brave enough to come forward with accounts of being groped, coerced, threatened and even raped were sidelined, careers destroyed. Their stories rarely made the news, until recently, when the sheer number of allegations against power brokers and gatekeepers like Bill Cosby, Fox News’ Roger Ailes, music’s L.A. Reid and now Harvey Weinstein literally forced the media’s hand.
Historically the hardest part for women coming forward with accounts of sexual abuse wasn’t just proving that the sickening events actually happened — it’s been convincing anyone who would listen that what happened was wrong, even if it was business as usual.
Those of us who’ve worked on film sets, in recording studios, around green rooms or in the vicinity of the dreaded casting couch know that drawing attention to the problem puts you on a path paved with land mines. Covering all these industries over the years has taught me and most of the other women I’ve worked with or observed to proceed with caution.
Is the world of entertainment very different than other fields? Probably not; certainly women have had to work around or submit to misogyny, subjugation and sexism in every arena. But the behavior in Hollywood seemed more blatant — and the stakes could be much higher.
Speak up and your chances of becoming a star are over. So it’s best just to move fast, stay on your toes, and laugh at the open secret — which has become the most oft-repeated phrase when talking about the Weinstein scandal — that so-and-so’s door is always open, until you walk in and it locks behind you.
How else would some abusers have been so emboldened over a period of decades? It takes a village full of apathy and fear, with a leadership emboldened by blockbuster films, hit records, must-see TV shows.
It took dozens and dozens of women breaking protocol and coming forward with similar stories of abuse, a social media outcry over their allegations, and a newly energized wave of investigative journalism to expose such abuses outside the studio gates.
Now artists such as Kesha Rose Sebert are taking it to a new level, turning that very public pain into very public art. And it’s clearly hitting a nerve.
If there’s a soundtrack to this watershed moment, it’s the singer’s single “Praying.”
The pop star who formerly made dance hits about partying and partying some more has risen out of what many surmised were the ashes of a career destroyed by allegations against her former mentor, producer and label head Dr. Luke.
In 2014, she unsuccessfully sued Dr. Luke, seeking to void all their contracts because the powerful producer “sexually, physically, verbally, and emotionally abused [Kesha] to the point where [she] nearly lost her life,” according to her attorneys. Luke has denied the allegations.
Kesha came back this summer with a new sort of notoriety as a warrior and a woman who speaks to or at least represents the experiences of many other women in and out of the music industry.
In the spare single, a somber and emotional change of pace from her former dance tunes fashioned by Dr. Luke, she whispers, then belts, chilling lines.
“Well, you almost had me fooled,” she sings. “Told me that I was nothing without you. Oh, but after everything you’ve done. I can thank you for how strong I have become.”
Actress Rose McGowan has also emerged as an empowering figure for women with similar stories. She was one of the first women to go public with allegations against Weinstein. She received $100,000 in 1997 from Weinstein related to “an episode in a hotel room during the Sundance Film Festival,” according to a report in the New York Times. After that, the “Charmed” actress’ career stalled.
Now she has an army at her side, or at least on social media. The #RoseArmy hashtag has proliferated over the past week as stories about Weinstein broke. When Twitter temporarily suspended her account for a perceived violation of its policy, she didn’t suffer in silence.
On her Instagram account she wrote, “TWITTER HAS SUSPENDED ME. THERE ARE POWERFUL FORCES AT WORK. BE MY VOICE.”
“Shout out to all the women batting away misogynistic trolls daily now waking up to news that @twitter silenced ‘threatening’ Rose McGowan,” tweeted screenwriter and author JoJo Moyes after the social media giant suspended the account.
McGowan’s now back on the site.
The hope is that this is a watershed moment in the cloistered entertainment industry. Women who broke the code of silence and survived are emerging with new career paths and personas. They defied an age-old show business construct that everyone pays a price for fame, and for women, that meant putting out and shutting up. They broke the code of silence and survived, emerging with independent career paths and causes, while their accusers suffer the banishment they once risked.
Weinstein has, however, managed to reinvent himself through a recording, but not an inspiring one like Kesha’s.
A conversation that was recorded during a 2015 New York Police Department sting and released Wednesday captures Weinstein trying to coerce model and actress Ambra Battilana Gutierrez into his hotel room.
“I am a famous guy,” he says to her, in the recording, as she tries to get away from him. “Don’t ruin your friendship with me for five minutes.”
But in a new twist on the old Hollywood story, it’s his career that’s been ruined.