What Women in Any Industry Can Learn from Women in Entertainment and the #MeToo/#TimesUp Movements: Part 1
As one of many women in entertainment who have been in the business a long time, I’ve found that watching the growth of the #metoo movement, and now the #timesup movement, has been startling, then shocking, and now unbelievably powerful and inspiring.
When I was a young junior publicist in the early 1980s, you’d better believe I endured grotesque sexual harassment from male bosses (of course the bosses were all male). Yet I never once considered filing a complaint, because “That’s just how it is.” It was a man’s world, and women knew that succeeding in this business meant gritting your teeth and ignoring disgusting comments, as well as figuring out how to get out of awkward or downright threatening situations without “insulting” the boss (heaven forbid his ego got bruised!) or getting fired.
So when the Harvey Weinstein revelations started coming out last October (continuing right up through Uma Thurman’s revelations a few weeks ago), I was stunned. I couldn’t believe that such a powerful man—so many powerful men!—were actually being called out on their horrifying and criminal behavior, and that the women in entertainment were being taken seriously. Incredible.
What’s doubly satisfying is that we’re seeing the beginnings of real change in the industry. Consider these milestones:
- Ava Duvernay is the first African-American woman to direct a $100 million movie (A Wrinkle in Time)—and, amazingly, she is one of several women currently helming such big-budget films.
- On January 23, when the Academy Award nominations were announced, Rachel Morrison became the first woman to be nominated for Best Cinematography for her work on
- When it was revealed that Mark Wahlberg received $1.5 million on top of his day rate for the reshoots on All the Money in the World, while costar Michelle Williams received only the day rate, Wahlberg donated his extra $1.5 million to the Times Up Legal Defense Fund.
- And then there’s one of my favorite stories: Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer joining forces to ensure that Spencer got the hefty paycheck she deserved for their upcoming comedy—because actors of color have long been paid far less than white actors.
How have these women in entertainment succeeded where so many, many others have failed in the past? I think there are several factors at work. For one thing, women in entertainment today live in a world where transparency and accountability are almost mandatory, and practically everyone shares everything on social media during a 24/7 news cycle. With greater advantages like these on their side, maybe the timing was finally just right for all this positive change.
Behind the scenes, however, I suspect there have also been powerful PR and marketing strategies at play that are critical to any successful activist campaign. Now, as the #metoo solidarity movement evolves into the #timesup movement demanding real change across a wide range of industries (Jane Fonda explains the difference simply and clearly here), I’d like to point out some of the strategies that women in any field can use to strategize, organize, and publicize their demands.
- Credible Spokespeople
I realize that there’s no other industry that has access to an Ashley Judd or a Gwyneth Paltrow to openly share their personal stories in an article for The New York Times. However, there are opportunities for the women who shine brightest in other fields to bring the discussion to their own industries as well. Look at the range of women who spoke to Time magazine for their Person of the Year issue on “The Silence Breakers”: farmworkers, hotel housekeepers, professors, lobbyists, businesswomen, and civil rights activist and #metoo founder Tarana Burke.
A credible spokesperson doesn’t necessarily need to be high profile to be effective. The original Times piece about Weinstein’s horrific misconduct quoted women in entertainment in a variety of production roles. Yes, a celebrity increases the visibility and readership of an article, but the honest and candid quotes from Weinstein’s former assistants were just as powerful in conveying the message. Reputation and credibility trump fame and popularity when it comes to spokespeople in situations like these.
The same rules apply for less sensitive issues, such as the goal to increase the number of women receiving Oscar nominations in male-dominated categories: Put your best foot forward. Identify and employ spokespeople, like Rachel Morrison, the first Oscar-nominated female cinematographer, who bring boots-on-the-ground experience to the cause.
- Consistent Messaging
You might have noticed that corroboration was a common journalistic requirement running through all the articles about Weinstein’s sexual harassment of women in entertainment. These investigative reporters really did their due diligence to confirm that their sources’ stories were not only similar, but showed a consistent pattern of abuse by the accused. The journalists also looked for third parties to confirm that their sources had recounted their experiences to them at the time of the incident. I really admire these journalists for their thorough investigations. We’re dealing with people’s lives here, so it’s critical to be consistent in all your messaging.