And so the floodgates have opened. Across the English-speaking world, more than a million people have tweeted out #MeToo, while the French, Germans and Italians have all developed their own hashtags speaking to the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault.
In Hollywood, where the Harvey Weinstein scandal began, accusers are now also naming several A-list actors, and have attempted to compile and share a private list of notorious abusers working in the media; in Canada, women who work in the entertainment industries are trying to crowdsource a consensus on the behaviour of several men they only identify obliquely by initials or job descriptions.
Meanwhile, in Montreal, La Presse has published an investigation into accusations against TV talk-show host Éric Salvail, a powerful Quebec celebrity who allegedly exposed himself to male and female colleagues and aggressively propositioned young men in the workplace. Of the 11 people cited, only makeup artist Marco Berardini, now working in Los Angeles, said he felt his professional position was strong enough that he could attach his name to his allegations that Salvail propositioned him on several occasions, including one where he appeared before Berardini in skimpy briefs during what was supposed to be a professional wardrobe consultation.
(On his Facebook page, Salvail said he felt empathy for anyone he might have made feel uncomfortable, and announced he is taking a professional break of several days. Then, Le Devoir reported allegations that Montreal impresario Gilbert Rozon, the founder of the Just for Laughs comedy festival, had harassed or assaulted multiple women. Rozon posted a statement on Facebook on Wednesday saying he was resigning from the organization to spare its employees and apologizing to anyone he may have offended.)
As any working woman can tell you, sexual harassment occurs in all industries, but the Weinstein scandal shines a very bright light on it because of the celebrities involved.
And what that light exposes is an industry that is particularly prone to sexism, a place where money is to be made objectifying women, where the most powerful jobs are usually occupied by men and where the line between the professional and the personal is sometimes unclear. One recent Twitter thread included various actors trying to explain that, yes, they do often attend meetings in private hotel rooms.
Last week, ACTRA, the union that represents Canadian TV and film performers, issued a statement noting that the allegations against Weinstein were a reminder that more work needs to be done to make sure actors' workplaces are safe, saying, "We all have to and will do better." This week, ACTRA officials are busy figuring out how exactly better might be achieved.
Thing is, ACTRA contracts with producers already include anti-harassment provisions, and there are well-established protocols to follow if abuse occurs on a set. (Actors are guaranteed harassment-free workplaces under provincial labour and human-rights codes, just like anybody else in Canada.) But alongside all the usual problems about getting people to report abuses, the larger issue is those hotel rooms – and the bars and the parties. How can the industry police private behaviour?
ACTRA's idea is to convene a roundtable of industry groups, including associations that represent casting directors, agents and producers, as well as broadcasters, film festivals and other unions, and get everybody to agree on zero tolerance. Beyond that, things get very tricky. ACTRA is considering how victims can make anonymous complaints and how repeat offenders can be flagged, but there are legal stumbling blocks. Name-and-shame practices or bad-date lists sound great to angry accusers, but they violate privacy requirements and are potentially libellous. Abusers, meanwhile, are often manipulative people who are supremely adept at identifying vulnerable targets and making sure they don't talk. People on the production side (where more of the power lies) say they are open to all ideas, but concrete suggestions are sparse.
Maybe the solution lies in changing the culture; that is what ACTRA hopes as it continues to support various gender-equity initiatives alongside Women in View, a group that is working to improve the embarrassingly low representation of women in the key creative roles of director, cinematographer and screenwriter. Perhaps if some power shifts toward female leaders, it will be harder for abusive male leaders to set up scenarios in which they can count on complicity and silence. Similarly, initiatives that target ageism in the industry, although primarily aimed at getting older actors work, might chip away at the objectification of young women that fuels abuse.
Certainly, there's some cause for optimism in the continuing public outcry and social-media storm that have greeted the allegations against Weinstein. In the first days of the scandal, as Hollywood piled on with its shocked disavowals, many observers figured the industry was looking for a convenient scapegoat, a monster who could be banished to that sex-rehab clinic so that the rest of the bad guys could quietly go back to their usual ways. But Weinstein is, as actor Emma Thompson quickly identified, only "the top of the iceberg" – and it's going to take lots of outrage and zero tolerance to melt the rest of the rock.