They had often gotten away with it for years, and for those they harassed, it seemed as if the perpetrators would never pay any consequences. Then came the report that detailed Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assaults and harassment, and his fall from Hollywood’s heights.
A year later, even as the #MeToo movement meets a crackling backlash, it’s possible to take some stock of how the Weinstein case has changed the corridors of power. A New York Times analysis has found that, since the publishing of the exposé (followed days later by a New Yorker investigation), at least 200 prominent men have lost their jobs after public allegations of sexual harassment. A few, including Weinstein, face criminal charges. At least 920 people were reportedly subjected to sexual misconduct by someone on the list. And nearly half of the men who have been replaced were succeeded by women.
In the year preceding the Weinstein report, by contrast, fewer than 30 high-profile people made the news for resigning or being fired after public accusations of sexual misconduct. The downfall of the Fox host Bill O’Reilly in April 2017 turned out to have been just a foreshock of the changes to come.
“We’ve never seen something like this before,” said Joan Williams, a law professor who studies gender at the University of California, Hastings. “Women have always been seen as risky, because they might do something like have a baby. But men are now being seen as more risky hires.”
Sexual harassment has hardly been erased in the workplace. Federal law still does not fully protect huge groups of women, including those who work freelance or at companies with fewer than 15 employees. New workplace policies have little effect without deeper cultural change. And as the Supreme Court confirmation battle over Brett Kavanaugh showed, Americans disagree on how people accused of sexual misconduct should be held accountable and what the standard of evidence should be.
But the analysis shows that the #MeToo movement shook, and is still shaking, power structures in society’s most visible sectors. The Times gathered cases of prominent people who lost their main jobs, significant leadership positions or major contracts, and whose ousters were publicly covered in news reports.
Forty-three per cent of their replacements were women. Of those, one-third are in news media, one-quarter in government, and one-fifth in entertainment and the arts. For example, Robin Wright replaced Kevin Spacey as lead actor on House of Cards, Emily Nemens replaced Lorin Stein as editor of The Paris Review, and Tina Smith replaced Al Franken as a senator from Minnesota.
Women are starting to gain power in organizations that have been jolted by harassment, with potentially far-reaching effects.
“I find it so interesting the number of people who come up to me and say, ‘Thank you for stepping in when someone needed to step in,’” Smith said. “That’s a lot of what women do a lot of the time, right?”
Appointing a woman does not guarantee change. Women have also harassed and covered up harassment. Some women face the glass cliff – in which women are appointed to leadership in times of organizational crisis, when the chance of failure is higher. And while the share of women who have risen to power in the wake of Weinstein’s fall is significant, women are still vastly under-represented at the top of American institutions.
Research has repeatedly shown that women tend to lead differently. In general, they create more respectful work environments, where harassment is less likely to flourish and where women feel more comfortable reporting it. Female leaders tend to hire and promote more women; pay them more equally; and make companies more profitable.
Women bring their life experiences and perspectives to decision-making, and that can help in business because women make the vast majority of purchasing decisions. In government, women have been shown to be more collaborative and bipartisan, and promote more policies supporting women, children and social welfare.
That has been true in Congress, said Smith, a Democrat. In a highly polarized Senate, women tend to be unusually collegial across party lines, she said, and the 23 female senators meet for dinner monthly.
“I believe you’re successful and you get things done if you have relationships with people,” she said. “That’s the ground for accomplishing something, certainly in the legislative world.”
One example: She and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, discovered that they both worked on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in high school. The bond they built from shared experience helped them when they co-sponsored mental health legislation that was included in the opioid crisis response bill passed last month.
In news media and entertainment, many women who ascended to jobs vacated by men have changed the tone and substance of what they offer audiences – and in some cases, the fallout from #MeToo has shaped their decisions.
Jennifer Salke, who took over for Roy Price as head of Amazon Studios, has said Amazon needed more “big, addictive shows for women.” She has announced deals with actors Lena Waithe and Nicole Kidman, among others.
Since Tanzina Vega took over from John Hockenberry as host of “The Takeaway,” the public radio program, she has done many episodes about gender, including on masculinity, women’s anger and the intersection of gender and race – topics that she had been covering for years but that she said were now part of the national conversation.
“I don’t think that’s necessarily because I’m a woman, but it’s just that as a woman, as a Latina, I know when the conversation hasn’t been about women, and I’m deeply sensitive to that,” said Vega, who was previously a reporter at CNN and The New York Times.
Women’s personal experiences, including as mothers, can make workplaces more welcoming to other women. That’s the hope of Christine Tsai, who is chief executive of the tech investment firm 500 Startups, where she replaced Dave McClure in early 2017 after an internal investigation into his behaviour toward women in the tech community.
“I’ve erred on the side as CEO of being more open about it, like if one of my kids has an appointment, so hopefully it creates an environment where people don’t feel like they have to hide that they have obligations to family,” she said. “Sure, a guy can be sensitive to those things, but I think it helps having that empathy of what it’s like for moms.”
The women who have risen, however, can only make so much change – they are still operating in a male-dominated system. More than 10 per cent of the ousted men have tried to make a comeback, or voiced a desire to, and many never lost financial power.
Comedian Louis C.K. recently took the stage at the Comedy Cellar in New York, raising questions of how long is long enough for people to be banished from their field, and who gets to decide. Garrison Keillor, the radio host, has restarted The Writer’s Almanac as a podcast and reportedly received $275,000 for a deal in which Minnesota Public Radio reposted archived episodes of his programs. Jerry Richardson, founder and former owner of the Carolina Panthers, was fined $2.75 million by the NFL after he was accused of sexual harassment – but sold the team for at least $2.2 billion, a record amount.
When people accused of harassment return to power without making amends – or never lose it, at least financially – it limits the post-Weinstein movement’s potential to change how power is exercised in American society.
They have not experienced the same type of trauma that survivors have, said Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement, which she started in 2006 to support survivors of sexual harassment and violence (the hashtag went viral a year ago this month as women used it to tell their stories of harassment and violence). And very few have shown that they have taken responsibility for their actions or offered private apologies to those they harmed, she said.
“Where’s the self-reflection and accountability?” she said. “Perhaps if we saw some evidence of that, then we can have a more robust conversation about the road to redemption.”
In the meantime, these women say, there are more than enough qualified women ready to take their places in power.
“A bunch of us who took over these jobs got promoted because we were really good at these jobs,” said Vega, the radio host. “We have the skills, we have the experience, we have the work ethic and we have the smarts to do it, and it’s time for us to do this job.”
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