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Pop Stuff: No Man’s Land

For many girls, safe spaces are scarce and a mouthpiece is impossible

Soleil Nathwani Dec 12, 2017

One #MeToo tale after another has ensured that workplace sexual abuse is no longer a dirty little secret. Photo: Pexels

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The moment feels subversive. The Weinstein effect has broken a dam that shored up abuses which an entire industry swept under the red carpet, turning a spotlight on men who misuse power. Close to one hundred women have spoken out against Harvey Weinstein, Hollywood’s erstwhile Midas. Survivors of harassment, assault and rape, too often discredited, may finally see vindication as police in New York, Los Angeles and London investigate him. The hammer has come down on other large personalities as victims speak out. Kevin Spacey has been written out of House of Cards, Louis C.K. is a bygone conclusion at the peak of his career, Raya Sarkar, the student who published a list of 70 accused academics has ruffled India’s intellectual elite. U.S. senators and British parliamentarians are under scrutiny. Moguls are falling like dominoes and men find themselves uneasily on the back foot.

Any optimism at the sea change taking place to redress a gender dynamic where men are emboldened by entitlement and women are silenced by the prevailing attitude that they must tuck away their trauma, is tempered by the disquiet that for many equal footing is still out of reach. As the ghosts of the casting couch haunt Hollywood, I think back to my work on films focused on women’s rights in societies where forced marriage or sexual slavery are commonplace. For many girls, safe spaces are scarce and a mouthpiece is impossible. In applauding the courage of the thousands sharing their stories, proving that harassment is an epidemic, are we ensuring that the millions more whose #MeToo falls in a void aren’t left behind?

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The reality is that the fight embodied by Ashley Judd, Ellen Pao and Raya Sarkar is the fight facing the child bride or trafficked sex worker, a parallel struggle in a disparate economic framework and social milieu. An aspiring actor in Hollywood may suffer a brute while a young girl in Haryana must hand over her text books for a husband. Both survive by playing according to a male rule book which, across country and class, assigns power to men and robs women of their agency. Our structures around employment, marriage, inheritance and government ensure that men are ‘worth’ more, propping up systems that safeguard the Harveys, forsake the victims and pass on the fable of ‘This Is Just the Way It Is.’ Thankfully, women are in a ‘Says Who?’ moment that won’t back down.

It’s in channeling the outrage at the topic du jour against the structure that created it and turning the battle of each injustice into fuel for the larger war of who steers the ship that we effect change on Hollywood movie sets and in village classrooms. The most critical thing we can do as men and women anywhere is to put women in the driving seat. The reaction that I’ve seen from women post Malala, post Jyoti, post Hillary and now post Harvey (just to name a few) is a groundswell of action that recognizes that if we had equal numbers of women in power, at home, at work and in government, pushing laws and protections would be less of an uphill battle. Women buoyed by other women are demanding to walk into a room with an equal voice, sick of treading carefully adjusting their blouses in a man’s world. As historic numbers of women become CEOs, run for office or graduate college, we are still an enormous way from closing the gap but it’s clear that this wave of feminism is Fed Up and ready to fight for all women. Hollywood might be having a moment but it’s part of a revolution.

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The author is a film producer and journalist and a former hedge fund COO. Twitter: @soleilnathwani

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