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18 Feb, 2020 11:49

As Weinstein verdict comes in, what has #MeToo wrought?

As Weinstein verdict comes in, what has #MeToo wrought?

Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein is facing a reckoning for his ‘casting couch’ habits – but the #MeToo movement he triggered has not only empowered victims, it’s grown into a weapon for politicians and culture warriors.

Weinstein was hauled before a Manhattan court last month, to answer a multitude of charges of rape and sexual assault. Over 100 women have gone on record accusing him of misconduct since actress Rose McGowan (Charmed) led the way in 2017, accusing the powerful producer of having raped her 20 years prior. 

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The jury begins deliberations on his verdict on Tuesday. Whether he is found guilty or acquitted, Weinstein’s case has reverberated not just in Hollywood or the US, but globally, with far-reaching consequences on society, politics and relations between the sexes.

The ‘casting couch’ has long been one of Hollywood’s worst-kept secrets. McGowan’s allegations brought some of it out into the open, only to see Weinstein’s powerful political friends weaponize the mounting #MeToo outrage for their own ends.

It wasn’t long before #MeToo was drafted into the culture wars; radio stations banned beloved classic songs from the airwaves, only to replace them with “woke” versions recorded by activist celebrities. Mere allegations of sexual impropriety were enough to “cancel” even aging opera stars such as Placido Domingo, 78.

While sleazy producers and directors often beat the charges in court, male movie stars left nothing to chance. Keanu Reeves (Matrix) wouldn’t even touch fans in photos. Henry Cavill (The Witcher) noted that dating became awkward – only to be cowed into apologizing by the backlash. Taron Egerton (Kingsman) described the climate as “walking on eggshells.”

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A similar phenomenon started taking shape on Wall Street, where male executives stopped taking one-on-one meetings with female colleagues, including mentoring sessions and business dinners. Instead of shattering the “glass ceiling” the feminists have been seeking to shatter for years, #MeToo has effectively created gender-segregated boardrooms.

Nor has its reach been confined to US shores. In France, a journalist launched the #balancetonporc (“expose your pig”) campaign in 2017, after a TV executive crassly flirted with her at a drunken party. She later had to pay him $20,000 for defamation. Another author was fined, also for defamation, after blogging about her alleged assault rather than reporting it to the police.

Backlash went beyond the French courts. In 2018, over 100 prominent French women denounced the “witch-hunting Puritanism” that helps “enemies of sexual liberty,” adding that “Rape is a crime but insistent or clumsy flirting is not.”

Last week, however, the entire board managing the Cesar Awards – the French film academy equivalent of the ‘Oscars’ – resigned due to backlash over so many nominations going to Roman Polanski. Feminist groups were outraged that Polanski – who admitted to statutory rape in the US and then fled the country to avoid prison in 1978 – was even considered, and compared him to Weinstein.

Ironically, Polanski argued last year that branding him a sexual predator was a smear job by Weinstein, as part of a dirty campaign against his movie ‘The Pianist’ during the 2003 Oscars season.

Accusations of sexual assault have long been a political weapon. Democrats tried to leverage them in October 2016 against Donald Trump. Two years later, a friendly witness was found to accuse US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of impropriety during his high school days, in an effort to torpedo his confirmation. Neither attempt was successful.

Thus the legitimate rebellion against a sleazy Hollywood practice ended up being hijacked and turned into an indiscriminate weapon in the culture war, turning men and women into enemies told to fear and doubt each other’s every move. In the process, cultural and legal norms, painstakingly developed over centuries to ensure justice for all, have been wrecked or thrown overboard.

Meanwhile, the US book market has been dominated by the ‘50 Shades’ series of erotic novels, celebrating a relationship between a submissive young woman and a sadistic billionaire. 

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