This week, sexual harassment and sexual assault have been trending on Twitter driven, in part, by actress Alyssa Milano's Sunday night post, "If you've been sexually harassed or assaulted write 'me too' as a reply to this tweet." While some women responded with their story or stories of harassment or assault, others simply listed the hashtag #metoo.
According to CNN, the phrase "started more than 10 years ago with activist Tarana Burke." When Burke was a youth and a volunteer, a child revealed to her that she was being sexually abused. Burke sent the child to an adult for help, unable to verbalize the words "me too."
The trigger this week for the focus on sexual harassment and assault is ongoing news regarding movie mogul Harvey Weinstein's predatory behavior, which occurred over decades. According to an article published Tuesday by the New York Times and written by Brooks Barnes, "Over the last week and a half, more than 30 women have come forward publicly with harrowing stories of encounters with him. The police in New York and London have started looking into some claims against Mr. Weinstein, who has denied 'any allegations of nonconsensual sex.'"
Weinstein's movie success and longtime support for Democratic and progressive politics (he donated to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and hosted fundraisers for them), as well as his support for women's causes (according to the Rutgers University website, made the allegations even more newsworthy.
While some men might dismiss the actions of a Hollywood mogul who abused his power as unique to him, for women they resonate in a different way. For those of us decades into our careers, they are a reminder of actions that we may have experienced early in our careers, when we had little power and were surrounded by men with power.
Even for actresses, it's about more than Weinstein, as Molly Ringwald wrote in The New Yorker this Tuesday in an op-ed titled, "All the Other Harvey Weinsteins." In addition to recounting having been sexually harassed in her teens, she recounted an episode from her twenties, "when I was asked by the director, in a somewhat rhetorical manner, to let the lead actor put a dog collar around my neck ... The actor was a friend of mine, and I looked in his eyes with panic. He looked back at me with an 'I'm really sorry' expression on his face as his hands reached out toward my neck. I don't know if the collar ever made it on me, because that's the closest I've had to an out-of-body experience. I'd like to think that I just walked out, but, more than likely, there's an old VHS tape, disintegrating in a drawer somewhere, of me trying to remember lines with a dog collar around my neck in front of a young man I once had a crush on. I sobbed in the parking lot and, when I got home and called my agent to tell him what happened, he laughed and said, 'Well, I guess that's one for the memoirs ...' I fired him and moved to Paris not long after."
There, she put her career on hold.
It makes me wonder how many other women acquiesced to unreasonable sexual demands from men, and in response, changed jobs, changed careers or in some way, limited their lives. The act itself made them shrink, become smaller and limit themselves.
Sexual harassment and assault is not about sex — it's about power. The power to make unreasonable demands. For someone other than you to be in charge, to take, demand or coerce, rather than to ask. The underlying theme being you don't have control of your body — I do. You are owned by me.
And yes, it can happen between any two people, no matter their gender. But with more men than women in positions of power, it's more likely to happen to women than to men.
Also on Twitter this week are pictures of WWE wrestler Brie Bella's infant daughter Birdie Joe Danielson (with WWE wrestler Bryan Danielson). In the picture baby Birdie can be seen playing with a soon-to-be-released action figure of her mother, a symbol of physical strength and power.
I can just imagine women giving their daughters the Bella action figures, reminding the girls of their power and whispering in their ears, "me too, but not you."
To find out more about Jackie Gingrich Cushman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.