In a year that saw the anniversary of the first British women getting the vote, attitudes towards the female sex have been under more intense scrutiny than ever. The #MeToo movement entered its second year, it being just over a year since the first allegations of sexual assault were filed against Hollywood director, Harvey Weinstein.
A year is a very long time in politics. From Hollywood to Westminster, few institutions will move into the new year unscathed.
The popular hashtag, #MeToo, appeared in late October last year with women across the world being encouraged to share their own experiences of sexual harassment and assault via social media. Over a year on, the implications of this explosive hashtag are still being felt.
At the turn of the year, #MeToo was joined by partner campaign Time’s Up. According to its website, Time’s Up was born out of anger towards the mistreatment of women in all workplaces and aims to challenge patriarchal behaviours towards working women wherever they are found.
At the Golden Globe Awards in January, actress Meryl Streep led the way in protesting sexual harassment in the film industry. By dressing exclusively in black, film stars aimed to "raise awareness for Time's Up, to fight sexual misconduct in Hollywood and beyond."
Meryl Streep was not the only big name to take a stand. In her acceptance on receiving a lifetime achievement award, Oprah Winfrey paid tribute to women everywhere who were coming out and sharing their stories of sexual misconduct. Being the first black woman to take that specific award, her words carried increased weight: “I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon!”
As the months progressed, the glitzy world of Hollywood continued to be rocked by allegation after allegation. But the outrage was not confined to the United States. On the anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, women in the United Kingdom took to the streets of London to march for ‘the protection of our fundamental rights and for the safeguarding of freedoms threatened by recent political events’.
The Women’s March saw thousands turning out to demand change. Across the globe, women from 34 different countries took a stand to show their frustration and anger at both Donald Trump and the sexism that had dominated the headlines in the wake of his election.
Turning back to the world of film, the 2018 Oscars saw their fair share of outrage and protest. The ceremony was wrapped up with a rousing speech from Best Actress winner, Frances McDormand, explicitly challenging the behaviour shown by the likes of Weinstein.
The catalyst to the #MeToo movement, Harvey Weinstein himself was finally arrested in May. Touted as the ‘hurricane Katrina moment’ of the #MeToo campaign, the eyes of the world were on the New York City courtroom – a far cry from the glamour of Hollywood. Almost a year to the day, Weinstein was placed under house arrest, awaiting further trial. The case remains ongoing, with recent attempts by Weinstein’s defence to get the charges dismissed thwarted by the court’s judges. Perhaps 2019 will be the year we see a conclusion to this seemingly never-ending saga.
Like Hollywood, the music world has been no stranger to the #MeToo movement. Musician R Kelly received backlash after he was alleged to have been involved in the repeated sexual abuse of a 14-year-old girl. And, following the success of #MeToo and Time’s Up, a similar online campaign was formed – #MuteRKelly. The singer denies all claims of wrongdoing but there is no doubt these events have wounded him. Hashtags and the tales behind them are clearly going nowhere. In an era where people are increasingly vocal about their support (or lack of) celebrities online, stories like these are increasingly pushed into the limelight and rightly so.
There have been success stories for women, but it is becoming clear that after the initial momentum of the #MeToo movement, many facing accusations are yet to experience justice. In September, the charges against House of Cards star, Kevin Spacey, were dropped. Spacey’s case rivalled that of Weinstein’s in its publicity but it seems the actor has come away from it largely unscathed. In a bizarre video released on Christmas Eve, Spacey reprised his House of Cards character, Frank Underwood, to address the allegations. If this was an attempt at a comeback, it was an unusual one. But then again, 2018 really has been the year of the unusual.
The streets of power have again this year been plagued with scandal. Politics is no stranger to abuse of power, but the #MeToo movement has escalated awareness of such cases. The Trump administration came under fire yet again when the President’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, faced accusations of sexual assault. The case was widely publicised and senior politicians much criticised. However, the disgraced Kavanaugh was nevertheless admitted to the Supreme Court. It seems that victims are still light-years from being believed.
There is no part of society, it seems, that has not been affected by #MeToo. Even sporting legends have come under fire in recent months after footballer Cristiano Ronaldo faced rape allegations. Celebrities that were once looked up to by generations have since fallen by the wayside. Celebrity culture, wrapped in patriarchal traditions, must be challenged anew in 2019.
It seems, then, that the #MeToo movement shows little sign of slowing as we move into 2019. Actors, musicians, politicians, sportspeople and business owners have been exposed, and are rightly being held to account for their past actions. However, the picture is not rosy. Women still have a long way to go to get their stories believed and it is the women far away from cameras – the ordinary women trying to get by – who will continue to fall victim to a culture that should have been erased centuries ago.
Abby King is an Editor at Backbench