(CNN)CNN asked a group of women and men -- actors, writers and other thinkers -- to explore questions raised not just by the harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein, but by a series of recent challenges to women that have reopened discussion about sexual harassment, gender and power: What is the biggest impediment to equality for women and girls today? And what made you realize anew that it was there?
Harvey Weinstein is a symptom, but what is the deeper problem?
The views expressed here are solely those of the authors.
I was privileged to learn orienteering as a Girl Scout, work as an au pair in Europe, and take wilderness survival classes in college. When I became an actress, naive as it sounds, I hadn't really hit an obstacle because of my gender. So when the "Access Hollywood" tapes came out, and I heard a presidential candidate brag about sexual assault, and with a kind of easy laughter, my knees went weak. And my heart went out to all the young girls who heard it on the news that night, and for the young women who were voting in their first presidential election.
I had a similar feeling after recent news stories recounted allegations against Harvey Weinstein. These famous incidents make the news, but they are not singular. This behavior of white male dominance is understood and cherished -- that's what I hear in the shared laughter on that "Access Hollywood" tape. These conversations expose all the work we have to do, just to admit where we're at, so we can find our way to equality, and I see that as a sign of hope.
Piper Perabo is an actress known for her role as CIA agent Annie Walker in the TV series "Covert Affairs," for which she was earned a Golden Globe nomination in 2010. She has appeared in numerous films, including "Looper," "The Prestige," "Imagine Me and You," and her breakout role in "Coyote Ugly." Perabo is also a voice of advocacy for the International Rescue Committee.
As a teenager on a New Delhi bus, I would invariably feel a hand down my shirt or up my skirt. It was an everyday occurrence. That, on top of an assault at 9, just made the extraordinary event of sexual violence, into the most ordinary thing. I did what most of us do: kept silent.
But even at 9, it was a calculated choice. I chose to stay silent because it was better than telling parents and teachers and they not doing/unable to do anything about it. By staying silent, I betrayed just myself. Speaking out would have led to my betrayal by the people I loved the most.
Then, on December 16, 2012, Jyoti Singh Pandey, a 23-year-old medical student, boarded a bus in New Delhi. She was gang-raped, beaten and tortured by six men. Though she lived only for a few days, she found the strength to testify against her attackers, to demand justice for herself. The press called her "Nibhaya" -- fearless one.
Her story inspired me and so many women across India and the world to break our silences. We'd had enough. The dam had simply burst. We began to see the violence as extraordinary again.
Silence is a hard thing to understand. I thought it protected me, but it protected my perpetrators. I thought it would end the violence, but it was actually what was perpetuating it. I thought the silence was all mine, but it was what made me deeply complicit in the culture of violence.
My silence, layered on top of the silences of millions of other women, created a system where there was no accountability. When we broke it, we were sure the system would collapse, that our breaking of the silence would end the cycle of violence.
But as more women dare to break their silences, many times at enormous costs to themselves, we are faced with an entirely new reality. There is no real fallout, no real consequences.
Although Kate Winslet has denounced Harvey Weinstein, I'll never forget that line from an interview she gave: "When Roman Polanski invites you to join him in any project, you really don't say no." Because I want her, I need her and everyone else to scream "No." Because so many of us couldn't -- we were too young, too scared, too frozen. Does violence against women not count? (Polanski is the film director who fled the United States to avoid prison for raping a 13-year-old girl in 1977.)
Why would a university overlook a sexual harassment charge and begin to promote someone to dean? Why would it be up to the discretion of an officer to submit a rape kit when in reality, it should be mandatory? Does violence against women not count?
That apology letter that Harvey Weinstein wrote wasn't the sound of a man oblivious to the gravity of the accusations of sexual harassment and assault that have been made against him. It's the sound of a man who has read so many scripts, he knows the ending better than anyone else. Expect him to lie low for a while, then emerge under a new company with a new name -- maybe with a phoenix-rising logo -- and go back to business as usual.
The system will support his slow integration, while it will continue to betray those who have the courage to speak out.
Poorna Jagannathan is an actress and producer best known for her portrayal of Safar Khan in the Emmy-nominated show "The Night Of." In response to the 2012 gang rape and death of Jyoti Singh Pandey, she initiated and produced the play "Nirbhaya," written and directed by Yael Farber.
The allegations against Harvey Weinstein are grotesque and horrifying and familiar. How many women read about Weinstein literally blocking a woman's path, and thought, "Yep, I've been there"? How many women remembered their own experiences pushing away unwanted embraces and uninvited hands? Or worse?
This isn't just a Hollywood story. This is an everywhere story. It's the story of men in power using and abusing it against women, cajoling and taking, berating and threatening, trapping and menacing. It's the story of women being doubted and called crazy or labeled as gold diggers or attention seekers, or more likely not saying anything at all because by all available metrics that's the safest, easiest way to go. And yes, it's the story of thinking that when you're a star, they let you do it, you can do anything.
There are many things that are truly shocking about the Harvey Weinstein story -- the brazenness of the overtures, the sheer number of women he allegedly harassed, intimidated and forced himself upon -- but the mind reels at realizing just how many people had to have known something for so long. Assistants and producers and actors and publicists and colleagues (and "procurers" to make things even grosser) -- that this was such an open secret speaks to the normalization of treating women as casually disposable objects. And it speaks to a culture that not only tolerates, but lionizes, the men who treat them that way.
Rachel Sklar is a New York-based writer and co-founder of Change the Ratio, which aims to increase visibility and opportunity for women in tech and new media, and TheLi.st, a network and media platform for women.
I have been working to prevent men's violence against women since I retired from pro football in 1994. Awareness of the problem has grown, but critical, underlying causes remain unchecked. Men are still silent.
I came to realize we don't raise boys to be men, we raise them not to be women. In other words, we don't deliberately nurture boys to be emotionally whole (and nonviolent). We leave them vulnerable to a broader culture dominated by patriarchy and traditions of silence from men -- about themselves, and the sexism and misogyny that harm women.
To break that silence I examined the culture in which I was nurtured. This led me to a crucial question I ask all men. "What's the worst insult you heard as a boy?" The answer: "You throw like a girl!" This charge enforces a narrow view of masculinity -- demanding that boys "man up" -- and delivers an insidiously dangerous message that girls and women are "less than."
My work is focused on the deliberate and intentional engagement of boys and men, not simply to prevent violence against women, but to help boys and men recognize how sexism diminishes them while simultaneously supporting a culture of misogyny and silence about men's violence against women.
Don McPherson is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, a feminist and social justice educator. Follow him on Twitter @donmcpherson.
The only way for women and girls to remain an influential part in society is to constantly engage in discussion, even when we aren't welcome. We constantly struggle with stereotypes against girls who are intelligent, articulate, and active members of school and society - a role still associated with men. An "intimidating" girl describes an intelligent girl involved in many extracurriculars, like we are. When one of us was repeatedly targeted and insulted by a male in our class, we were called "mean" and "aggressive" for standing up for ourselves.
A 17-year-old girl from China recently told us that her parents wanted a boy, and therefore left her in an orphanage. She grew up assuming that male was the better sex, and told people that she wanted a career that helped males, such as a nurse or cook. She now knows women are just strong as men, and wants to be a scientist. We want other girls to be aware of their strength and potential, too. Women must have opportunities to be represented as powerful figures, from directors to politicians, or as mothers. We take issue with the fact that we don't feel enough is being done to change the view of "girl." Even as ordinary teenagers with school and homework, we believe, together, we can initiate change.
Charlotte Kramon & Eunice Park are high school students and co-editors of The GIRLTALK Magazine, a publication completely run and organized by high school students in Los Angeles, CA and dedicated to starting and spreading the conversation surrounding feminism, women, and other gender related issues around the globe with other teens. Follow them on Instagram @thegirltalkmagazine.
On International Day of the Girl, it is important that we remember how much is at stake. Remember the girl in Mali who cannot go to school, but watches her brother go every day. Remember the girl in Chad in a forced marriage, the girl who has never had a chance to explore her potential before becoming a wife, a mother. Remember the girl kidnapped from her school in 2014 in Northern Nigeria, who was forced to become the "wife" of a rebel army member and is going through hell daily.
And remember the women right here in the United States, who have been assaulted and violated and disrespected by powerful men and silenced by corrupt systems of power and control. Remember that girl in every woman you encounter who deserves to discover her potential, her power, and how to fly.
She must function in a world that too often treats her like prey, clips her wings, burdens her with tormented memories of fear and shame. Remember that girl today, the same girl inside so many women, full of wounds but bandaged over with silence and a smile.
Remember the world she is in, so often hostile to her truth, to the fullness and volume of her voice. The world that convinces her she is always to blame. Take the time today not only to remember, but to listen, to learn, to start to understand what if feels like, in this world, for a girl. And resolve to make it better. For her.
Danai Gurira is an actress, best known for her role on "The Walking Dead," and starring in Marvel's upcoming "Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War." She is also a Tony Award-nominated playwright, activist and the founder of LOGPledge.org.
I was speaking to my executive producer about the stories surrounding Harvey Weinstein -- a man whose alleged despicable lechery and abuse of power was widely known among women in my line of business. And we came to the conclusion that though it's been too long coming, these revelations are a positive step forward. As media moguls like Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes and others fall, they send a strong message to other predators that this level of harassment will no longer be tolerated.
But the bigger issue is that we don't teach men how to appropriately communicate their feelings to women. We don't explain to them that being rejected does not make them less of men. We need to give them the correct vocabulary to express themselves. We need to help ingrain in them messages of self-love so that they don't act out their repressed frustrations on others. That's how we will make a safer society for us all.
Erin Richards is an actress, writer and director. She stars as Barbara Keen on Fox's "Gotham." She is a spokesperson for Global Citizen, a social action platform for change.
I joined the fight to close the gender gap in tech after a political campaign where I saw coding and robotics classes full of boys. I couldn't stop coming back to the faces I didn't see -- I kept thinking, where are the girls?
I started an organization to do something about that, but these days you can't flip on the TV or check your news feed without hearing about horrible mistreatment of women. Whistleblowers from college campuses to Silicon Valley to Hollywood have begun to bring rampant, closeted sexual harassment out of the shadows, yet for every brave woman who speaks out, hundreds of powerful men remain silent and thus complicit.
These men could turn the tide far faster than women can -- that's a sad but true fact -- and yet they don't. As a result, casual, small acts of sexism may hang around for another whole generation.
That's the bad news. The good news is that as any psychologist or self-empowerment guru will tell you, how we respond and act in the face of that is up to us. I believe we need to stop trying to wrestle for power, respect and opportunities from others and instead make them for ourselves.
Reshma Saujani is the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, a national nonprofit organization working to close the gender gap in technology. She is the author of "Women Who Don't Wait in Line."
When you campaign and write books claiming to be a protector of women, it should take no time for you to condemn the despicable actions of movie mogul and Democratic donor Harvey Weinstein. For some reason, it took former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama five days to tell the world they were disgusted by the allegations against Weinstein. What should have been an instant rebuke took nearly a week of public pressure to come forth.
It just so happens this alleged sexual predator has been hiding in plain sight in Hollywood and Washington for decades and has donated millions of dollars to Democratic candidates over the years. This includes Clinton and Obama. No word on whether they will return the money (though the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has said it will give its donations to women's rights organizations.)
At the end of the day though this is not about politics. This is about a man whose behavior was demeaning and damaging to countless women. Isolated incidents of sexual abuse happen -- what we have here is a trend enabled by people looking the other way for fear of retribution.
The culture of complicity cannot continue. Let's hear these women out, let's support their courage, and let's hold this man accountable for his actions.
Alice Stewart is a CNN political commentator and former communications director for Ted Cruz's 2016 presidential campaign.
It's become the vogue in Hollywood for women to wait decades before speaking out about past sexual assaults or harassment they've faced over their career by powerful men. And while it's nice that these women are finally telling their painful stories publicly, I don't think they are heroes, or even especially courageous.
Too harsh you say? Not at all. For me, settling for a huge financial settlement from your employer, writing a book or even worse -- staying silent when confronted by a predator at work -- is the weakest move we can make as women who profess to want full equality and respect. And while it may keep you safe for a moment or gainfully employed, your silence puts every other woman at risk for harassment, or much worse.
Workplace harassment isn't just a Hollywood problem. Working women face these predators every day. I've been there myself as a young woman on a fast-track career, who was harassed and groped by a bully at work. Many advised me to stay quiet. Instead, that week I reported the incident not just to human resources but to the head of the company. And yes, I was terrified that I'd ruin my career. I didn't, as far as I know.
Whether it's Weinstein's accusers, the scores of women who accused Bill Cosby, or even top anchors such as Gretchen Carlson who won a $20 million suit after Fox CEO Roger Ailes allegedly harassed her at work -- it's hard for me to find much reason to hope that we are any closer to full equality using this passive-aggressive strategy to gain equal rights.
Let's stop hiding our pain in the closet hoping it will go away. Hoping men will accept us if we stay pretty, silent and compliant. Each of us finding our voice is the only path to true empowerment.
Roxanne Jones, a founding editor of ESPN Magazine and former vice president at ESPN, has been a producer, reporter and editor at the New York Daily News and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Jones is co-author of "Say it Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete." She talks politics, sports and culture weekly on Philadelphia's 900AM-WURD.
I'm sad to say I've been aware of gender inequities since I was a young child, a refugee leaving Iran. It was clear that with the mandatory veil the new regime in Iran had decided that women were not worthy of choice. One would have hoped that traveling to the West and relocating to America would have meant an end to all that, but the sexism I experienced in the United States was consistent and with no end in sight -- in the classroom by pupils and teachers, in the workplace by colleagues and bosses, everywhere.
I've been raped, assaulted or sexually harassed so many times in my life. I now think with the Trump administration we are further than ever from resolving all this. Our greatest impediment is a President who has proudly harassed and allegedly sexually assaulted numerous women. We need to set ourselves apart from this and work harder than ever to make this place safer for the generations to come. Women in this supposedly greatest nation in the world are currently second-class citizens at best, and we need to let it be known vocally this is unacceptable.
Porochista Khakpour is the author of the novels "Sons and Other Flammable Objects" and "The Last Illusion" and the forthcoming memoir, "Sick."
The recent sexual assault allegations about Harvey Weinstein saddened, but did not shock me. Not because I'm an actress he allegedly assaulted or harassed, which I am not. But because, like most women, I know firsthand that the power men wield in our society routinely emboldens and corrupts them. Why do men in our society assault and abuse women? Because they can. My first husband, an Ivy League graduate and Wall Street trader, beat me and held loaded guns to my head, rather than face his own childhood trauma of abuse, simply because he could. In my view, a powerful man who does not use his leverage to abuse women is the exception, not the rule.
Our justice system is one in which (according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) fewer than 10% of men accused of rape or abuse ever spend a day in jail. For years, the rumors and accusations about Weinstein were not taken seriously enough or widely exposed. This conspiracy of silence allowed him to continue to destroy women's self-esteem and their lives with impunity. No matter your politics or views on Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, or Roger Ailes -- or even a less powerful man such as the Stanford rapist Brock Turner -- it's important to step back and look at what some American men do when granted power. Think about it long and hard, because behavior like this needs to change, and we're the ones to change it. Now.
Leslie Morgan Steiner is the author of the best-selling memoir, Crazy Love, and the TedTalk "Why Do Victims Stay?" She lives in Washington, DC.
I've been writing about women's rights for more than a decade, mostly online, with the attendant verbal attacks -- first in blog and website comment sections, and later on social media. I've had stalkers and received rape and death threats. There is not a day that goes by without someone berating me online, not a misogynist slur I have not been called hundreds of times. I thought I knew misogyny.
And then the Republican nominee for President was caught bragging about grabbing women by their genitals, and won the election anyway.
Women -- and men -- need to acknowledge what this means: We already knew that sexual abusers could for years operate under the radar of high-profile industries, as has been alleged with Harvey Weinstein.
But women are even further away from safety and equality than the most cynical feminists believed when an admitted sexual predator can actually win a national election.
It wasn't a surprise that someone such as Donald Trump would yuck it up about sexual assault, or that women accused him of doing what he said he did. Nor was it a surprise that the more craven members of the Republican Party would back him if it meant getting their way on racist immigration bans or tax cuts for the rich they sought. But nearly all of them?
And so many men -- most men -- voted for him. And not as many, but still so very many, women -- typically white women, typically married to men -- voted for him, too. Women are nowhere near safe when so many of our family members and friends, our husbands and brothers and sons, support an unrepentant misogynist, or conclude deep disdain for women is something that can be put aside for politics; we are not equal when so many women decided the humanity of their sisters didn't matter.
Now, the administration of an American president in 2017 is showing women what it thinks of them -- weakening birth control access, attacking abortion rights, undermining fair pay laws and more.
I assumed we could mostly agree that misogyny and sexual violence were bad; I assumed my online tormenters were sexist outliers. It turns out we can't, because they are Trump's America. They've always been haranguing women on Twitter. I just didn't think they'd make it to the White House.
Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and Nairobi, Kenya, and the author of the book "The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness." Follow her on Twitter.
I get asked a bunch, "Is your son into magic?" He couldn't care less.
I have never been asked, "Is your daughter into magic?"
My daughter, Moxie, is into magic and is working her way through Teller's favorite book, "The Royal Road to Card Magic." Her little hands do a good clean false shuffle. Mox got her favorite Valentine's attention by showing him a card trick (already more success with magic than I ever had). Backstage, one of the magicians who had "Fooled Us" (on our Penn & Teller show of that name) told her she could become "the greatest woman magician in the world."
Lack of women in magic is not in the top million most important feminist issues, but magic is my field and Mox is in my family. Magic is still a boy's club, and most magic patter is just formalized mansplaining.
Mox can fix all that. Mox might become the greatest magician in the world.
Penn Jillette, a writer, television host and frequent guest on a wide range of shows, is half of the Emmy Award-winning magic act duo Penn & Teller. His most recent book is "Presto."
The first step to achieving gender equity is understanding where the inequity lies. Discovering that requires the bravery of women to come forward with their stories. In this context, we assume the moment of courage is breaking the silence -- which requires immense courage -- but in reality, life after the silence is broken can be the hardest part.
When I was in college, I worked as a hotline volunteer at a domestic violence shelter for Asian immigrant women. The women I spoke to were mostly mothers, and a significant motivation for leaving their abusers was the safety of their children. The majority of those women worked in garment factories, restaurants and in homes as caregivers or house cleaners. Many worked long hours, but it never seemed to be enough to pay the rent or put food on the table. And so they often ended up back in the shelter or back with their abusers.
That women suffer abuse, harassment or inequity in the workplace is undeniable. But the challenges faced after speaking out are so enormous that many women keep their stories silent for years and years, as we read in the news, or are forced back into cycles of violence, as I heard on the hotline. We need to ensure women are heard, but also supported -- with economic opportunities and supportive communities -- afterward. The only thing worse than silence is isolation and vulnerability after the silence is broken.
Ai-jen Poo is the co-director of Caring Across Generations, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and author of "The Age of Dignity: Preparing for the Elder Boom in a Changing America" (The New Press).
As someone who attended a women's college, I've been asked time and time again, often by men, what the objective of such an institution is in the 21st century. After all, women can now apply to schools whose classrooms were once off-limits and find themselves at the head of boardrooms that were once inaccessible, right? But in this century, the President of the United States brags that his star power gives him rights to women's bodies, as a trusty tool in committing sexual assault, and in this century, our first instinct is to subject repeatedly every decision women make (whether it be about their reproductive health, or speaking up against abuse) to an intense level of scrutiny that could do wonders if it were put to use in, say, anti-gun legislation, universal health care or education.
The biggest impediment to gender equality I see in 2017 is a universal lack of trust toward women. This distrust is reinforced every single time a senior executive repurposes a female colleague's ideas as his own, and every time someone without the ability to become pregnant makes a decision on behalf of those who can. And while it's true that trust is usually earned, it just isn't up to women anymore to earn this trust; it's up to everyone else (from Harvey Weinstein to Donald Trump) to show that they are deserving of it.
Oset Babur is an editor and culture writer whose work has appeared in Teen Vogue, Vice and The Guardian.
It's commendable, of course, that after the raft of horrendous sexual harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein and other major power brokers in the media, more and more women are speaking out against the men who abuse positions of power at their expense. Or against the industries that compensate men at a higher level than women. But the root of the problem lies much deeper.
When Hillary Clinton lost a presidency to a white man far less qualified, far less prepared and far more volatile, it became clear that women were perhaps just as culpable as men in the fight against systemic inequality. And not just the 53% of white women who voted for Donald Trump -- many who did so because they were uncomfortable voting for a woman, or could not get past the sexist stereotypes that were continually hung around this woman. But also the many millennial women who, too, resisted Clinton because of her gender.
These are women who aren't turning out for feminism, or who don't take it seriously -- who view the fight as outdated because they never had to fight it themselves. Or so they think. Because the fight is far from over. The allegations against Weinstein are only the latest expression of this. My greatest hope is that those who have the power, and need, to stand up for women will realize it's not only entirely relevant, but essential that they do so. My greatest fear, however, is that they will not.
Peggy Drexler is the author of "Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family" and "Raising Boys Without Men."
Shortly after I decided to wear the hijab, I noticed a shift in how I was perceived in public and professional settings. My contribution to academic discussions as a college student was received with surprise at my intelligence, and now my work as journalist is oftentimes taken with a grain -- or mountain -- of salt by readers. Comments I've received range from "The author of this wears a scarf" to "We don't need to hear about America's problems from you in a hijab." My perceived intellect and the amount of influence I command in a room are dictated in others' minds by the clothes I wear.
There is a similar struggle on the opposite end of the spectrum, where a woman's value and experiences in the workplace are determined by the amount of skin she chooses to show and how she chooses to show it.
On one end, if she shows "too little" or chooses to cover with a scarf, she is considered sexually oppressed and intellectually stunted, whereas if she shows "too much," she is reducing herself to her sexuality and ultimately asking to be assaulted. Nowhere is this clearer than in the most recent case of Harvey Weinstein, where the women who came forward were criticized for how they presented themselves.
This kind of gender-based power dynamic permeates every woman's experience to some extent, whether she is fully covered or not, sometimes even before she enters the workplace.
Most recently, I was advised to exclude my photo from job applications -- it is much easier to land an interview if I'm misperceived as a male from an ambiguous background whose name might be a variant of "Nas" than as a visibly Muslim woman who covers. I have wondered more than once how many times I got rejected from life-changing opportunities because of the way a male on the other end of the hiring process judged my worth based on the way I dressed.
Naaz Modan is a content editor for Muslim Girl, a publication focused on Muslim women's issues and empowerment.
I feel like there wasn't any singular moment when the degree of work needed was suddenly made plain. It's always been there -- but always suppressed, overlooked and dismissed. I think that the reporting around sexual harassment in Silicon Valley, in which a disproportionate number of the victims stepping forward were Asian-American women, in particular hammered home to me that there are layered aspects to who's targeted, how they respond, whose stories are believed. Women of color are most frequently ignored, and Asian-American women frequently subjected to stereotypical expectations of silence and passivity.
That intersectional context is too often set to the side in these debates, and it shouldn't be.
Jeff Yang is a frequent contributor to CNN Opinion, a featured writer for Quartz and other publications and the co-host of the podcast "They Call Us Bruce." He co-wrote Jackie Chan's best-selling autobiography, "I Am Jackie Chan," and is the editor of three graphic novels: "Secret Identities," "Shattered" and the forthcoming "New Frontiers."