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?
The views expressed here are solely those of the authors.
Piper Perabo: Exposing the problem is a first step
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.
Poorna Jagannathan: Does violence against women not count?
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.
Rachel Sklar: This is an everywhere story
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.
Don McPherson: Men have to break the silence
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.
Charlotte Kramon and Eunice Park: Women and girls have to engage in discussion – even when we aren’t welcome
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.
Danai Gurira: Listen and learn what it feels like to be a girl
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 w