Three hundred women in Hollywood – including Natalie Portman, Emma Stone and Reese Witherspoon – are kicking off the new year with a co-ordinated effort to counter systemic sexual harassment in the entertainment business and workplaces nationwide.
The initiative, announced with a full-page ad in the New York Times, includes a $13 million (€10.8m) legal defence fund to help women in less privileged professions protect themselves from sexual misconduct and the consequences that may arise from reporting it.
Entitled Time's Up, the programme was launched with an open letter signed by hundreds of women in show business, including Ashley Judd, Eva Longoria, America Ferrera, Rashida Jones and Kerry Washington, as well as powerful backroom Hollywood figures, including producer Shonda Rhimes, whose credits include Grey's Anatomy and Scandal.
“The struggle for women to break in, to rise up the ranks and to simply be heard and acknowledged in male-dominated workplaces must end; time’s up on this impenetrable monopoly,” part of the letter reads.
"If this group of women can't fight for a model for other women who don't have as much power and privilege, then who can?" Rhimes told the New York Times.
In a sense, Time’s Up is being launched as a companion to the #MeToo movement that grew out of the spontaneous response to revelations about Hollywood’s “casting-couch” system of sexual predation and enduring gender-pay disparities.
While attention has largely focused on show business and the media, Time’s Up seeks to include the plight of working-class women.
The organisation arose from informal gatherings of women talent agents in Los Angeles who starting meeting after the issue of sexual harassment landed like a bombshell on the entertainment industry in October. The group rapidly expanded and now includes meetings and workshops for participants in New York and London.
Organisers said they were moved to broaden the effort after receiving an open letter on behalf of 700,000 women farm workers in November.
The initiative’s goals also include promoting legislation to penalise companies that tolerate persistent harassment, and to fight against the use of non-disclosure agreements to shield sexual abusers.
Organisers also plan to ask women walking the red carpet at the Golden Globes this year to wear black. "This is a moment of solidarity, not a fashion moment," Longoria, who rose to fame in Desperate Housewives, told the paper.
“For years, we’ve sold these awards shows as women, with our gowns and colours and our beautiful faces and our glamour,” Longoria added. “This time the industry can’t expect us to go up and twirl around. That’s not what this moment is about.”
Beyond the symbolism of red carpet fashion, Time’s Up’s legal defence operation will be administered by the National Women’s Law Center’s Legal Network for Gender Equity which connects victims of sexual harassment with legal representation.
Donors include Witherspoon, Meryl Streep, Steven Spielberg and wife Kate Capshaw, and leading talent agencies that are under pressure to reform their practices in the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein scandal.
Witherspoon told the New York Times the organisation, which was founded in October, offered an opportunity for women to join forces in an industry that has typically been run by men.
“We’re finally hearing each other, and seeing each other, and now locking arms in solidarity with each other, and in solidarity for every woman who doesn’t feel seen, to be finally heard,” Witherspoon said.
While Time’s Up plans to structure itself as a decentralised organisation with no formal hierarchy but established traditions, it plans to forge alliances with similarly focused organisations, among them 50/50 by 2020, a group that aims for equal gender representation in US boardrooms by 2020.
Producer and legal defence fund donor Katie McGrath said that many women had realised from early on that they needed to establish what they wanted to achieve, “and what was going to be required in order to shift and pivot from this horror to structural change”. – Guardian