It’s time for the men of Hollywood to step up and speak out.
During last week’s SAG Awards, Giuliana Rancic asked Alison Brie for her take on the recent sexual harassment and abuse allegations surrounding James Franco. It was an unpleasant moment which called upon Brie to stand as an inadvertent spokesperson for the actions of her brother-in-law. Why didn’t E! speak with Dave Franco about the situation, or even James himself, who was present at the ceremony? This was only another example of a continuing trend in which women associated with lecherous men are the ones held responsible for speaking on their behalf. It’s a symptom of a far more significant problem: the lack of responsibility placed upon men to be held accountable for their actions.
This notion was reinforced by the backlash against babe.net’s piece regarding Aziz Ansari’s sexual encounter with an anonymous woman. Though this was an opportunity to discuss the complicated, important issues of consent for all genders, most of the resulting think pieces focused on the woman’s agency and responsibility — not Ansari’s. Further, the discussion was derailed by an overwhelming concern for Ansari’s character and career. This only reveals that women are always the ones burdened by the responsibility for their relationships with men.
A far more urgent question than Ansari’s victim’s ulterior motives is: why aren’t individual men’s actions and thinking being challenged like that of the women? The babe.net piece emphasizes the fact that men are hardly ever the ones to have their agency questioned. Unprompted, Rebecca Hall, who was in one scene in the upcoming Woody Allen film A Rainy Day in New York, apologized for working with Allen and donated her salary to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. Selena Gomez also reportedly donated more than her salary to the fund in private. But what about their male co-stars? We have yet to hear anything from Jude Law, Diego Luna, and Liev Schreiber. Timothee Chalamet also donated his salary to Time’s Up after being questioned about his involvement in the film, but falsely claimed that his contract blocked him from criticizing the director. Gomez’s lack of vocal response faced a vicious backlash, while Chalamet’s reputation was barely tarnished.
Refreshingly, Chalamet’s costar Griffin Newman apologized on Twitter for his involvement in the film, on top of donating his salary to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network). Newman made no excuses for his behavior and acknowledged that participating in the film was a cowardly action. He regretted putting his career over his morals and admitted that his work with Allen was hypocritical to his purported values. “I’m not looking to be celebrated,” he wrote. “I advise everyone to signal boost survivors or those who made the right choice the first time instead.”
Women are not off the hook for choosing to work with and defending pedophiles, rapists, and abusers. But the burden of stepping up and admitting to making a mistake should lie much more heavily on the men, whose words have more social capital and objectively have far more power in Hollywood to make a change. Men, when faced with the choice of working with an esteemed director like Allen, can look elsewhere for work due to the abundance of roles available to them. As a man, there is much less to lose for speaking out. Yes, Harvey Weinstein is a disgusting human being. But deriding him doesn’t mean Hollywood power players are automatically off the hook, especially if they choose to work with men like Allen, Bill Murray, Michael Fassbender, Roman Polanski, Alec Baldwin, Christian Slater, Casey Affleck, Johnny Depp, Jim Carrey, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Christian Bale, Josh Brolin, Dustin Hoffman, Gary Oldman, David O. Russell, Nicolas Cage, and Mel Gibson.
There have been countless articles and interviews featuring famous men calling out inequity in the industry in recent months — but there’s been hardly a peep from them regarding their actions (unless they were recently accused of abuse or harassment). However, the notion of men considering their feelings and internalizing the consequences of their behavior dictates almost every plot of every film. For Hollywood, which values the narratives and internality of male characters so highly, the ability to self-examine is deemed of little import in real men — especially when that self-examination involves their treatment of women. The recent barrage of hackneyed Hollywood apologies signal that most men still think that #MeToo and Time’s Up are a public relations nightmare waiting to happen, instead of movements that wouldn’t exist if men had any respect for women in the first place.
I often hear the argument from men that it “isn’t their place” to speak for women when discussing gender equity. However, this often becomes an excuse to refrain from being involved at all; indifference being disguised as political correctness. Respectfully acknowledging that one’s behavior must change as a man is not the same as invading the limited social space of women.
The refusal of men in Hollywood to make any significant statements is unsurprising — if you’re good-looking and have millions of fans, how could you be one of the “bad guys”? This is building upon the myth of the “decent men” who think that they aren’t a part of the problem. But that automatic defense mechanism in so many men is a useful lie that ignores institutional privilege. All men have been complicit in patriarchal structures. Yes, all men. Regardless of how good we are as individuals, we live in a society in which the social capital of men has always been higher than that of women. And all men have benefitted from this social capital, whether they’re aware of it or not.
Men, this is a moment for self-evaluation. If you genuinely want to live in a more equitable world, wearing a Time’s Up pin and a black tux on the red carpet is not enough. Having your publicist tweet about your support for a movement is not enough. The hard work to come will be painful. Thinking about the harm you have caused, whether directly or inadvertently, is not easy. But I guarantee that this trauma will be minuscule compared to how these actions have affected the women in your life. Talk to women. Hire and work with women. Watch and promote their work. Be transparent about your salary and negotiate for equal pay. Call out all of the abusers in your life, even if they’re friends or family or co-workers. Especially if they’re friends or family or co-workers. If women tell you that you’ve acted poorly in your past, don’t get defensive or ignore it. Apologize. Listen and change. Meet us halfway by doing your part.