Voices heard

It took dozens of women speak­ing out to shine a light on a long-hid­den se­cret.


Al­le­ga­tions like those against Har­vey We­in­stein were once met with a shrug — un­til now.

Un­til very re­cently, women who came for­ward with their ac­counts of sex­ual ha­rass­ment at the hands of pow­er­ful men who held sway over their ca­reers were viewed as traitors, whin­ers or piti­fully naive to the ways of in­dus­tries where a barter sys­tem — sex for fame — was all but im­plicit.

They sold their sex­u­al­ity on screen and on stage, af­ter all, the think­ing went, so what did they ex­pect when the cam­eras stopped rolling or the arena lights dimmed?

The few who were brave enough to come for­ward with ac­counts of be­ing groped, co­erced, threat­ened and even raped were side­lined, ca­reers de­stroyed. Their sto­ries rarely made the news, un­til re­cently, when the sheer num­ber of al­le­ga­tions against power bro­kers and gate­keep­ers like Bill Cosby, Fox News’ Roger Ailes, mu­sic’s L.A. Reid and now Har­vey We­in­stein lit­er­ally forced the me­dia’s hand.

His­tor­i­cally the hard­est part for women com­ing for­ward with ac­counts of sex­ual abuse wasn’t just prov­ing that the sick­en­ing events ac­tu­ally hap­pened — it’s been con­vinc­ing any­one who would lis­ten that what hap­pened was wrong, even if it was busi­ness as usual.

Those of us who’ve worked on film sets, in record­ing stu­dios, around green rooms or in the vicin­ity of the dreaded cast­ing couch know that draw­ing at­ten­tion to the prob­lem puts you on a path paved with land mines. Cover­ing all th­ese in­dus­tries over the

years has taught me and most of the other women I’ve worked with or ob­served to pro­ceed with cau­tion.

Is the world of en­ter­tain­ment very dif­fer­ent than other fields? Prob­a­bly not; cer­tainly women have had to work around or sub­mit to misog­yny, sub­ju­ga­tion and sex­ism in ev­ery arena. But the be­hav­ior in Hol­ly­wood seemed more bla­tant — and the stakes could be much higher.

Speak up and your chances of be­com­ing a star are over. So it’s best just to move fast, stay on your toes, and laugh at the open se­cret — which has be­come the most oft-re­peated phrase when talk­ing about the We­in­stein scan­dal — that soand-so’s door is al­ways open, un­til you walk in and it locks be­hind you.

How else would some abusers have been so em­bold­ened over a pe­riod of decades? It takes a vil­lage full of apa­thy and fear, with a lead­er­ship em­bold­ened by block­buster films, hit records, must-see TV shows.

It took dozens and dozens of women break­ing pro­to­col and com­ing for­ward with sim­i­lar sto­ries of abuse, a so­cial me­dia out­cry over their al­le­ga­tions, and a newly en­er­gized wave of in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism to ex­pose such abuses out­side the stu­dio gates.

Now artists such as Ke­sha Rose Se­bert are tak­ing it to a new level, turn­ing that very pub­lic pain into very pub­lic art. And it’s clearly hit­ting a nerve.

If there’s a sound­track to this water­shed mo­ment, it’s the singer’s sin­gle “Pray­ing.”

The pop star who for­merly made dance hits about par­ty­ing and par­ty­ing some more has risen out of what many sur­mised were the ashes of a ca­reer de­stroyed by al­le­ga­tions against her for­mer men­tor, pro­ducer and la­bel head Dr. Luke.

In 2014, she un­suc­cess­fully sued Dr. Luke, seek­ing to void all their con­tracts be­cause the pow­er­ful pro­ducer "sex­u­ally, phys­i­cally, ver­bally, and emo­tion­ally abused [Ke­sha] to the point where [she] nearly lost her life," ac­cord­ing to her at­tor­neys. Luke has de­nied the al­le­ga­tions.

Ke­sha came back this sum­mer with a new sort of no­to­ri­ety as a war­rior and a wo­man who speaks to or at least rep­re­sents the ex­pe­ri­ences of many other women in and out of the mu­sic in­dus­try.

In the spare sin­gle, a somber and emo­tional change of pace from her for­mer dance tunes fash­ioned by Dr. Luke, she whis­pers, then belts, chilling lines.

“Well, you al­most had me fooled,” she sings. “Told me that I was noth­ing with­out you. Oh, but af­ter ev­ery­thing you've done. I can thank you for how strong I have be­come.”

Ac­tress Rose Mc­Gowan has also emerged as an em­pow­er­ing fig­ure for women with sim­i­lar sto­ries. She was one of the first women to go pub­lic with al­le­ga­tions against We­in­stein. She re­ceived $100,000 in 1997 from We­in­stein re­lated to “an episode in a ho­tel room dur­ing the Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val,” ac­cord­ing to a re­port in the New York Times. Af­ter that, the “Charmed” ac­tress’ ca­reer stalled.

Now she has an army at her side, or at least on so­cial me­dia. The #RoseArmy hash­tag has pro­lif­er­ated over the past week as sto­ries about We­in­stein broke. When Twit­ter tem­po­rar­ily sus­pended her ac­count for a per­ceived vi­o­la­tion of its pol­icy, she didn’t suf­fer in si­lence.


“Shout out to all the women bat­ting away misog­y­nis­tic trolls daily now wak­ing up to news that @twit­ter si­lenced 'threat­en­ing' Rose Mc­Gowan,” tweeted screen­writer and au­thor JoJo Moyes af­ter the so­cial me­dia giant sus­pended the ac­count.

Mc­Gowan’s now back on the site.

The hope is that this is a water­shed mo­ment in the clois­tered en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try. Women who broke the code of si­lence and sur­vived are emerg­ing with new ca­reer paths and per­sonas. They de­fied an age-old show busi­ness con­struct that ev­ery­one pays a price for fame, and for women, that meant putting out and shut­ting up. They broke the code of si­lence and sur­vived, emerg­ing with in­de­pen­dent ca­reer paths and causes, while their ac­cusers suf­fer the ban­ish­ment they once risked.

We­in­stein has, how­ever, man­aged to rein­vent him­self through a record­ing, but not an in­spir­ing one like Ke­sha's.

A con­ver­sa­tion that was recorded dur­ing a 2015 New York Po­lice Depart­ment sting and re­leased Wed­nes­day cap­tures We­in­stein try­ing to co­erce model and ac­tress Am­bra Bat­ti­lana Gu­tier­rez into his ho­tel room.

“I am a fa­mous guy,” he says to her, in the record­ing, as she tries to get away from him. “Don't ruin your friend­ship with me for five min­utes.”

But in a new twist on the old Hol­ly­wood story, it’s his ca­reer that’s been ru­ined.

Michael Owen Baker For The Times

KE­SHA ROSE SE­BERT, shown in Fe­bru­ary, has a sin­gle that speaks to the ex­pe­ri­ences of many women.

Jay L. Clen­denin Los An­ge­les Times

ROSE MC­GOWAN was one of the first women to go pub­lic with al­le­ga­tions against Har­vey We­in­stein.

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