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Two Years After Time's Up: Has Anything Changed?

At the 2018 Golden Globes, almost every single celebrity wore black to signify that time was up for perpetrators who have gotten away with sexual violence, specifically in the workplace. It wasn't only a phenomenon in Hollywood, but throughout the United States. Hundreds of powerful men were accused of sexual assault, and for the first time it seemed like victims were being believed. Every day in late 2017 and early 2018, there was a new case when you turned on the news. People were predicting the #MeToo and Time's Up movements signified a new era in the United States, in which sexual and intimate partner violence were no longer publicly tolerated. It’s been over two years since these movements were at their peak, and I can’t help but ask: Was time really up? It certainly doesn’t seem like it.

This year at the Golden Globes, the tone was remarkably different. Ricky Gervais—five-time host of the awards show—took the stage and made several crude jokes about the Harvey Weinstein trial and sexual assault in general. Such jokes included the following: “Our next presenter starred in Netflix’s Bird Box, a movie where people survive by acting like they don’t see a thing—sort of like working for Harvey Weinstein.” While these remarks were met with general discomfort by the crowd, which was similar to the one that wore all black two years before, he certainly was not condemned for it. One would have expected a larger outcry, especially considering the awards show took place in the middle of Weinstein’s trial.

The fifteen minutes of fame and subsequent fizzle of the #MeToo and Time's Up movements are a glaring example of a larger trend in popular culture: a tendency by many celebrities to adopt activism for publicity, but do little to actually affect change. It seems like celebrities simply want to appear ‘woke’ to their following when it is convenient, but either forget or don’t care enough about the cause itself to work for lasting change. However, the blame goes both ways. While we are quick to 'cancel' a celebrity for committing an act of sexual or intimate partner violence (as we should be), we are also quick to forget about the transgression, thereby trivializing it. Rather than being treated as serious issues that require both legal and public redress, these cases become trendy accessories utilized as a means of increasing one’s social capital.

For example, in early 2009, rapper Chris Brown brutally assaulted his then-girlfriend Rihanna. The media, music world, and general public were quick to condemn him, and he was convicted of felony assault. Although this is the most well known case, Brown’s history of violence doesn’t stop there. As recently as 2016, Brown was accused of threatening a woman with a gun outside of his house. He has been arrested multiple times for battery, assault, and a hit and run. Any one of these cases alone could have ruined his career, but they have had surprisingly little impact. Of the seven albums he has released since the 2009 incident, 3 have peaked at number one on Billboard and all of them have debuted in the top ten. When did we decide to stop condemning Brown for his violence against Rihanna and start lauding him for his talent? Doing so not only normalizes violence, but it also minimizes the harm he has done to so many people.

Unfortunately, Chris Brown’s is not a unique case. Comedian Louis C.K. was accused by five women of sexual misconduct in late 2017 at the height of the #MeToo movement. According to The New York Times, rumors had been circulating about him for years and the women's stories all sounded very similar, although few of them knew each other. Despite the outrage surrounding the allegations at the time, there has been little continuing outrage at his recent return to comedy. His January show in Pennsylvania sold out, which is not an uncommon trend for his recent tour. When did we decide that a few laughs were more important than holding perpetrators of sexual assault accountable, or more important than believing and supporting victims?

Some may point to the recent conviction of Weinstein as a sign that things really have changed. While Weinstein’s conviction was certainly a victory for sexual assault victims, there are too many similar cases that don’t end in similar convictions. Furthermore, the victim-blaming rhetoric inside and outside of the courtroom throughout the case cannot be ignored. In a recent interview with The New York Times’ podcast The Daily, Weinstein’s lawyer Donna Rotunno said that she has never been sexually assaulted because she would “never put [herself] in that position,” and that she has “always made choices, from college age on, where [she] never drank too much, [she] never went home with someone that [she] didn’t know. [She] just never put herself in any vulnerable circumstance ever.” Until victim-blaming rhetoric such as this falls out of the mainstream, we haven’t won. When victim-blaming is acceptable, it communicates a broader message that sexual assault is acceptable and creates a pathway for perpetrators to be excused for their behavior.

One could write a fifty-page list of perpetrators of violence who were later forgiven, and many of whom never even apologized. Notable examples include James Franco, Jamie Foxx, Nick Carter, Ed Westwick, Ben Affleck, Brett Kavanaugh, and even our sitting president Donald Trump. The trend set by Hollywood to condemn and quickly forget has been replicated by the general public, and clearly we need cultural upheaval. If any real change is going to happen, we need to truly hold aggressors responsible for their actions, and do so in the long term. If we are going to declare that “Time’s Up,” we need to make sure that when substantiated claims are made, time really is up for the perpetrator—not doing so is a slap in the face to all victims of sexual assault.

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