Image courtesy of PBS
Sexual assault has long been a problem, not just in Hollywood but around the world. And the justice system hasn’t helped much either. According to RAINN, out of every 1000 rapes, only 310 are reported to the police, and out of those, only 6 rapists will ever be jailed. Over the last year, women have finally decided to fight back, sharing their stories and calling out abusers using the hashtag #MeToo.
The result has been revolutionary. Celebrities like Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Aziz Ansari have been outed and punished, and women are banding together to finally say #TimesUp to sexual abuse. But what happens after you share your story and log off Twitter? That’s the question posed by PBS’ latest docuseries, #MeToo, Now What?
Through five episodes, host and activist Zainab Salbi tackles the crucial issues behind the #MeToo movement, exploring how sexual assault can be prevented and what women can do going forward. Bringing together journalists, activists and pop culture personalities like Editor in Chief of The Establishment, Ijeoma Oluo, executive editor of Teen Vogue and co-author of Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance and Revolution in Trump’s America, Samhita Mukhopadhyay, and Nadine Strossen, the first woman ever to lead the ACLU, #MeToo, Now What? doesn’t just discuss sexual assault — it provides an outline for real change.
As the docuseries comes to a close, BlackBook sat down with Salbi to talk activism and what to do, even after the protest ends.
Tell me about the program.
#MeToo, Now What? is trying to contribute to the discussion of #MeToo that’s currently happening. In my mind, to really contribute to that conversation, we need to look at the issue from a complete 360-degree angle. That includes not just looking at individual stories, but looking at our culture at large and how it plays into what’s happening, which means exploring things like money, race, the normalization of behavior between women and men and class. The reason we need to examine all of these layers — from the treatment of women in the workplace and not just in regards to harassment, but with wage inequality and everything else — it all adds up to the images we are portraying in how we treat women. All of this has just been boiling over for so long, and it really shouldn’t be a surprise. I know a lot of men seem to be surprised, but I’m not. It’s overdue — long overdue. And to ensure that this movement leads to lasting change, we need to get to the root of this issue. It’s just not good enough for me to name these people — that’s a great first step, but this needs to transform culture as we know it.
How does this series add to the conversation? I mean, like it says in the title — #MeToo, Now What?
Right. I hope the series is contributing to the discussion, not just replicating it. For example, the part I’m proudest of is in one of the episodes, where we discussed an accuser and the accused. Beyond just discussing what happened and what he did to her, she basically said, “If I really believe in restorative justice, I need to really examine how that applies in my life.” He came around, after he lost everything in his life and said, “You know, I’m a liberal progressive man, and I did this. If I really believe in the values I thought I did, like I’m a feminist who believes in women’s rights, then I’ve failed myself. How do I fix that and make amends to her?” That, for me, is another layer that shows what we’re trying to do with this program. If the nation is taking about naming names and behaviors, this particular episode was taking it a step further and looking at the meaning of reconciliation. Can we have restorative justice? In another episode, we look at the culture and the mass objectification of women. Of course, these issues have been discussed many times before, but sort of on a small scale — like in the Women’s Studies department at colleges. So, our goal is really to bring these kind of topics out into the open, on a national level, and start a bigger dialogue.
What made you want to get involved with this project, personally?
I’m a women’s rights activist — that’s what I do with my life. After 20 years of being in the humanitarian world and exploring all aspects of it, I came to realize in the process that what really needs to be done, beyond humanitarian work and education, we really need to inspire a new discussion. The secret ingredient to change is inspiration — I really believe that. What we’re trying to do here is take this movement — the #MeToo movement — and make it have a lasting impact. It’s like, how can we use this moment of crisis to look at ourselves and actually grow?
#MeToo has actually been around for awhile. A lot of people don’t know this, but Tarana Burke actually started the movement online in 2006. It just happened to go viral last year. So, what do you think it is about the current political climate that made it finally erupt?
Yeah, it’s been around forever. I was even looking at my speeches from 2010 and I was saying even then that we need to band together and break our silence. But I think women’s issues on a larger scale have always been more like thirld world women’s issues, or women of color issues, instead of the overarching problems all women face in our culture, you know? That’s frustrating for me — when we limit women’s issues. But I think it took a couple of things, one of them has definitely been the celebrity aspect. I know that’s made some people kind of cynical like, “Oh, it’s taken a bunch of celebrities to say something for this to be real?” But you know what? I’m glad they did. As a woman of color it’s like, “Finally! White women are also breaking their silence. This is real. This is sisterhood.”
Right. But I think culturally, everything has sort of lined up to create this moment. First, Trump was elected, which immediately gave women more of an incentive to speak up, and then Hollywood broke their silence. So, why do you think now is such a good time for this to happen?
Having Trump as President has definitely ignited everyone to act. But I’ve been working on this since 1993 and there’s really no perfect time. Like I said, it’s happening now, so I’ll take it. I’m glad. But I also think all of the men who are chiming in negatively are fueling it. You have people calling it a witch hunt or saying it’s gone too far, and this is progressive men saying this — not just Trump. It’s easy to blame him, or Harvey Weinstein. It’s a lot harder for these men, who think they’re liberal and support women, to look at themselves and see that they’ve done wrong. I think that’s inspired women too, because this isn’t just about the bad guy. It’s about the good guy — every guy, the ones who have been silent while all of this was happening and hid behind the fact that they’re not so obviously bad.
Do you think the movement will actually change anything in Hollywood?
I look at it like this: follow the money. I would want to see much more money behind female filmmakers, making sure every actress receives equal pay. I want to see true transformation in the culture of HR departments, I want to see more women all around the board. We cannot stop here. But the day I actually believe things have changed is the day I see more money behind women — not just in Hollywood, but in Silicon Valley, in politics, in the grocery store, everywhere. And that hasn’t happened yet.
I’ve talked a lot about this with my female friends and co-workers, and this is also why I responded so strongly to your program, because it’s easy to show up for the Women’s March, or to share your #MeToo story on Facebook, and then go back to your regular life. What do we do to keep this momentum going, to keep women inspired and interested everyday, not just International Women’s Day?
I struggle with this too, of course, because I want people to walk the walk and talk the talk. But we have to be patient. We’re in a place where so many more women than ever before are finally waking up and saying something — and that’s huge. But we have to remember that it’s a process, a journey — it can’t all happen at once.
Watch ‘#MeToo, Now What?’ in its entirety, here.