Why the Weinstein verdict feels personal
If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote "me too" as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.
Tweeted by actress Alyssa Milano in October 2017 as accusations were building against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, those words would build into a rallying cry louder than anyone at the time could have imagined — a movement that reached a symbolic conclusion Monday, when a jury found Weinstein guilty of a 2006 criminal sex act and a 2013 third-degree rape (he was found not guilty of the alleged predatory sexual assault of Sopranos actress Annabella Sciorra in the 1990s).
The case against Weinstein was unusual due to its size and stature. A titan of his industry, the producer has been accused of preying on as many as 100 women over decades without repercussions. His abuses were an open secret in Hollywood, and for years Weinstein represented the futility of going after men in power — until duel reports by The New York Times and The New Yorker in 2017 published horrifying and substantiated allegations against him.
But #MeToo was never about just Weinstein, and his conduct in the broadest strokes wasn't unique. In part thanks to Milano's tweet, which adopted its slogan from activist Tarana Burke, the allegations against him helped shed light on an even greater epidemic of abuse by men in power, one that brought new and renewed allegations against at least 250 other celebrities, politicians, and CEOs, including the president. Perhaps even more significantly, #MeToo gave ordinary women and men, including myself, a tool to open up about our own abuse; for many, it was the first time they'd ever spoken publicly about being victims of sexual harassment and assault.
Over the course of the fall of 2017, I watched as friends, relatives, and acquaintances bravely posted their own versions of #MeToo, sometimes with intimate stories, and sometimes with no explanation at all. I watched also the surprise expressed by many men at the outpouring, over the fact that so many female friends and family members had such stories too. #MeToo wasn't just about celebrities like Milano, it was immediately made clear; it was about people you knew.
Because of this, my reaction to the Weinstein verdict on Monday was physical: a sudden release of tension that I hadn't realized I'd had knotted in my shoulders. The jury's decision was deeply personal, at its simplest because there is vindication in knowing that justice has been served and at least some of the victims not only heard but, even more radically, believed. By extension, it felt like I, and all the other millions of us who had spoken out, had been believed too.
But it also felt personal due to #MeToo's uncertain results since those early, electric days of 2017. While #MeToo took down celebrities, it seemingly did little to dent "the broader problem of sexual abuse, harassment, and violence by men who are neither famous nor particularly powerful," in the words of The New York Times. Even more nauseating, accused predators who were toppled in the early days of the movement bided their time and have begun making tentative comebacks. I've found it increasingly easy to be overwhelmed by the failures of the movement, most notably in the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court despite the harrowing testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, who accused him of sexual assault.
And while the Weinstein verdict is a victory — the 67-year-old faces between five and 29 years in prison, meaning he could potentially spend the rest of his life behind bars — it is also, in some senses, another loss. Sciorra, who most famously played Gloria Trillo on The Sopranos, had described to the court an incident in the winter of 1994 or 1995, when Weinstein allegedly forced his way into her apartment and dragged her into the bedroom, where he raped her and performed forced oral sex on her, an attack that left her traumatized and led her to begin cutting herself. Still, the jury ultimately acquitted Weinstein of the two counts of predatory sexual assault that relied on Sciorra's account: "This means the jury believed that Weinstein forcibly performed oral sex on Miriam Haley in 2006 and that he raped Jessica Mann in 2013," extrapolated BuzzFeed News' Tasneem Nashrulla in response to the verdict. "They did not believe that he raped Annabella Sciorra in the '90s."
It is more productive to see the Weinstein verdict, then, not as a conclusion to #MeToo, but as progress — something flawed and ongoing, a movement that is still steadily finding its way. Because #MeToo is bigger than one jury decision. It's 12 million tweets and Facebook posts in 24 hours. It's the assurance, by Time's Up's CEO Tina Tchen, that "abusers everywhere ... should be on notice: There's no going back." It's the fact that no longer will the magnitude of the problem be uncertain to anyone. It's that, from here on out, the only way forward is to continue to make things right.
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