On Sunday, show-business women will wear black onto the Golden Globes red carpet in a display of post-Harvey-Weinstein solidarity.
Good for them, and skip the snark about superficial celebrity causes. If ever a cohort had a point about their working conditions, it’s the exploited, objectified and occasionally assaulted women of California’s signature cultural export.
At the end of last month, The Los Angeles Times had counted nearly 100 powerful men who had been accused of sexual harassment since The New York Times and The New Yorker broke the Weinstein story, more than half of them in arts and entertainment. The attitudes that come out of Hollywood get conveyed to the larger culture, so if the Golden Globes demonstration were only theatrics, there still would be progress just in reminding that women aren’t decorations.
The good news is that, for once, it isn’t only theatrics. This is particularly so in California – a point underscored last week from Beverly Hills to Sacramento. As the #MeToo movement transitions from mass outrage to tangible action, it has become clear that this issue won’t go gently, and that this state has stepped up, appropriately.
The Golden Globe action, for instance, is part of a larger initiative launched Monday by 300 actresses, writers, directors, producers, agents and entertainment lawyers. Called “Time’s Up,” the campaign is heavily West Coast and aimed at addressing sexual harassment not just in Hollywood but in blue-collar workplaces. The “Dear Sisters” ad that kicked it off ran in The New York Times but also in La Opinión, the Los Angeles Spanish-language newspaper.
Backers include Reese Witherspoon, Shonda Rhimes, L.A. power lawyer Nina Shaw and Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm and, before that, Steven Spielberg’s longtime producer. Resources include a $13 million legal defense fund to help less privileged women – farmworkers, hotel workers, factory workers – navigate the legal pushback that typically occurs when low-level employees report sexual misconduct.
As California lawmakers returned to the Capitol last week, it was clear that some of the group’s legislative agenda already was on their radar. A bill to discourage the nondisclosure agreements that enabled Weinstein’s ongoing predation, for instance, was introduced Wednesday by Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino.
Assembly members Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, Bill Quirk, D-Hayward and Wendy Carrillo, D-Los Angeles, announced another bill, to give panic buttons to vulnerable hotel maids like those at Peninsula Beverly Hills, where Weinstein often stayed and where housekeeping staff have complained generally of harassment.
Last year, the hotel industry defeated a union-backed panic button campaign in Long Beach. Since then, a court of appeals in San Diego has ruled that a hotel worker raped by a drunken trespasser at work could sue her employer. Perhaps now hotels will say #MeToo to workplace safety. Contracts covering about half of the nation’s unionized hotel workers are up for renegotiation this year.
Also on the radar is the Legislature’s generations-long history of turning a blind eye to sexual harassment. There, too, the response has been surprisingly substantive, unlike in Congress where settlements are buried from public view, and where the all-male House GOP leadership is only now getting around to requiring sexual harassment training.
In Sacramento, Assemblywoman Eloise Reyes, D-San Bernardino, wants easier reporting and better record-keeping, both in public and private sectors. Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, is trying again (fifth time’s the charm) to bestow whistleblower protections on legislative employees who report ethical violations, including sexual misconduct. A bipartisan measure introduced by Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, would make legislators reimburse taxpayers for sexual harassment payouts. All three ideas have merit.
And there has been housecleaning: Assembly Democrats sacrificed their supermajority with the forced resignations of disgraced lawmakers Raul Bocanegra and Matt Dababneh. And on Wednesday, one of the first orders of Senate business was to make a defiant Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, take a leave pending an investigation into compelling claims that he harassed a series of young, female subordinates.
Mendoza, who denies the accusations, made his colleagues confront him, showing up at the Capitol with his wife, his children and an apparently limitless reserve of chutzpah. If he, too, is forced out, Senate Democrats will lose their supermajority, too. They didn’t flinch.
All that was just the first day back from winter recess in the first week of 2018. More will come, and should.
“This has built since the Women’s March and I don’t think it’s going away until we see significant change,” Leyva told a Sacramento Bee editorial board member. “Women just want to go to work and be respected.”
That shouldn’t be such a big ask, but somehow it has been. And legislation alone won’t guarantee the right answer. Neither will litigation alone, nor demonstrations on red carpets.
But this cultural shift is overdue, and those tools aren’t to be underestimated, either. If the Women’s March has fresh momentum now, it’s at least partly because show-business women, some powerful but most not, publicly confronted their abusers last year, knowing the dismissal and ridicule that would surely follow.
Now women everywhere are demanding better. That, too, is progress. Sunday’s black dress code? That’s just the televised part of the revolution. Hooray for Hollywood.