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From the rise of the MeToo movement in late 2017 through the unprecedented gains for female politicians in the 2018 midterm elections, women have seemingly made relatively more progress in the past few years than over the preceding century. Now what?
That was the question posed to a panel Tuesday morning in Beverly Hills, organized by Emily’s List, the political action committee dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women. “The silver lining in the last couple of years is that women are galvanized and mobilized and ready to enact real change. So much progress has already been made, but today is about how we can keep that momentum going,” said Lisa Ling, who moderated the conversation among actresses Amber Tamblyn, Olivia Munn and Melissa Fumero, as well as Cook County state’s attorney Kim Foxx.
“It’s a long haul,” said Tamblyn, cautioning that real seismic change is incremental. “Everyone is counting on us burning out and hoping that all of the women elected and brought into the Academy are a fad and will pass… It’s going to ebb and flow, and it’s important to keep paying attention and pushing.”
Foxx pointed out that given the “historical deficiency” of equality and rights for women — for example, suffrage was only granted 99 years ago — proactive action is needed. “There has been deliberate and intentional exclusion, so we have to work with the same level of intentionality to break that down,” she said. “To overcompensate for that, you have to have radical ideas and radical diversity.”
Fumero agreed, noting that inclusion was, if nothing else, good for business. “The best ideas are going to come out of a diverse room, and when you have the same point of view and the same background, you’re only going to service those people, and that’s not what our country looks like,” said the Brooklyn Nine-Nine star. “The best shows and movies come out of diverse writers rooms and diverse crews and diverse casts, and we’re seeing that in dollars at the box office.”
Elsewhere, Munn also shared what it was like to publicly call out a powerful Hollywood figure for sexual harassment years before the concept of MeToo was popularized (the term was originally coined by activist Tarana Burke in 2006). Approximately 15 years ago, when she was a newcomer to the industry, director Brett Ratner masturbated in front of her, an incident she included in her 2010 memoir (without his name, for legal reasons). The subject of the anecdote was widely known or assumed to be Ratner, who responded by claiming that he had “banged” her. “If there’s a woman who looks a certain way and got to a certain place, there’s only one way she got there… She must have used her sexuality,” said Munn of the claim, which coincided with her landing her breakthrough gig as a correspondent at Comedy Central’s The Daily Show and resulted in the “hardest weekend of my life.”
Munn then told the Emily’s List audience something that she had never before publicly shared, which was that Ratner got a hold of her number and called her to say that his comment was simply a joke that was blown out of proportion by the media. “That’s like raping a girl and saying just kidding,” she retorted. “And it’s not just personal now, it’s business. You’re fucking with my business.”
Munn says Ratner repeatedly interrogated her over the phone about the nature of their relationship, leading her to suspect that the conversation was being recorded. He then asked her to spread the word that he had apologized, but Munn refused until Ratner offered to set the record straight that the two had never slept together. The next day he told Howard Stern in an interview that he had lied about Munn. Shortly thereafter, he resigned from producing the 84th Academy Awards for unrelated homophobic comments, but two years later inked a multiyear co-financing deal with Warner Bros. for up to 75 titles and $450 million. And in 2017 he was accused by at least five other women of sexual misconduct over the years.
“I didn’t want revenge, I just wanted my name back. I should want more,” Munn reflected, adding that Ratner’s demeanor during their phone conversation was one of self-pity. “For the first time, white men are aware of their existence. They’re like, ‘Am I not allowed…?’ That’s where the rest of us have been forever. But it’s not a bad thing to be considerate of others.”
Foxx commented that her empathy as a survivor of sexual violence is an asset, not a liability in her position as Chicago’s top prosecutor (she is overseeing the accusations against R. Kelly but has recused herself from the Jussie Smollett case). “I was told that you have to be careful when charging someone with sexual assault. The accusation is heavy. You accuse a guy of rape, he’ll never be the same,” says Foxx, who adds that less than one percent of elected prosecutors are women of color. “We do more interrogation of the person who brings the allegation than the accused. Who are the people who make that call? I bring all of my experiences to my policy agenda, and I’m unapologetic about that. People want to pretend that policies are blind, but bad policy comes from people who are not directly impacted by them. I was broken, and it makes me better at my job — a more thoughtful, empathetic and compassionate prosecutor. I own that I have been hurt and have been healed.”
Tamblyn called on women to channel their emotions — including anger — into solidarity and change. “What comes after the anger? What comes after the destroying of the status quo?” she said. “What comes after is what we’re doing right now, the unprecedented number of women who were just elected to the House and Senate. It’s not a question of asking for permission anymore. We are now saying that it’s important that we all stand together, and that our anger combines itself and creates structure around something that has an action.”
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