SAG-AFTRA President: Have the Weinstein Revelations Really Changed Anything? (Guest Column)

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SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris

One year after the producer's fall, ending abuse in the industry requires more than paying lip service to catchy slogans.

Has it really been a year since the world first learned of Harvey Weinstein’s abuses?

On the one hand, a lot has certainly happened since The New York Times and The New Yorker opened the floodgates to a long-overdue national reckoning by exposing Weinstein for the miscreant he was. We have seen the rise of #MeToo and Time’s Up and the fall of dozens of powerful men accused of sexual misconduct. Countless survivors have been empowered to speak out and seek justice.

But as we prepare to mark this bittersweet anniversary, the spectacle currently playing out in Washington, where a group of mainly white male senators are once again trying to dismiss the painful testimony of a courageous woman, raises a troubling question: has anything really changed?

The ongoing reckoning prompted by the Weinstein revelations is not simply about toppling predators from their perches — though that’s obviously part of it. More fundamentally, it’s about the need to create workplace cultures where men and women are equally valued; where discrimination and harassment are universally condemned; where respect is the norm, regardless of job or gender. It’s about giving voice and creating choice, so that equality in the workplace becomes simply the way business is done.

The union I lead, SAG-AFTRA, which represents some 160,000 actors, musicians, and other performers, has taken a number of pointed steps in this direction. We effectively banned the casting couch, with new guidelines that prohibit business meetings in private homes and hotel rooms. We’re opening up reporting channels and providing training so our members know what to do when they confront or witness unacceptable behavior. And, in partnership with the Actors Fund, we’re offering counseling services for harassment victims.

These are positive changes, to be sure, but they’re hardly enough to dismantle centuries of sexism. That’s going to take sustained effort from everyone, an effort that attacks the problem at its root. 

At its core, sexual harassment is an abuse of power, and it particularly devalues and diminishes under-represented groups like women, people of color, and those with different abilities. Ending this abuse requires more than paying lip service to catchy slogans and re-tweeting trendy hashtags. It requires respecting victims of harassment and discrimination when they’re brave enough to share their experiences. It requires creating real equality in the workplace. And it requires recasting the fundamental imbalances of power that allow abusers to act with impunity.

Take pay equity. Paychecks are how employers indicate employees’ value. So if men and women are valued equally at work, it should show in their paychecks. For most women and minorities, at both the top and the bottom of the pay scale, it generally doesn’t. That’s why it was so encouraging to see HBO respond to the demand for equality by boosting the salaries of the female stars on Westworld and other series to match the men’s. Netflix did the same after reports showed it had paid Claire Foy, the Emmy-winning star of its acclaimed series The Crown, less than her male co-star. 

But to really erase sexual inequities and misconduct in the workplace, we must equalize the power differential between men and women executives across male-dominated industries. Hiring and promoting women changes more than workplace culture; it can also shift culture at large. 

American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy is one entertainment executive who seems to understand this. When he realized he was “part of the problem” because just a fraction of the directors on his shows were women, he launched what he called the Half Initiative, providing mentorship and training to promising female directors and directors of color. In less than a year, Murphy hit his target, hiring significantly more women and diversifying the staffs of nearly all his shows. That’s what just one person can do. Imagine the progress we could make if every decision-maker made an equally courageous choice.

Even now, with all we’ve learned, there are victims who are afraid to speak out. There are witnesses of harassment who’ve remained silent. There are politicians still in positions of power and executives still leading companies despite multiple harassment allegations against them. Indeed, nearly 30 years after Anita Hill, what do we see as another would-be Supreme Court Justice finds himself called to account by women he reportedly assaulted? We see the wagons once again circling to protect him, not his victims.

There is clearly much work that remains to be done. Let us commit to real action, action that addresses the basic inequities that are the real root of the problem, before time really is up. 

Gabrielle Carteris is president of SAG-AFTRA.