#MeToo began as a tool of healing, a lever of agency traditionally withheld from women, but the hashtag quickly forged a heavy hammer of indictment in the world of celebrity. As women (and men) shared their experiences of sexual violence by the dozen, Hollywood untouchables were nailed via public condemnation and a groundswell of anger erupted into a desire to take action. “Time’s Up” is the latest extension of this effort — a coordinated endeavour by women in entertainment to tackle sexual misconduct and inequity in the workplace. But as the campaign debuted at the 2018 Golden Globes and thrust the cause into the hands of society’s rich and famous, dangerous patterns of elitism threaten to derail the movement’s progress.
Of course, “Time’s Up” is an admirable initiative in and of itself. A leaderless collective backed by over 300 women in Hollywood, the organization emerged in response to an open letter from Latina farmworkers who had expressed solidarity with actresses and others following the Weinstein accusations. The goal: combating sexual harassment both inside and outside Hollywood. “Time’s Up” comprises a network of working groups with various aims, including drafting legislation to combat sexual harassment and advancing gender parity across Hollywood networks, agencies, unions, and studios. There is also a clear attempt to prioritize intersectionality, with one working group focused on amplifying the voices of the LGBTQ community and women of colour. The centerpiece of “Time’s Up” is a legal defense fund set up to subsidize aid for survivors of sexual assault in the workplace, particularly those in low-wage industries. Thus far, the fund has racked up more than $16 million in donations.
However, “Time’s Up” has swiftly evolved from a weapon of feminist activism to a shield for men with ugly histories. In its inaugural letter, the organization encouraged celebrities attending the Golden Globes to wear black in support of survivors; black-and-white “Time’s Up” pins were also an optional statement piece. Although a well-intentioned gesture, this initiative ignorantly invited a slew of men who face allegations of sexual harassment to deceptively position themselves on the side of ‘justice’. James Franco, for example, has been accused of sexually exploitative behaviour since 2014; after he donned a Time’s Up pin at the Awards, five more women stepped forward. This initiative also failed to bear in mind the men whose transgressions had yet to surface. Aziz Ansari’s sexual misconduct only came to light after the Golden Globes where he, too, sported a black-and-white pin.
Clearly, these men are engaged in a sort of activism that is more performative than substantive — more self-serving than self-aware — and it was “Time’s Up” that provided them with the means through which they could whitewash their problematic pasts. The hypocrisy is overwhelming, and it’s a PR move that only the most privileged could finesse.
Not only accused Hollywood actors benefitted from this disingenuous show; both men and women in entertainment who have been complicit in previous controversies were afforded this free pass. Consider, for example, the host of celebrities who have worked with director Woody Allen, suspected of sexually abusing his adopted daughter. Although these allegations have been common knowledge since 1992, Allen’s movies have successfully featured a number of popular actors and actresses over the past two decades. While a handful have suddenly chosen to renounce their affiliation with the director, refuse future work, and even donate the salaries they earned from his films — the timing screams of insincerity. Even more artificial are those who continue to defend Allen and slander his accuser, all the while vocalizing support for “Time’s Up”. In effect, this advocacy enables celebrities to uphold rape culture, while simultaneously exonerating themselves from their spineless complicity.
The height of this tilt of entitlement in “Time’s Up” is the romanticization of further elite leadership in this movement. During an event where grassroots organizers were intended to be front and center — indeed, activists Mónica Ramírez, Marai Larasi, Calina Lawrence, as well as Tarana Burke, the creator of #MeToo, were all brought as plus-ones — the take-away from the evening turned out to be #Oprah2020. With a rousing speech on the grand potential of this moment in social justice, speculation turned to the possibility of a President Winfrey, who would push feminism and anti-racism to the forefront of politics. The misguided notion that elected office is the mainspring of social change constitutes a fraction of the absurdity of this scenario; feminism would surely be impoverished to sacrifice the expansive breadth of experience and radical politics of any of the aforementioned women for a television personality. The last thing everyday, marginalized women need is another liberal in the White House, and the last thing the world needs is another Hollywood star in the White House.
Feminist activism, as expressed through “Time’s Up” and this year’s Golden Globes — in which performative activists are welcomed into its ranks without vetting — are far-removed from long-established grassroots mobilization. It’s a message that reveals itself time and time again: feminism, to be broad-ranging and transformative, must be driven by the most disadvantaged. To have necessarily nuanced conversations about issues like sexual violence, rape culture, and consent, individuals that wield power under systems of oppression must be afforded due scrutiny: Time’s Up on elitist feminism.