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Time’s Up: hundreds of Hollywood women are pledging to fight harassment

They’re working to change the entertainment industry — and to support low-income women speaking out against sexual misconduct.

Shonda Rhimes in December 2017
Shonda Rhimes in December 2017.
Rich Fury/Getty Images for THR
Anna North is a senior correspondent for Vox, where she covers American family life, work, and education. Previously, she was an editor and writer at the New York Times. She is also the author of three novels, including the New York Times bestseller Outlawed.

If 2017 was a year of reckoning, in which survivors came forward to name the powerful people who had harassed and assaulted them, will 2018 be a year of change?

That’s the goal of Time’s Up, a group of more than 300 women in Hollywood who are working to fight sexual harassment in their industry and beyond.

The group, which includes such high-profile Hollywood players as TV showrunners Shonda Rhimes and Jill Soloway, and actresses Kerry Washington, Ashley Judd, and Reese Witherspoon, announced itself publicly on Monday with an open letter in the New York Times and the Spanish-language paper La Opinion. The signers are responding to the countless public reports of harassment and assault over the past few months by working to fix the entertainment industry’s persistent gender gap while also supporting low-income women who fight back against harassment, as Cara Buckley reports at the New York Times.

While they’re far from the first to work against harassment, the Hollywood women of Time’s Up have been granted a large platform in the wake of #MeToo, and they say they’re committed to using it not just for themselves, but on behalf of women who have gotten less attention.

Time’s Up wants to fight harassment inside and outside Hollywood

Plans for Time’s Up, which is leaderless and divided into several working groups, range from the symbolic to the highly concrete. A push to wear black to the Golden Globes has inspired criticism from actress Rose McGowan and from April Reign, creator of the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, who tweeted, “You know what would REALLY be a protest? Not going.”

Other Time’s Up projects may have more direct effects. The group will create a legal defense fund, administered by the National Women’s Law Center, to help survivors of sexual harassment — especially those in low-wage jobs, like farm or factory workers — get legal representation.

One Time’s Up working group, 50/50 by 2020, is advocating for gender parity in Hollywood leadership in the next two years. According to the Times, Rhimes has already helped convince the talent agency ICM Partners to commit to that goal.

Another working group, which includes Lena Waithe, who won an Emmy in 2017 for an episode of Master of None based on her own process of coming out, will focus on amplifying the voices of LGBTQ people. Time’s Up will also champion legislation to punish companies that tolerate harassment, and to push back against the use of nondisclosure agreements that prevent employees from speaking up. And the group has a website that includes information on identifying and reporting harassment.

The women of Time’s Up aren’t the first to work against harassment

Women have been fighting back against sexual assault and harassment since long before the New York Times ran its exposé on Harvey Weinstein. Tarana Burke, for instance, started the #MeToo campaign to help assault survivors a decade ago. The public reports about Weinstein and other powerful men, however, have touched off a new wave of anti-harassment work, formal and informal, of which Time’s Up is only a part.

For all the criticism it faced, the Shitty Media Men list — a crowdsourced spreadsheet of women’s reports of harassment and assault by men in journalism and publishing — was a way of sharing information that, until recently, passed quietly from woman to woman and failed to reach some women at all. Editor Alex Press has suggested a hotline that would help formalize such information sharing across industries, and perhaps a centralized body to collect, verify, and act on reports.

Women in Congress have called for an investigation into reports of sexual misconduct by President Trump. Meanwhile, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) are sponsoring legislation to help congressional employees report harassment, including by eliminating a requirement that those who file complaints sign nondisclosure agreements.

Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, a group of about 700,000 female farmworkers and their allies, wrote an open letter in November expressing solidarity with the actresses and others who had reported harassment in the previous weeks, and noting that “countless farmworker women across our country suffer in silence because of the widespread sexual harassment and assault that they face at work.” Their letter helped inspire Time’s Up to include farmworkers and other women outside Hollywood in its efforts, according to the Times.

Media coverage of the post-Weinstein #MeToo movement has focused largely on relatively highly paid women, most (though not all) of them white, most (though not all) of them in visible entertainment or journalism jobs. This is likely no accident, as such women generally face the fewest barriers to speaking publicly about harassment. Now the women of Time’s Up are using their advantages to fight for broad-based change. They’re not the first to join the fight, but they’ve captured a lot of Americans’ attention, and they may be well placed to use that attention for good.

As Shonda Rhimes said to Buckley at the New York Times, “If this group of women can’t fight for a model for other women who don’t have as much power and privilege, then who can?”

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