Ashley Judd, USC researcher Dr. Stacy Smith and other #MeToo and Time’s Up activists said Monday that the work to reduce sexual harassment has not waned in the months since Hollywood and other industries have been forced to reckon with longstanding gender abuses and disparities.
Speaking at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, Judd said the #MeToo movement has been able to build on the work of activists like Tarana Burke, who first launched the movement years ago.
Judd was among the first women to go on the record last fall about her experience with disgraced Hollywood titan, Harvey Weinstein. In the months since, dozens of men have been felled by allegations of sexual misconduct, including most recently, a conviction of sexual assault against Bill Cosby — the first of the #MeToo era.
As the panel was unfolding, news broke that Judd had filed a lawsuit against Weinstein, alleging that he derailed her career.
“We have seen the evolution of something that I don’t recall seeing something of this magnitude in recent history,” said MSNBC anchor and moderator Alex Witt, holding up three daily newspapers that prominently featured stories involving sexual harassment or assault.
The panel was one of dozens at the Beverly Hilton for the annual Milken Institute Global Conference. The room was mostly attended by women and quickly filled up as attendees clamored to hear from Judd and the other panelists.
Judd, an active member of the Time’s Up organization, said the newly-launched group has raised more than $20 million and is in its “first trimester” of existence. The goal is to reach $100 million so the group, which offers legal support to women facing sexual harassment or abuse, so that Time’s Up is a self-sustaining organization and “doesn’t need to have to have bake sales on Twitter,” the actress and humanitarian quipped.
She stressed that Time’s Up is dedicated to providing legal assistance to all female workers, including those in vulnerable fields like agriculture, leisure and hospitality. “It’s an economic issue because when American women have their paychecks hurt through sexual harassment and retaliation, it hurts American families,” Judd said.
Part of the conversation also focused on the work of Smith, the USC researcher and founder and director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, which has studied gender inequality in Hollywood for years. Smith says Hollywood needs to completely overhaul its hiring process, which she criticized as a closed network that often relies on the same group of people to work on films and television shows.
Smith said that having more women will also affect what stories are told and how women are treated. “Women bring humanization,” she said said. “We need to change who participates.”
Actress and activist Jurnee Smollet-Bell said that before the #MeToo movement took off, Hollywood was a place that had allowed sexual harassment to fester underneath the surface. Smollet-Bell said she and others like her “didn’t realize how alone we felt,” adding that “We had been conditioned to accept this as a part of the job.”
During a discussion about whether how women can report sexual harassment anonymously, Catharine MacKinnon, law professor and author of “Sexual Harassment of Working Women,” said it’s hard for women to remain anonymous because the accused can usually pinpoint the identity of the women.
Monday’s panel occurred as the Time’s Up organization took aim at R. Kelly, the R&B singer who has faced accusations of sexual abuse of young women of color who activists say have been ignored for far too long, a development highlighted by Smollet-Bell during the conversation.
Kelly has denied all allegations but nonetheless Time’s Up is pressuring companies with financial ties to Kelly to end their relationships. They include RCA Records, Ticketmaster, Spotify and Apple Music and the Greensboro Coliseum Complex where Kelly has a show scheduled next month.
Kerry Kennedy, president of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights organization, also participated in Monday’s panel and highlighted the danger for women in other countries, noting that in Mexico, women are often murdered in a phenomena called “femicide” that usually follows sexual assault. She said that in one border town, there are fewer than a dozen investigators for more than 14,000 cases of murdered women.