Last October, in the wake of multiple women accusing Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct, actress and activist Alyssa Milano asked her Twitter followers to tweet "Me too" if they'd ever been sexually harassed. It was a phrase that social activist Tarana Burke had begun using on MySpace in 2006, and in the wake of so many women coming forward with stories about Weinstein, #MeToo became a rallying cry.
Now Milano is supporting Time's Up, a new initiative aiming to fight sexual assault, harassment and inequality in the workplace with creative strategies ranging from establishing a legal defense fund to aid working-class women to lobbying for legislation that would punish companies that foster environments for harassment. The Time's Up organizers announced their plans, which had been in the works since last fall, with an open letter on January 1st. More than 300 women working in the entertainment industry, including Milano, endorsed it.
In an exclusive essay for Rolling Stone, Milano explains how she's working to ensure that Time's Up will have a positive effect for women both inside Hollywood and in the world at large.
Shortly after #MeToo broke and we realized that this was a powerful movement, I started getting phone calls from the Time's Up organizers. The most important thing to me was that Time's Up wouldn't just represent the voice of my industry but it needed to represent every woman's voice because that's what #MeToo has always been about. My initial tweet was about solidarity and understanding the magnitude of the numbers of people who've experienced sexual misconduct. Only once we were able to understand the magnitude of these numbers were we able to give each other the strength and support to fix the societal issues of the sexual misconduct spectrum.
Every fiber of who I am on a cellular level has been changed since I sent that tweet. It would be impossible not to be affected or impacted by the stories that people have shared with me. It is powerful when a woman uses her voice. But to hear it over the last three months and have it be such a sadly common phenomenon has changed me. I can only applaud in total awe the work of community leaders like Tarana Burke who have dedicated their entire lives to supporting victims.
"We will succeed if we are the voice for the voiceless."
So in this hubbub of actors and entertainment industry leaders uniting and coming together to create Time's Up, I want us to be mindful of supporting the victims in the workplace or the victims in Ethiopia who are afraid to use their voice. We must address the systemic inequality and injustices in the workplace at large that have kept underrepresented groups silent. We will succeed if we are the voice for the voiceless. If we can use whatever power we have as influencers to represent every single woman — we will heal.
The big question we need to ask ourselves is, how do we heal? Not only as a society with major systemic problems, but how do we heal from this personally? How is everything from this point forward not a trigger? How do we heal as women?
When I think of healing, I think that we have to put in place protocols for industries that are universal. We need an umbrella code of conduct of how you need to behave in your work environment as well as protocol to help people feel that they can come forward and file a complaint and not be silenced.
The most important component of the healing process is legislation. We need laws in place that protect us. Laws that demand publicly traded companies are transparent with cover-up money. Knowing that our future generations won't have to face these issues will help us heal. And there's a lot of legislation that could set the foundation where people can say, "You know what? Not only is this never going to happen to me again, this is not going to happen to my daughter ever."
I have not told my #MeToo stories, but I will say I dealt with one assault case in the industry and one not in the industry. And I don't know a week that has gone by in my 35-year career that I haven't dealt with harassment and gender inequality in some capacity. So I literally pray. I pray every single night that my daughter does not have to go through what I went through in life. In order to heal, we have to know that things are in place that won't allow for this anymore.
And men! We need you. We need you to be part of the solution, too. I think shifting the male perspective goes back to locker-room talk and behavior, as well as education. We're teaching these lessons of equality much too late. If you think about how college works, for instance, you have your fraternities and sororities and there are things that go on there that would be unacceptable in the workplace or anywhere else. Then these wonder kids are plucked out of these sexually charged environments and put into somewhat powerful positions within corporations. So there's no real bridge as to, "Oh, that is totally unacceptable behavior."
"Harvey Weinstein ripped a generation of actresses from society."
So to me, we have to start these lessons earlier – way earlier. Within Time's Up, I'm working towards lobbying for legislation — with education being a big focus.
I think there is nothing in our education system about gender equality; about compassion or empathy; about equality in general. We so often teach what we expect from our youth from our history and where we came from. History is a big part of the lesson, but we also need to teach based on ideals of what it means to be a good person and where we hope to be in the future. I have a 6-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl, and I've started teaching them now. Even though my son can read, and my daughter cannot, she still gets to pick the book. "But mom, I'm the one that reads," he says. "It doesn't matter," I say. "What your sister wants matters." Instinctively, they know what is equal. So to me, this is cultivating what is already inside them.
Also, I do not think you can separate this movement from having a President of the United States who has not only bragged about "grabbing pussy" but then was elected and has systematically tried to roll back women's rights throughout his first year as president. Women are scared. Women are angry. And all of that became the perfect storm to allow for the #MeToo movement.
We must hold Trump accountable. If we're asking senators to resign because of sexual misconduct, what message does it send that we are allowing a man who has had 19 women come forward and accuse him of misconduct, to be our president? How are we not holding him accountable for this? It's bigger than collusion with Russia or anything else that we accuse him of doing and being. Our daily vernacular of the #MeToo movement is right there in front of us every day leading our country. How do these criminal abuses of power not apply to him?
"Our daily vernacular of the #MeToo movement is right there in front of us every day leading our country."
This is behavior that I think has stolen generations of women from reaching their potential, and that to me is truly heartbreaking. Just take my industry, for example. These brave women who were blacklisted by Harvey Weinstein and were the first to break the silence are now in their late 40s and 50s. How much work is there for women in their late 40s and 50s? Harvey Weinstein ripped a generation of actresses from society. Think about that. An entire generation of talented, amazing, smart women that did not comply with his horrific demands was erased from the entertainment industry. These setbacks happen to every single woman who has to deal with this in the workplace. Who knows what someone's potential would be if they were truly in a place of equality? Maybe we would have more than 22 women in the U.S. Senate.
It's incredibly important that we see inclusion of all underrepresented groups: women, women of color, the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities. We need to fight for equality. I'm happy to say that I have a first-look deal with CBS Studios and inclusive of whatever I produce, I will be ensuring the entire operation is 50-50. I am incredibly appreciative that CBS Studios is supportive of that. We must all do what we can.
If we lead by example, Time's Up will be incredibly important. What happens in our industry shapes what happens in our state, and what happens in our state shapes what happens in the country, what happens in the country shapes what happens globally. This is a great seed that has been planted and now it's up to each of us to create a positive place for our children to grow up and thrive in.
I have no tolerance for discrimination, harassment, abuse or inequality. I'm done. And anything I can do to set that in motion in my own personal life, I'm going to do and I hope I can inspire others to do that, too. I am a messenger. I have a platform that I will continue to use to amplify those who don't have a voice. The most important thing for me to do is to hand over the bullhorn. Take it. It’s yours.
As told to Kory Grow
Actresses and musicians are showing their support for the newly launched Time's Up campaign while also planning to wear black in solidarity of women affected by sexual assault at the 2018 Golden Globes. Watch below.