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Commentary: How Oscar Winners Can Turn #MeToo into a Mass Movement

#MeToo/Time’s Up activists at the Oscars will have the kind of media coverage that most movements dream of. They should turn their 40-plus million viewers into a mass movement against sexual harassment.

How? Veteran activists know that they have to tailor their actions to the setting. Wearing black to the Golden Globes was smart because it was visually arresting and gave reporters something to ask about on the red carpet. But what about once attendees are seated and the lights dimmed?

Awards shows are tightly scripted affairs, and neither producers nor viewers have much patience for speeches outlining 10-point programs for saving the world. So give us something else. Take advantage of the fact that viewers want to help, and that, considering we’re just sitting on our couches with not much to do during the boring bits (and let’s face it: there are boring bits), we have time to help. Right then.

How about if each celebrity speaker at the Oscars suggests one concrete action that viewers can take? The action should be something we can do while we’re watching the show, it should have measurable impact, and it should benefit women who may never have heard of Harvey Weinstein. Imagine if the first speaker says, “If you believe that women—all women—should be able to work without fear, then get out a piece of paper and a pencil. We’re going to tell you what you need to do.”

Then Octavia Spencer or Allison Janney or whomever gets the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role—traditionally one of the first awards—after thanking the Academy, her agent, and cast and crew, says, “63% of women hotel workers have been sexually harassed on the job. We know that handheld panic buttons can protect them. Go to TimesUp.com, find the number for your mayor; call him or her and say that you want a city ordinance like the one in Seattle that requires hotels to provide their workers with panic buttons.”

The next award winner reports, “One million people went to the Time’s Up website to find their mayor’s phone number. We’ve got a movement!” Then, more soberly, “Women do report sexual harassment. But for the vast majority of them, nothing changes. If you are a manager—whether you are a man or a woman—email your employees right now and tell them that you are committed to taking charges of sexual harassment seriously. Then text 1234 letting us know that you have done so.”

And on it will go. Speakers will provide short snapshots of the problem by way of personal stories or stark numbers. They will draw attention to diverse kinds of action that viewers can take: giving money, yes, but also calling legislators to push for laws against silencing nondisclosure agreements, signing petitions, contacting coworkers, joining an organization, reaching out to friends, and, this is key, beginning right now. Speakers will give some shout-outs, say to a company that appointed an outside group to investigate allegations of sexual harassment, and throw some shade, possibly at Congressional representatives for using taxpayers’ money to settle harassment claims (but without targeting any one person, since movements are about changing systems). They may go beyond sexual harassment to call for more women as CEOs, but they won’t broaden the agenda so far as to dilute the issue. These are things that movements know work to mobilize people for the cause.

 

Everyone in Hollywood, for their part, knows the importance of a good narrative. So just at the point in the broadcast when everyone’s energy is seriously flagging, an award winner will say, “We have just heard from the mayor of X that the city council has introduced an ordinance—has just decided tonight to introduce an ordinance—to provide portable panic buttons to all hotel workers!” Big orchestral flourish.

Movements need luminaries, but they also need the rest of us. And as much information as there is out there, we often struggle to know just how to fight for the causes we believe in. Activists can use the glittering stage of the Academy Awards to coordinate a movement against sexual harassment that reaches well beyond Hollywood.

Francesca Polletta is a professor of sociology at the University of California, Irvine, and the author of It Was Like a Fever: Storytelling in Protest and Politics (University of Chicago Press).