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The powerful meaning behind the anonymous elbow on Time's #MeToo cover

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The powerful meaning behind the anonymous elbow on Time's #MeToo cover

Jessica Vander Leahy

This year we've seen a movement that has sought to unravel the culture of sexual assault and harassment, and the historical widespread acceptance of it, faster than any campaign before it; introducing the power of #metoo.  

On Wednesday (Dec. 6) Time announced that its Person of the Year would be given to the "Silence Breakers"; a move honouring those many brave women, and some men, who came forward to reveal an untold number of stories of sexual harassment and abuse, both pre and post Harvey Weinstein’s infamous outing as a predator.

On the cover sits five identifiable women; strawberry picker Isabel Pascual, lobbyist Adama Iwu, former Uber engineer Susan Fowler, singer Taylor Swift and actress/formidable Harvey Weinstein whistle blower, Ashley Judd.

All these women have played some part in getting their respective industries to sit up and take note of the endemic problem that is sexual assault and harassment in the workplace.

Judd was among the first women named in an explosive expose which ran in The New York Times in October; a story that blew the lid off the Miramax mogul’s alleged systematic abuse of young women in Hollywood and opened the floodgates that would see the downfall of many powerful men. 

In the article, Judd said that as a young actress, she had been summoned to Weinstein’s room, where he appeared in a bathrobe, and allegedly asked her for a massage and if she would watch him shower.

Ashley claims that while she feared he might hurt her she was still thinking of how to get out of the room without alienating the powerful movie executive.

It was a similar tale told by many actresses including Gwyneth Paltrow, Cara Delevingne, Lupita Nyong'o and dozens of others who say the 65-year-old tried to use his influence in the industry to coerce sexual relations.

The Harvey fallout has sparked the so-called 'Weinstein effect' and that has caused the complicity machine to go up in flames. Everyone from George Clooney to Matt Damon was willing to distance themselves from their former colleague.

In an interview with ABC News Clooney said while he was aware of Harvey’s reputation as a “womaniser” he denied knowing the level of Weinstein's reported rampant predation.

"But the idea that this predator, this assaulter ... was out there silencing women like that, it's beyond infuriating,” Clooney said.

But Harvey found some allies, or at least a few people from the boughie old guard willing to help brush off any allegations and redirect blame.

Days after news of Weinstein’s alleged activities broke, in a red carpet interview with the Daily Mail Donna Karan was defensive of Harvey when asked about the reports. The designer said that Harvey and his wife were “wonderful people” and asked a few questions of her own:

“I also think how do we display ourselves? How do we present ourselves as women? What are we asking? Are we asking for it by presenting all the sensuality and all the sexuality? . . . You look at everything all over the world today and how women are dressing and what they are asking by just presenting themselves the way they do. What are they asking for? Trouble.”

Not long after her comments, Karan did a full 180. She later said her quotes “taken out of context” and she was shocked at herself for even reacting like that.

The fact is, Donna Karan is a perfect example of how people used to respond to a woman claiming sexual harassment against a powerful man, verses now. Instead of, ‘What was she doing there?’ and ‘What was she wearing?’ and ‘What does she want?’, women are thankfully being believed, and their reports taken seriously.  

It’s likely that thanks to #metoo many conversations going on today in workplaces, around dinner tables, in schools, on campuses, in hotels and bedrooms about women feeling sexually threatened are very different to the ones our society was having five years ago, heck, even the discussions we were having five months ago!

Let’s just look to John Oliver’s heated exchange with Dustin Hoffman earlier in the week at an anniversary screening of the film “Wag the Dog.”

Hoffman stands accused of making inappropriate comments and unwanted sexual advances toward Anna Graham Hunter when she was a 17-year-old production assistant on the set of "The Death of a Salesman" in 1985.

The Washington Post showed footage of Oliver grilling Hoffman about Graham, and to be honest, it was uncomfortable viewing. Here was this 80-year-old beloved actor being called out in a public forum for something he says was taken the wrong way. It makes one grimace to see him try and explain away the story. The discomfort might even trick one to think, ‘Okay, well, you say it didn’t happen, so we’ll just let you know if it did, we’re not happy and leave it at that.’

But deep down, you know that’s not good enough! That’s what we’ve been saying to men since it became frowned upon to harass a woman (which wasn’t that long ago, BTW). And it’s this culture that’s got women stuck in this uncomfortable position for most of history.

Fact is, we need to all be made uncomfortable by sexual harassment. Not just the victim, but ALL OF US need to feel how icky and gross and nerving it is to have to deal with it in its entirety if we want the cycle to end.

It was actually quite lucky John Oliver did ask the actor tough questions; a little digging showed that he didn’t really grasp the impact something like this can have on somebody. 

When Oliver asserted that for Graham, there was "no point in her lying" about the claims she'd made the actor, Hoffman responded:

"Well, there's a point in her not bringing this up for 40 years," Hoffman said.

"Oh, Dustin," Oliver said. Grossed out, the HBO host placed his hands over his head, obviously understanding shame and embarrassment that can come with being a victim of something like sexual harassment. Exactly the kind of paralysing forces that stop women from speaking up sooner. 

Opening the dialogue about the experiences women have had with inappropriate advances, comments and come-ons has resulted in highlighting the common repercussions that have followed--basically there is almost always no punishment for the assailant, but the victim has often quit her job, or left her profession entirely (a consequence Louis C.K. acknowledged in his own sexual harassment apology when he noted the impact his behaviors had on the female comics he intimidated).

However, this culture doesn’t just exist in the far-removed sphere of Hollywood – it’s everywhere. The fact is many people are likely going to have to have uncomfortable conversations with their fathers, brothers, husbands, friends and sons (yes, please TALK TO YOUR SONS!!!!) if they want to stop harassment in their own lives. 

And the idea that women are all existing in different walks of life, some worlds away from the spotlight of fame, lends itself to the subtle, yet powerful,  unidentified woman on the Time cover. Alongside the other named women, is an anonymous woman’s arm; a symbol to represent the many faceless women who struggle with harassment and assault each day.

 

As TIME's story stated about the woman:

"She too is a victim of sexual harassment but was there anonymously, she said, as an act of solidarity to represent all those who could not speak out."

The unknown woman's inclusion is a powerful reminder that for all the voices we do hear--publicly naming abusers and taking down previously untouchable men--there are still so many being hushed.