And the group behind this watershed movement, from the journalists to the accusers, shared something startling.
First, a refresher
There are some things you need to know about Hollywood.
As Bruce Feinstein summed up nicely here in a 2007 Vanity Fair column, there are unspoken rules of engagement in Tinseltown.
- All relationships are transactional.
- Always establish blame.
And, a third well documented rule –
3. If you’re a woman north of 35, your career is all but over.
That last one is interesting to note, as we hail the the year of the Silence Breakers, because an important detail has been overlooked.
The leaders of this revolution are women in their forties.
In 2016, Gretchen Carlson, then a 49-year-old star of Fox News, did something unprecedented. Knowing full well the risk she was taking, she made a decision: to sue the most powerful man in the American media landscape, her boss, Roger Ailes, for sexual harassment. Ailes was fired (he died a short time later), Carlson was awarded 20 million dollars.
She wasn’t the first. There had been others who’d accused powerful men of assault. But, there was something different with her. She was believed.
Another Fox News alum, 46-year-old Megyn Kelley spoke out, adding her name to the official list of women accusing Ailes and Bill O’Reilly of inappropriate behaviour.
It didn’t stop there.
Voice Of A Generation
There are a few “official” lists of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers around, and while names continue to be added, so far approximately 60–65 women have come forward with horrific accounts of his aggressive sexual behaviour.
The average age of the women who’ve accused Harvey Weinstein is 43.
Of those women on the record, alleging decades of egregious sexual harassment and assault by Weinstein, sixty-percent fall between the ages of 37 and 52. Forty-three percent ages 40-49 aka Generation X.
All of the women who spoke publicly of Louis C.K.’s offensive and abusive behaviour are all in their forties , (that Generation X theme again).
Brett Ratners accusers? — Natasha Henstridge, Olivia Munn, Jamie Ray Newman, Catherine Towne: yup, all Gen X.
Keen observers may notice a pattern.
This reckoning, that now includes too many men to mention here could not have happened without these women coming forward.
It’s also significant that one of the two New York Times investigative reporters who broke the Harvey Weinstein story is Jodi Kantor, and you guessed it she’s a Gen Xer.
Why is this theme worth noting? For the first time in a generation, they ‘re the ones riding a wrecking ball through the places that have allowed systemic sexual harassment of women. And because of their age, one of the alleged perpetrators saw it coming. They never imagined that middle-aged women would dare to speak up, and moreover be believed.
We Gen Xers, with our ’80s music and pre-internet memories, have never been as exciting as the Boomers who came before us or the sexy Millennials who came after, disrupting everything and compulsively creating apps.
They like to call us “forgotten”, “sandwiched” and “depleted.” Erm, thanks?
The fact that no one has noticed that Gen X women at the head of this tidal swell of reckoning is notable by its absence. It’s a voice we don’t recognize. And, with good reason.
In 2016, the University of Edinburgh ran ‘The Dangerous Women Project’. It examined how women who use their voices to speak out are labeled as ‘dangerous’ by media. Being outspoken while female incites trolls of the vilest kind.
This is not news to women. Psychologist Yvonne Skipper a contributor to the Dangerous Women Project, noted, “ Across the ages, a woman’s voice has been seen as her most dangerous weapon.” Removing that weapon removes the threat of danger.
There are many actresses with thriving careers, you might say. Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Julia Roberts. They are the exception. The Bechdel test which rates the amount of speaking roles women have in movies (appallingly low) compared to men, is tangible evidence of art imitating life.
Remember Amy Schumer’s subversive sketch with Tina Fey,Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Patricia Arquette called Last F-ckable Day? They skewer how actresses in Hollywood are only relevant (and employed) while they’re sexy, and that all stops as soon as they turn forty. “Believe me no one was more surprised than me that they let me stay f-ckable throughout my forties,” Louis-Dreyfus deadpans at a picnic celebrating the end of her career. (It’s brilliant. If you haven’t seen it, click the link).
It is a virtuous cycle created by those who reap the benefits. If we can’t see women over forty on screen, maybe they aren’t relevant.
After Weinstein, Ratner and Louis C.K., more women of all ages continue to name names and not just in Hollywood. But, would they have done it if these fortysomething women had not thrown the first punches?
Maybe Silence Breakers, not Slackers, will be the lasting legacy of Generation X women.