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Symbolic, historic day must now be used to galvanise lasting change for women

Celia Walden


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Emotional day: Tarale Wulff wipes her eye before speaking to the media after the sentencing. Photo: REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Emotional day: Tarale Wulff wipes her eye before speaking to the media after the sentencing. Photo: REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

REUTERS

Emotional day: Tarale Wulff wipes her eye before speaking to the media after the sentencing. Photo: REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

'But I'm innocent. I'm innocent," a bewildered Harvey Weinstein was caught on camera telling his highly paid lawyers on February 24. Not in the eyes of the Manhattan jury who took 26 and a half hours to find the fallen movie titan guilty of a criminal sexual act in the first degree and rape in the third degree.

Not in the eyes of the six women who testified against Weinstein: Mimi Haley, Jessica Mann, Annabella Sciorra, Tarale Wulff, Lauren Young and Dawn Dunning - women cheered by the waiting public as they strode into courtroom 99 together yesterday.

Not in the eyes of the 80 women who came forward with allegations against the producer - including celebrities such as Salma Hayek, Rose McGowan, Gwyneth Paltrow and Ashley Judd - sparking a #MeToo movement with global reverberations. And not in the eyes of Judge James Burke, who saw fit to mark the gravity and extent of Weinstein's guilt with a 23-year sentence.

It's unsurprising that the disgraced movie mogul's rambling, incoherent and desperate last bid to minimise his sentence fell on deaf ears.

Rather than show any signs of penitence, Weinstein chose instead to liken himself to "victims of McCarthyism" in his address, and tell the court that the men accused as part of the #MeToo movement were being accused of "things that none of us understood".

This is a historic day and a symbolic day both for Weinstein's victims and the embattled #MeToo movement. And the feminist activist lawyer for several of Weinstein's accusers, Gloria Allred, is right to say the verdict and sentencing prove we are living in "the age of the empowerment of women".

But unless symbols are used to galvanise and effect lasting change, they are as empty and meaningless as hashtags.

After all, a culture of fear and silence still runs through many a workplace.

Then there's the wider issue of whether, again in Hollywood and beyond, there is the will and a way to deal with less extreme cases. Everything about this one was outsized from the start, with Weinstein himself a movie-sized villain, many of his accusers movie stars, and the depths of his depravity stranger than fiction.

Insiders say that there are still no mechanisms in place to deal with the low-level abuse and discrimination that has been tolerated in the entertainment industry for decades, and the music and modelling world have remained largely untouched by #MeToo.

Then there's the question of whether any of this has trickled down to the factory workers in Manchester or Mumbai who might still live in fear of 'calling out' their boss.

As for Weinstein, his spokesman, Juda Engelmayer, may want to rethink the comments made earlier this week to the US media. "He has had a lot of time to think about his life and be humbled, but he thinks it's going to be a long, uphill battle from here."

There was nothing "humbled" about the man we saw in court yesterday, and whereas "uphill" seemed optimistic at the time, it is now positively unrealistic.

As for the future of #MeToo? Only time will tell whether the world is ready for its own comprehensive delousing. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk