They wear dresses we can't afford and live in houses we can only dream of. Yet it turns out that—in the most painful and personal ways—movie stars are more like you and me than we ever knew.
In , just before Ashley Judd's career took off, she was invited to a meeting with Harvey Weinstein, head of the starmaking studio Miramax, at a Beverly Hills hotel. Astounded and offended by Weinstein's attempt to coerce her into bed, Judd managed to escape. But instead of keeping quiet about the kind of encounter that could easily shame a woman into silence, she began spreading the word.
And he could tell by my face—to use his words—that something devastating had happened to me. It allowed for people to warn others to some degree, but there was no route to stop the abuse. Weinstein said he "never laid a glove" on Judd and denies having had nonconsensual sex with other accusers. When movie stars don't know where to go, what hope is there for the rest of us? What hope is there for the janitor who's being harassed by a co-worker but remains silent out of fear she'll lose the job she needs to support her children?
For the administrative assistant who repeatedly fends off a superior who won't take no for an answer? For the hotel housekeeper who never knows, as she goes about replacing towels and cleaning toilets, if a guest is going to corner her in a room she can't escape? Like the "problem that has no name," the disquieting malaise of frustration and repression among postwar wives and homemakers identified by Betty Friedan more than 50 years ago, this moment is born of a very real and potent sense of unrest.
Yet it doesn't have a leader, or a single, unifying tenet. This reckoning appears to have sprung up overnight. But it has actually been simmering for years, decades, centuries.
Women have had it with bosses and co-workers who not only cross boundaries but don't even seem to know that boundaries exist. They've had it with the fear of retaliation, of being blackballed, of being fired from a job they can't afford to lose.
They've had it with the code of going along to get along. They've had it with men who use their power to take what they want from women. These silence breakers have started a revolution of refusal, gathering strength by the day, and in the past two months alone, their collective anger has spurred immediate and shocking results: In some cases, criminal charges have been brought.
Emboldened by Judd, Rose McGowan and a host of other prominent accusers, women everywhere have begun to speak out about the inappropriate, abusive and in some cases illegal behavior they've faced. When multiple harassment claims bring down a charmer like former Today show host Matt Lauer, women who thought they had no recourse see a new, wide-open door. When a movie star says MeToo, it becomes easier to believe the cook who's been quietly enduring for years.
It's an ingenious way that we've tried to keep ourselves safe. All those voices can be amplified. That's my advice to women. That and if something feels wrong, it is wrong—and it's wrong by my definition and not necessarily someone else's.
The women and men who have broken their silence span all races, all income classes, all occupations and virtually all corners of the globe. They're part of a movement that has no formal name. But now they have a voice. II In a windowless room at a two-story soundstage in San Francisco's Mission District, a group of women from different worlds met for the first time.
Judd, every bit the movie star in towering heels, leaned in to shake hands with Isabel Pascual, a woman from Mexico who works picking strawberries and asked to use a pseudonym to protect her family. Beside her, Susan Fowler, a former Uber engineer, eight months pregnant, spoke softly with Adama Iwu, a corporate lobbyist in Sacramento. A young hospital worker who had flown in from Texas completed the circle. 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.
From a distance, these women could not have looked more different. Their ages, their families, their religions and their ethnicities were all a world apart. Their incomes differed not by degree but by universe: Iwu pays more in rent each month than Pascual makes in two months. But on that November morning, what separated them was less important than what brought them together: Over the course of six weeks, TIME interviewed dozens of people representing at least as many industries, all of whom had summoned extraordinary personal courage to speak out about sexual harassment at their jobs.
They often had eerily similar stories to share. In almost every case, they described not only the vulgarity of the harassment itself—years of lewd comments, forced kisses, opportunistic gropes—but also the emotional and psychological fallout from those advances.
Almost everybody described wrestling with a palpable sense of shame. Had she somehow asked for it? Could she have deflected it? Was she making a big deal out of nothing? Why didn't I react? She remembers the shirt she was wearing that day. She can still feel the heat of her harasser's hands on her body.
I don't know if I'll ever be the same. I have not stopped crying. I look at my daughter and think, Please, let this be worth it. Please, let it be that my daughter never has to go through anything like this. It went viral this year after actor Alyssa Milano used the hashtag MeToo.
And I think it's really powerful that this transfer is happening, that these women are able not just to share their shame but to put the shame where it belongs: For some, the fear was born of a threat of physical violence. Pascual felt trapped and terrified when her harasser began to stalk her at home, but felt she was powerless to stop him.
If she told anyone, the abuser warned her, he would come after her or her children. Those who are often most vulnerable in society—immigrants, people of color, people with disabilities, low-income workers and LGBTQ people—described many types of dread.
If they raised their voices, would they be fired? Would their communities turn against them? Would they be killed? He called the women liars. But their stories were so similar to mine, and they were such credible women.
There was no agenda other than they wanted to share this story, be free of this story. And in a magazine interview, he called the people who said this about him 'c-nts' and 'c-cksuckers.
And I wanted to give a face to these now more than women who have come out. Juana Melara, who has worked as a hotel housekeeper for decades, says she and her fellow housekeepers didn't complain about guests who exposed themselves or masturbated in front of them for fear of losing the paycheck they needed to support their families.
Melara recalls "feeling the pressure of someone's eyes" on her as she cleaned a guest's room. When she turned around, she remembers, a man was standing in the doorway, blocked by the cleaning cart, with his erect penis exposed.
She yelled at the top of her lungs and scared him into leaving, then locked the door behind him. While guests come and go, some employees must continue to work side by side with their harassers.
Crystal Washington was thrilled when she was hired as a hospitality coordinator at the Plaza, a storied hotel whose allure is as strong for people who want to work there as it is for those who can afford a suite. But then, she says, a co-worker began making crude remarks to her like "I can tell you had sex last night" and groping her.
One of those encounters was even caught on camera, but the management did not properly respond, her lawyers say. Plaza Hotel Plaintiffs More From left: I have an year-old daughter, and she's depending on me,' says Lewis, who still works at the hotel to make ends meet.
I wasn't really left with the option of leaving. I'm not left with the option of giving up. I want to show her that it's O. If you keep fighting, eventually you'll see the sun on the other side. Washington has joined with six other female employees to file a sexual-harassment suit against the hotel. But she cannot afford to leave the job and says she must force herself out of bed every day to face the man she's accused.
Other women, like the actor Selma Blair, weathered excruciating threats. Blair says she arrived at a hotel restaurant for a meeting with the independent film director James Toback in only to be told that he would like to see her in his room.
There, she says, Toback told her that she had to learn to be more vulnerable in her craft and asked her to strip down. She took her top off. She says he then propositioned her for sex, and when she refused, he blocked the door and forced her to watch him masturbate against her leg.
Afterward, she recalls him telling her that if she said anything, he would stab her eyes out with a Bic pen and throw her in the Hudson River. Blair says Toback lorded the encounter over her for decades. Many of the people who have come forward also mentioned a different fear, one less visceral but no less real, as a reason for not speaking out: The Besh Group says it is implementing new policies to create a culture of respect. Besh apologized for "unacceptable behavior" and "moral failings," and resigned from the company.
Iwu, the lobbyist, says she considered the same risks after she was groped in front of several colleagues at an event. She was shocked when none of her male co-workers stepped in to stop the assault. The next week, she organized women to sign an open letter exposing harassment in California government.