Here is a video of one of our protests against the patriarchy
Photos by Kathryn Grassi-Rapp

#MeToo France Co-founder with Emma Sultani

I’ve been an activist in the Women’s Liberation Movement for over forty years with boots on the ground, marching against female genital mutilation, for reproductive rights, and for gender equality. Like millions of women, I was raped. There is no shame in saying it and we need to actively push back against the stigma of sexual violence. We will not be silent. My rapist is out there, enjoying life with impunity because of the statute of limitations.

In the entertainment industry back in the 80s and 90s, sexism and misogyny were rampant. The casting couch was real. The music business and the movie and television business were run by men who habitually abused their power. We were objects. We were objectified and that’s if we were hired! It was common, routine, and expected to be asked for sexual favors for the right to work in our profession. If we were treated unfairly, assaulted or abused, we were told to keep our mouths shut if we didn’t want to be blacklisted. There was the tacit understanding that if you knew what was good for you, meaning your career, you would play along and not rock the boat. One had to endure all manner of unwanted sexual advances at every stage of the process of getting a job. Very few women were able to thrive and succeed in that patriarchal toxic work environment. It was a man’s world and if you called yourself a “feminist” you could lose work. I was deeply uncomfortable with the secrecy and unfairness of it and was often labeled a “troublemaker” because I wouldn’t play the game. I never thought that going to “friendly work dinners” and having “nightcaps” at hotels with producers and industry executives was an acceptable way to acquire work in my field and yet, that was what I battled against, the systematic and institutionalized misogyny and gender inequality in our workplace. All we ever wanted is to be hired on the merit of our craft.

Thanks to a few brave women who came forward, powerful men in our industry have to be a lot more careful about their sexist behavior now but that doesn’t mean there aren’t thousands of victims who are not financially secure enough to come forward with their #MeToo stories. The money and power dynamic still plays a role today and very few women who work in our industry can afford to fight a potential frivolous defamation lawsuit in civil court. If you tell the truth about unfair treatment or an assault and get sued for defamation, you’re on your own. How can you afford to fight a rich and powerful perp in the courts? This is the essential problem. Predators are careful to assault vulnerable people in private where there are no witnesses. We need lawyers and a fund to help protect us against illegitimate revenge- defamation lawsuits going forward. No one wants to lose their home for speaking truth to power. I’m calling on our union, SAG/AFTRA, to set up a fund now for victims. We need transparency; we need misogynists who abuse their power held accountable, removed from our industry and brought to justice.

Evolving views and legislation regarding human trafficking

After befriending a “prostitute” from Nigeria, I educated myself about the scourge of human trafficking. She was freezing on my doorstep for weeks on end. I would see her every night when I walked my dogs. I addressed her with respect. I brought her a blanket and some hot tea. She opened up eventually and allowed me to help. Cautiously, she confided that she and others in her situation were being raped up to thirty times per day. I learned that these women are not their own bosses, do not like “sex work” and have had their passports taken away. They are promised a job in modeling or secretarial work overseas and then beaten, threatened, drugged and forced out onto the streets with no recourse. They can’t even go home. Not only do they live in fear of their “bosses,” disease and violent Johns, they are continually mistreated by law enforcement. They feel they have nowhere to turn. This is why I am fighting to expand legislation to criminalize the buyer (the John) instead of the victim. Most “prostitutes” are actually trafficked victims of violent gangs, not nymphomaniacs who “love sex” and “have no shame.” I support an organization in Europe called Le Mouvement du Nid which helps victims of forced prostitution get help by mitigating their isolation, rescuing them from the streets, bringing them to safe houses, supporting and developing training programs and alternatives for them, helping them get back on their feet and reunited with their families and communities. This organization also promotes education from the earliest levels about boy/girl relationship equity and respect as well as educating and training professionals in the workplace. Please find an organization that helps women victims in your area. Next time you see a woman on the streets, talk to her. She’s a human being who might need your help. Donate, get involved.

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

I am Franco-American and split my time between France and the US. I was at home in Nice a few years ago on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and realized there was no feminist org having an event to mark the day. So I organized a feminist protest there against domestic violence, femicide, rape culture and gender inequality. It was an empowering day for us. We invited victims of rape and violence to speak out publicly about their experiences and surrounded them in a loving feminist circle. We held hands and listened. For those women who did not want to speak, we had a wall of post-its for victims to write anonymously what had happened to them. We invited psychologists to treat victims on the spot, many of whom had never told anyone before.

At the end of that day, I collected all of the messages posted on the #Metoo wall—all the hateful, unspeakable things that were too horrid to say out loud. Sadly, there is still a stigma attached to victims of violence and sexual violence I still have them, a large basket of women’s experience of oppression.

One woman from that day, I will never forget. She was blind, in her 80s and she wanted me to read the wall for her. She cried in my arms and told me what German soldiers had done to her during the Nazi occupation of France during WW2. She told me she had waited her entire life for a protest like this. We all hugged her and cried with her. Millions of women have been abused, married off too young, sold, cheated, dismissed, insulted, called crazy, held back, raped, and murdered just for being women, and I feel a strong calling to help to end that violence against women by lifting up women and standing with them against misogyny, oppression and injustice. We need to help each other overcome, achieve and thrive in a loving, supportive sisterhood. Like the saying goes, sisterhood is powerful. Love women. Believe women. Lift up all women. Vote for women. Especially women of color.

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