#MeToo and Time’s Up: How “Nasty Women” are Biting Back with Legislation
In the age of #MeToo1 and Time’s Up, women across the entertainment industry are drawing attention to the sexual misconduct and gender inequality that has pervaded the industry for decades. While disparate treatment of women in the workplace is nothing new, the #MeToo movement has sparked a call for immediate reform, as more women in positions of power continue to use their platform to speak out against sexual harassment in the workplace. The entertainment industry has cultivated a culture of silence, making it difficult for women to seek redress. #MeToo has since spotted this issue and Time’s Up provides a solution.
Cognizant of the fact that sexual harassment and gender inequality does not only occur in the entertainment industry, Time’s Up provides a legal defense fund for all survivors of sexual misconduct in an effort to address “the systemic inequality and injustice in the workplace that have kept underrepresented groups from reaching their full potential.”2 Its urgent call for action has garnered the support of an array of Hollywood actors as well as 700,000 female farmworkers,3 thus serving as a powerful first step in eradicating misconduct and inequality across all industries. Yet when it comes to fashion, a sector “currently rife with reports of sexual harassment,”4 how does one define sexual misconduct in an industry so heavily reliant on the notion that “sex sells”?
While discussing sexual harassment in the modeling industry with respect to #MeToo and Time’s Up at the New York City Bar Association, Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, Laurie-Berke Weiss,5 Sara Ziff,6 Jaclyn Martinez,7 and Jeff Trexler8 each grappled with how best to combat this issue. According to Sara Ziff, the Model Alliance responded to sexual harassment by setting up a discrete grievance reporting service to eliminate the degree of fear many models experience when deciding whether to report incidents of sexual harassment.
There are currently three areas of legislation addressing sexual harassment in New York: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law.9 With the help of the Model Alliance, Assemblywoman Nily Rozic proposed a bill last fall dedicated to amending the Executive Law to define and eradicate “discriminatory practices relating to models.”10 If passed, the bill would render it unlawful for any entity seeking a model’s services to “engage in unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.”11 The bill also requires entities to post its provisions in their businesses or place of work and provide models with information on where and how to file a complaint should sexual misconduct occur.12
When asked why it was important for this bill to be proposed in the wake of #MeToo and Time’s Up, Rozic declared that “this seems to be a watershed moment in the entertainment industry. It is important to honor the stories we hear on a daily if not weekly basis and fix it using legislation.” However, Rozic is also aware of potential objections to her bill, having mentioned that “the talent industry doesn’t want any restrictions.” As such, a sexual harassment bill of this nature arguably poses a threat to government bodies opposed to regulation. Nevertheless, other than what Rozic deemed “the usual” sort of objections, she has not experienced much pushback on her proposed legislation.
Models Sara Ziff and Jaclyn Martinez both discussed the culture of silence prevalent throughout the fashion industry. According to Ziff, there has been “a whisper network for many years,” so none of the names in the media come as a surprise. For former model Jaclyn Martinez, the main issue with addressing sexual harassment in the workplace boils down to fear; many models are afraid of losing their jobs or getting pushed down the ladder if they opt to report sexual misconduct. Having been “on both sides of the camera,” Martinez is aware of the extent to which fear plays a role in speaking out. That is why as a current photographer, she tries to make her work environment “as comfortable as possible” for models and approaches all her jobs “with sensitivity” in hopes of inspiring others to do the same. For Laurie-Berke Weiss, the issue of sexual harassment always comes down to whether the survivor wants to speak out. If an individual does come forward, Weiss suggests that the best course of action is to collect as much information as possible without “casting the net too wide” in order to maintain confidentiality. According to Weiss, “this is not only about law, but about human nature and relationships.”
Speaking on behalf of the Fashion Law Institute, Jeff Trexler proposed a follow-up movement called “hire the troublemaker,” which would encourage employers to hire rather than shun those who report sexual misconduct.13 He noted that one possible way to combat sexual harassment in the industry is to shift the stigma onto offenders and companies through reporting, a tactic often employed in securities law. Specifically, requiring disclosures of misconduct allows for data analysis, which has the potential to be more probative as evidence. Quantifying misconduct thus allows others to see who the repeat offenders are and begs others to question “what the hell is going on” at a given company where there are so many reported instances of sexual misconduct.14
While companies like Condé Nast International15 and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton S.A.16 have adopted codes of conduct specifically designed to combat sexual harassment in the workplace, there is still more to be done. At any rate, legal actors joining forces with women from all industries to effect positive change appears to be a step in the right direction.
Activist Tarana Burke started #MeToo in 2006. The movement gained traction when actress Alyssa Milano used the hashtag to call attention to sexual assault and harassment. See Jonathan Borge, Who Started the Me Too Movement?, InStyle (Jan. 7, 2018, 7:30 PM), http://www.instyle.com/news/who-started-me-too-movement [https://perma.cc/H4G3-SH4W].↩
Our Letter of Solidarity, TimesUpNow.com, https://www.timesupnow.com [https://perma.cc/HH6X-N9D9] (last visited Mar. 3, 2018) (“We also recognize our privilege and the fact that we have access to enormous platforms to amplify our voices. Both of which have drawn and driven widespread attention to the existence of this problem in our industry that farmworker women and countless individuals employed in other industries have not been afforded.”)↩
See Time Staff, 700,000 Female Farmworkers Say They Stand With Hollywood Actors Against Sexual Assault, Time (Nov. 10, 2017), http://time.com/5018813/farmworkers-solidarity-hollywood-sexual-assault/ [https://perma.cc/B2ZH-B8R4].↩
Sexual Harassment: An Agenda for Reform, FashionLawInstitute.com, https://fashionlawinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/testimony-NYCC.pdf [https://perma.cc/YMG5-76CQ] [hereinafter Testimony].↩
Principal attorney at Berke-Weiss Law PLLC.↩
Founder and Executive Director of The Model Alliance.↩
Former model turned photographer.↩
Attorney and Associate Director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham University School of Law.↩
See generally, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e) (2018); N.Y. Exec. Law § 296 (Consol. 2018); N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107 (2018).↩
Comm. on Governmental Operations 8752, 2017 Reg. Sess. (N.Y. 2017).↩
Testimony, supra note 4.↩
Vogue, Condé Nast International Announces Code of Conduct, Vogue (Jan. 31, 2018), http://www.vogue.co.uk/article/conde-nast-international-code-of-conduct [https://perma.cc/S93M-LRKL].↩
Code of Conduct of LVMH, LVMH.com, https://r.lvmh-static.com/uploads/2017/12/lvmh-code-of-conduct-2017_122017.pdf [https://perma.cc/P7RE-JDF2] (last visited Mar. 3, 2018).↩