Last week, four women publicly accused Soulpepper Theatre Company co-founder and (now) former artistic director Albert Schultz of sexual harassment. In their $7.85 million civil lawsuit against Schultz and the celebrated non-profit theatre company, the women described 30 incidents over a period of 13 years; they state that Schultz groped them, routinely propositioned and sexually humiliated them, and exposed himself. Though Schultz quickly resigned, he also denied any wrongdoing: “Over the coming time period,” he said in a statement released shortly after the women’s press conference, “I intend to vehemently defend myself.” (The women's allegations have not been proven in court.)
The New York Times called it “Canada’s Weinstein moment, take two.” (In this telling, the Jian Ghomeshi trial was our first; the Times also called #BeenRapedNeverReported a “Canadian version of #MeToo.”) They weren’t the only ones who ran with this narrative and, in some ways, the framing is spot on: the Ghomeshi trial was a watershed moment for our national conversation on sexual assault. It made us talk about why so few women report their rapes, and why so few reports result in criminal conviction. For every 1,000 of the approximately 460,000 assaults that happen in Canada each year, only 33 are ever reported to the police. Of those, only 12 result in charges, half of which are prosecuted, half of which end in conviction.
At the same time, the idea that the Schultz allegations are our second take implies that we somehow didn’t do it right the first time — that the women who came forward against Ghomeshi, and the many others who spoke out, somehow did it wrong. As sexual assault continues to dominate the national conversation and the news cycle, there will surely be lessons we can learn as a country. We might learn that our cultural elite, our streets, our institutions, and our workplaces have the same culture of complicity that exists in the U.S. — and that we have perhaps an even greater desire to protect what’s artistically ours. We will certainly learn that it isn’t one or two bad apples here either, but that we are home to entire industries with carefully protected secrets and even more carefully protected men. And, just maybe, we’ll realize that one successful movement doesn’t bring about change: change is momentum. Change is something we have to push forward.
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The women who spoke up against Ghomeshi, and others, helped pave the way for #MeToo, and others helped pave the way for them. It is incredibly frustrating when, as survivors, advocates, and allies, we put all our energy, our hearts, and our very selves into something in hopes that it will create change, only to feel as if that change has been barely measurable. It makes it even more frustrating, more exhausting to keep going. But we do. I’ve heard over and over again that the #MeToo movement feels like it came out of nowhere. But it’s the culmination of years and decades of speaking out. Now our voices are deafening.
Many women have told me that, in Canada, the stakes are too high to come forward (we’re too small) — or not high enough (we’re too small). After all, during the Soulpepper press conference, one of the women, Hannah Miller, felt compelled to address the idea that the plaintiffs had hurt Canadian culture by coming forward: “The implication that we’re ruining something is maybe why it’s so hard.” This came after repeated questions about why the women were coming forward now, not during the period from 2000 to 2013, when they say the incidents occurred. Survivors cannot escape the sense that they could have done better — never mind those who assaulted them, or those who knew and did nothing. This notion is unlikely to disappear any time soon. It’s how we’re used to talking about sexual assault. It’s what we mean when we talk about “victim-blaming” and “rape culture.” It’s what we mean when we say there’s still a lot of work to do.
Still, some of this discussion is valuable. We are finally talking — and talking consistently — about issues that were hush-hush for too long. Some of this talk can be exhausting. Some of it has exposed, and continues to expose, long-held misconceptions about how we perceive and take action against sexual assault. All of it reinforces the same message that women who chose to wore black at the Golden Globes were pushing: time’s up. So, yes, I cried when I heard Oprah Winfrey’s speech Sunday night. Sure, maybe it was too optimistic — but I needed that optimism. And if it was too self-congratulatory, I was okay with that, too. Because when she thanked everyone in the room who was fighting hard to make sure nobody would ever have to say “me too” again, I believed the possibility that a new day was finally dawning. And I said my own thank-you to all the people I know who have helped get us here.
Lauren McKeon is the digital editor of The Walrus. She's the author of F-Bomb: Dispatches from the War on Feminism, published by Goose Lane Editions.
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