12/27/2017 10:27 EST | Updated 10/11/2018 16:33 EDT

Focus On Men's Complicity In Sexual Assault, Not Meryl Streep

Rather than place responsibility on one woman, it would be better to place responsibility on every member of society.

When Scarlett Johansson played Ivanka Trump on the late-night comedy show, Saturday Night Live, it made headlines for weeks and resulted in choosing "complicit" as the word of the year — with great reason, as searches for the term went up by 300 per cent.

This year was certainly one where being complicit was called into question. Most recently, attention has focused on actress Meryl Streep, with posters appearing in Las Vegas claiming she knew about the allegations against Harvey Weinstein.

Actress Rose McGowan took the initial shot at Streep, publicly alleging Streep was complicit with Weinstein. In a since-deleted tweet, she wrote, "Actresses, like Meryl Streep, who happily worked for The Pig Monster, are wearing black @GoldenGlobes in a silent protest. YOUR SILENCE is THE problem. You'll accept a fake award breathlessly & affect no real change. I despise your hypocrisy. Maybe you should all wear Marchesa [a company created by Weinstein's ex-wife, Georgine Chapman.]"

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Rose McGowan speaks during The Women's Convention at Cobo Center in downtown Detroit, Friday, Oct. 27, 2017.

On Monday, Streep issued a statementin response: "It hurt to be attacked by Rose McGowan in banner headlines this weekend, but I want to let her know I did not know about Weinstein's crimes, not in the '90s when he attacked her, or through subsequent decades when he proceeded to attack others."

The onus to speak out against sexual harassers, however, should not rest solely on women.

The posters aim to selectively target the women who choose to be silent, not unlike McGowan's tweets, while ignoring men like Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who have also been accused of knowing about Weinstein.

The posters shame women for speaking out while also making it their sole responsibility to do so.

In the discussion(s) of sexual harassment, there should be a clear attribution of agency. A giving of power to those most affected. The posters shame women for speaking out while also making it their sole responsibility to do so. How can individuals speak up against accusers if their backs are against the wall?

The posters place a responsibility on Streep and the women of Hollywood, a responsibility that belongs to every member of society. Sexual harassment is a complex issue, and crime, that affects individuals at varying degrees, expanding beyond the gates of glitz and glamour. For instance, trans individuals are a group most often targeted by sexual assault and harassment.

Mario Anzuoni / Reuters
Ben Affleck attends Justice League premiere, Los Angeles, California, U.S., 13/11/2017.

As Hello Giggles penned, women are made the forefront of the issue, and those who should actually be held accountable get a break from criticism — exactly what is happening when individuals like Sabo and McGowan force Streep to defend herself from slander, instead of focusing on Weinstein's indiscretions.

It would be better to encourage everyday discussion around all the men accused in Hollywood and the institutions that allow for these disparities in power. Rather than place responsibility on one woman, it would be better to place responsibility on every member of society to raise awareness and everyday conversation on this issue — people like teachers, councilors and, yes, even actors and actresses. Sexual harassment festers under the layers of unbalanced power, and within a hyper-masculine society. Posters will, unfortunately, not be its cure. But creating a society where individuals feel safe enough to speak up will.

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From Ashley Judd to Lupita Nyong'o, actresses came forward at their own level of comfort and when they felt safe, because within the realm of sexual harassment, women need a level of protection to speak out against their alleged harassers. The ability of a right-wing artist to make a dominant issue his own, plastering the face and body of another individual across Los Angeles, could raise more fear for those afraid to speak up.

Kym Worthy, a Wayne County prosecutor, has been testing 11,341 rape kits found in a Detroit police storage workplace, reported Teen Vogue. Worthy expressed to Teen Vogue that there were 400,000 untested rape kits in America. To find 11,341 in one county alone is, as Teen Vogue wrote, "troubling." This lack of action is another reason why some survivors of sexual assault might be afraid to speak out.

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters
U.S. President Donald Trump displays his signature after signing the $1.5 trillion tax overhaul plan in the Oval Office. Dec. 22, 2017.

There is an argument to be made for those who do not speak out — those who are aware of sexual harassers and have the ability to affect change, but choose not to. But Streep, arguably, was not among their ranks. Indeed, she has shown courage in using her platform to speak out about sexual violence — like when she denounced President Donald Trump at the Golden Globes.

Thanks to these unfair posters, Streep is now another actress caught up in the whirlwind of an alleged accuser's misconduct. Though it may be the word of the year, being complicit certainly doesn't describe Streep.

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