The presence of the #MeToo movement will be inevitable — and inevitably substantial — at this year’s Oscar ceremonies. After all, it is within Hollywood where the movement to call out the pervasive, constant and systemic sexual harassment and abuse of women by male superiors began. As the movement built, and women across the United States and the world were inspired to come forward with their own stories of workplace abuse, the focus continued to be within the entertainment industry.
After actresses wore all-black to the Golden Globes, partnered with advocates for women outside of Hollywood, launched #TimesUp and Oprah Winfrey delivered a stirring speech about ending the culture of shame and silence that has for too long kept women victimized and oppressed, it seemed like the Oscars were positioned to amplify the call for change through some bold act to ensure that women’s voices were not just heard but believed.
Instead, following allegations of workplace harassment against popular E! red carpet host Ryan Seacrest, the network announced… that the show would go on as usual.
Seacrest now stands to interview many women who have come forward in the past six months about their experiences with sexual violence in Hollywood.
But by allowing Seacrest to continue in his hosting duties — at this point, as veritable of an Oscars’ tradition as the awards ceremony itself — the network is sending a message loud and clear to survivors of workplace harassment and sexual violence: You too? Meh.
The Seacrest allegations are far from frivolous fare. According to an exclusive report by “Variety”, Seacrest’s former stylist at E! News from 2007 to 2013, Suzie Hardy, says she was subjected to years of harassment and abuse by Seacrest. (Seacrest denied the allegations in a statement last November, after Hardy’s attorneys sent a letter detailing her allegations to Seacrest, E! and its parent company, NBC Universal and demanding action.) Hardy, a single mother of a young child, was reportedly questioned by human resources executives at E! regarding the nature of her relationship with Seacrest in 2013 and detailed the allegations. Two weeks later, E! allegedly terminated Hardy’s employment.
And, Hardy says, she believes that a investigation launched by E! regarding her allegations after her attorneys went to the network was “whitewashing,” after it reportedly exonerated him.
Thus, Seacrest now stands to interview many women who have come forward in the past six months about their experiences with sexual violence in Hollywood — and the fear, coercion and distrust of their own narratives that surround them — just as they are making their way into an event that stands to further self-congratulate an industry whose own systemic abuse of women (and shushing of the voices of all minorities) is at this point irrefutable.
It is true that in America, all are innocent until proven guilty, and private corporations are free to make decisions about individual’s employment for a variety of reasons. But for a big player in Big Hollywood to choose to keep someone who has been accused of such gross abuse on the air as the public face of the festivities is in turn a choice to continue to reinforce the status quo that keeps women victims unemployed and ensures that male stars maintain unfettered access to the road to infinite success.
The continued choice to keep Seacrest front and center on Sunday night is made worse by other friends and colleagues in the industry — including his live co-host Kelly Ripa — who have leapt to Seacrest’s defense, speaking glowingly of his professionalism and character. These kinds of statements, like ones made by Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner after one of the writers of “Girls” was accused of rape, only serve to reinforce the myth that just because someone has not abused you, they must not have abused anyone. (Dunham and Konner, though, apologized.)
f you’re looking for an act of radical change during the Oscars, the red carpet might just be exactly where it happens — despite Seacrest’s presence on it.
Women do not endure abuse because they like it, but because of power dynamics that often force them into silence. Women do not come forward about abuse because they are seeking celebrity, but because they don’t want anyone else to have to suffer privately anymore. Seeing their abusers not just defended but celebrated lets them know, loud and clear, that what they have experienced does not matter; it says that the adoration of a successful male by others who have not been hurt by him matters more, and that companies will continue to invest in supporting the shiny veneer of White Male Success instead of having to confront the messy truths that often underpin its existence.
So now, once again, the onus for change lies on women in Hollywood, and not the men who committed, excused or overlooked so much abuse. If you’re looking for an act of radical change during the Oscars, the red carpet might just be exactly where it happens — despite Seacrest’s presence on it. Because now the power lies with women to walk right past him, refusing to engage, and showing him the silence that the rest of the industry has felt they have magnanimously afforded men for far too long.
Jennifer Gerson Uffalussy is an Atlanta-based writer and reporter whose work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Teen Vogue, Yahoo, The Guardian and Mic. She is a 2015 Maggie Award recipient for her reporting work on topics surrounding reproductive health and reproductive justice.