Lohan has never been a feminist icon. But her recent comments about #MeToo reflect the widespread and misplaced belief that there is strength in silence.
Back in October, immediately after the first allegations of sexual assault and harassment were made public about Harvey Weinstein, Lindsay Lohan took the unusual step of defending him. In a video posted on social media, the actress said she felt “very bad” for the producer, who she said had “never harmed” her, and called on his estranged wife Georgina Chapman to “stand by” him.
“I think what’s happening needs to stop – I think it’s wrong,” she said. “So stand up.”
Lohan has never pretended to be a profound thinker or a figurehead for the feminist movement, and she has become increasingly eccentric over the last few years. But as someone who once loved her deeply – I still think she was wonderful in Mean Girls, charming in Freaky Friday, a delight in The Parent Trap – I felt disappointed by her comments. For reasons I can’t quite put my finger on, I still want good things for Lindsay Lohan – and, to me, going out on a limb to defend Weinstein didn’t seem like a good thing at all.
Now, in a recent interview, Lohan has continued to express uncomfortable views about the #MeToo movement. Speaking to The Times, she critiqued women who came forward with allegations of sexual harassment and assault in the wake of the revelations about Weinstein. She herself had never experienced sexual misconduct on set, she said, and overall she didn’t “really have anything to say” about #MeToo.
“I can’t speak on something I don’t live, right? Look, I am very supportive of women,” she said. “Everyone goes through their own experiences in their own ways.”
Except, of course, Lohan had a lot to say about #MeToo – and almost none of it was supportive. She dismissed some women as “attention-seekers”, and was particularly disparaging of those who made historic allegations of assault or harassment.
Women should speak out or report incidents of sexual misconduct to police at the time, she argued, rather than coming forward later.
“If it happens at that moment, you discuss it at that moment,” she said. “You make it a real thing by making it a police report.”
“I’m going to really hate myself for saying this, but I think by women speaking against these things, it makes them look weak when they are very strong.”
Lohan is not alone in her belief that speaking publicly about sexual misconduct makes women “look weak”. In the months after the #MeToo movement burst into public consciousness, several female commentators argued that the outpouring of stories about harassment and assault risked positioning women as perpetual victims.
Writing in The New York Times in January, Daphne Merkin expressed concern that “young women, in particular” were being perceived – “and perceive themselves to be – as frail as Victorian housewives.” Less than a week later, 100 high-profile French women signed a now-infamous open letter in the newspaper Le Monde, in which they condemned #MeToo for making women seem like “children with adult faces who demand to be protected”.
Merkin and many of the French letter’s signatories describe themselves as feminists, but their message was clear: women talking about #MeToo need to toughen up.
Neither is Lohan the only person to suggest that there is something wrong with women coming forward with allegations of sexual misconduct years after the alleged incident took place. Earlier this year, Germaine Greer expressed views very similar to Lohan’s, saying that she “always wanted to see women react immediately” when faced with harassment or assault.
“In the old days,” Greer said, women “weren’t afraid” of “leering” men. She also spoke scornfully of Dylan Farrow, who has accused her father Woody Allen of sexually abusing her as a child. “It was 20 years ago, so you want him to stop making movies now?”
What binds all these arguments together is the notion that there is strength in silence, and feebleness in speaking out; that refusing to be made vulnerable by male harassment or violence is somehow admirable. Conversely, Lohan and Greer and the French women suggest there is something almost embarrassing about saying ‘this happened, and it hurt and frightened me.’ But this is nonsense.
It’s true that it can sometimes feel empowering to shake off a man’s words or hands and just keep moving through the world, blinkers on. That can feel like armour. But there is also something empowering, in a very different way, about shedding that armour and showing the world just how much someone has hurt you. Speaking out about sexual harassment and assault takes extraordinary strength and bravery: it exposes women to levels of scrutiny and antipathy that would make a fragile person crumble into dust. Deciding to go public with a #MeToo story is the opposite of weakness, in every way.
And the idea that women should always react ‘in the moment’ to sexual harassment is deeply flawed. There are myriad reasons why a woman might not feel able to respond decisively to harassment when it happens: if it takes place in the workplace, she might fear for her career; if it takes place on the street, she may fear for her safety. We all saw what happened recently in France, when a woman who challenged a catcaller on the street was swiftly punched in the face.
Finally, Lohan’s suggestion that women simply file a police report if they want to make their #MeToo stories “a real thing” may be well-intentioned, but is profoundly uninformed. Sexual assault cases are notoriously difficult to prosecute, and it’s only in recent years that many police forces have begun to take women’ allegations seriously. Workplace sexual harassment is even harder to prove, and is not a criminal offence in the UK or the US.
Not only that, but feelings including shame, denial and powerlessness can all cause women to delay reporting assault to authorities. All told, it’s not surprising that so many women who experienced alleged assaults in the Eighties, Nineties and early Noughties took decades to speak out.
It would be easy to dismiss Lohan’s comments as the remarks of an oblivious starlet, but she’s far from the only person with such beliefs. It’s imperative that we keep challenging these views when they crop up – because there is strength in speaking out, and there always will be.
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