I don’t want to get too meta here, but as I’m trying to write this column, my inbox keeps interrupting me with media requests: people want me to interview them so they can tell me what it all means; or people want to interview me so I can tell them. These emails followed a week of news releases offering prognostication: If Weinstein is found guilty, the #MeToo movement has triumphed! If Weinstein is acquitted, the #MeToo movement has failed!
Now that Weinstein has been found guilty on two of his five charges, we could theoretically translate #MeToo’s success into a percentage, but I’d argue that’s the wrong measurement entirely. What the verdict means for Weinstein, who is 67 and infirm, is that he may die in a prison cell. What it means for his victims is that maybe they’ll find a modicum of peace, albeit a tardy one.
But as for what it means for #MeToo? You’ll only find a satisfying answer if you assumed the movement was solely about converting pain into prison time, about developing a rigid code of transgression and punishment.
The #MeToo movement isn’t about issuing punishment. It’s about inviting enlightenment.
How do we talk about rape? How do we talk about consent? How do we talk about sex that we didn’t want but felt we had to agree to, for our physical safety or our careers? How do we talk about the confusing aftermath of those encounters — the compulsion to avoid our attackers forever, or, conversely, the compulsion to stay in contact with our attackers because that contact allows us to take control of the narrative?
How do we explain that when we say “Believe women,” we’re not saying that women never lie — we’re merely saying that for years we’ve behaved as if they always do. Believe women, rather than just defaulting to believing the men who claim the sex was consensual, she asked for it, she was wearing a skirt.
There’s a reason that, in the past three years, much of the #MeToo reckoning took place in the court of public opinion rather than the court of law. In case after case, the victims who were coming forward did not have meticulously collected rape kits and DNA samples from their assaults. What they had were stories. Messy and complicated ones, the kinds we might have once ignored, or shrugged off as impossible to parse: He said, she said, what are you gonna do?
Given the criminal justice system’s extraordinarily low conviction rate of sexual assault charges, it was a wonder that Harvey Weinstein was even indicted.
It was a miracle that he was convicted.
But the most remarkable, lasting legacy of Harvey Weinstein’s trial is that it dealt with messy stories. It engaged with the tangled, confusing narratives that, a short while ago, we would have determined were impossible to figure out.
Jessica Mann was raped by Weinstein, but there were also times she consented to sex. Mimi Haleyi was terrified of Weinstein after he forcibly performed oral sex on her, but she still agreed to meet him for drinks several weeks later. “I was still trying to make sense of what had happened,” she said. She had still pitched Weinstein projects. She still hoped they could have a professional relationship.
The verdict took several days to be delivered, which must have been agony for the victims. At one point, the jury sent a message to the judge, asking whether they were allowed to be unanimous on some verdicts and hung on others. The jury was told, no — go back and figure it out.
But, for an outside observer there was something admirable in the wait. It signified that jurors were wrestling with the difficult parts as only flawed humans can. They weren’t jumping to obvious guilt or innocence, they were digging into how nuanced all of this can be.
Their ultimate guilty verdict says imperfect victims are still victims. It says maybe all of this is messier than we thought.
What does the Harvey Weinstein verdict mean for the #MeToo movement? The movement didn’t deliver his guilt, but it opened the door for more complicated understandings of victims and victimhood, power and relationships. Inside the courtroom, yes — but also outside the courtroom, for the rest of us.
His sentence will be just one sentence in the story. On to the next chapter.
Monica Hesse is a columnist writing about gender and its impact on society. For more visit wapo.st/hesse.