On Thursday afternoon, Anne T. Donahue was partway through reading a bombshell piece in the New York Times — about decades of sexual harassment claims against Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein — when she couldn’t contain her outrage any longer.
“I felt what I think most women, especially, have felt — that exhausted, defeated feeling of when someone abuses power,” Donahue told The Washington Post. “So I did what I do best when I’m angry: I went on Twitter.”
There, she recounted in a pair of quick tweets her first experience with what she called her own “Harvey Weinstein,” a then-boss at a radio station when Donahue was a 17-year-old high school student. The man had insisted on massaging her shoulders as she typed, Donahue wrote, “and liked to [tell] me things like why ‘girls my age’ liked giving blow jobs and not having sex. A GREAT TIME.”
Donahue, now 32 and a freelance writer living in Ontario, fired off the tweets, prefaced with: “When did you meet YOUR Harvey Weinstein?”
“I figured, at the very least, there’s my story,” Donahue said Saturday. “Maybe someone will see my story and feel less alone.”
Soon, dozens of replies were coming in. Then hundreds. Then thousands.
There was a radio host who recalled being trapped in a bathroom by a co-worker who tried to get her to touch him inappropriately.
The former driving student whose instructor told girls they wouldn’t get a license unless they kissed him. (“On the day of my test, I wore a big, long, ugly, bulky sweater,” she added. “Didn’t help. Wouldn’t let me out of the car until I let him kiss me.”)
A man who, as a new hire, was told by his female trainer that he looked good on his knees.
(The Washington Post typically does not identify victims of sexual violence; we have linked to the examples in this story because they were posted publicly on social media and widely shared.)
Donahue’s original tweet has since been liked and retweeted thousands of times. At some point, several people began sharing their encounters with sexual harassment in the workplace, seemingly prompted by the New York Times article, using the hashtag #MyHarveyWeinstein.
Donahue said she didn’t expect the “tidal wave” of responses when she first tweeted about her radio station experience. At first, she tried to reply to everyone. While the sheer volume of tweets quickly became unmanageable, Donahue said she has been responding to all those who opened up about sexual harassment in private messages with her.
“It’s an overwhelming feeling, but in a way you feel in awe of everyone who’s chosen to talk, men and women. It affects everybody. It hurts everybody,” she said. “I didn’t think this was going to be a campaign. It was mostly me shouting into the abyss, and voices came back.”
Since the Times report broke Thursday, Weinstein has said he would take an indefinite leave of absence from the Weinstein Company, which he co-founded. One-third of the company’s all-male board quit, and its remaining members said they were investigating the sexual harassment allegations against Weinstein.
“I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it,” Weinstein said in a lengthy statement. “Though I’m trying to do better, I know I have a long way to go.”
On Saturday, Weinstein’s attorney, Lisa Bloom, said she had resigned as an adviser to Weinstein and added, without specifics, that the Weinstein Company board was “moving toward an agreement.”
The #MyHarveyWeinstein wave was reminiscent of the thousands of sexual abuse stories that poured forth online last October, under the hashtag #NotOkay, after a leaked 2005 “Access Hollywood” video showed Donald Trump bragging on a hot mic about being able to kiss and touch women freely because he was “a star.”
“Grab them by the p—y,” Trump says in the recording. “You can do anything.”
Trump initially defended his comments as “locker-room banter,” before issuing a more direct apology. Though many thought the leaked tape would break the then-Republican presidential candidate’s campaign, Trump would win the election the following month.
Shortly after the “Access Hollywood” video emerged, Kelly Oxford, a Canadian writer and social media personality, tweeted about her first sexual assault, then encouraged other women to follow suit.
What followed, Oxford said, was more than a million women sharing their stories “at” her for at least 14 consecutive hours. She estimated she was receiving 50 stories per minute at one point, and called them “harrowing.”
On Saturday, Donahue said she had remembered the #NotOkay tweets from a year ago but said they weren’t why she had tweeted what she did. Though she said her first experience with sexual harassment came before she was 17, reading about the Weinstein allegations brought to mind her very specific encounters with the shoulder-rubbing boss because they reflected the same power imbalance.
“It felt targeted,” she said. “He was a man in power who used power to make me feel powerless but would dangle the carrot of professional achievement in my face.”
Donahue said she felt lucky: When she reported her boss’s behavior, people believed her. Not everyone is, she said in a guest column for the Toronto Globe and Mail:
Rape culture is everywhere. It permeates our politics, our entertainment, our walks to school, our job interviews, our families, our social circles. We ask victims of harassment and assault what they were wearing before asking the perpetrator why they did it. We ask how much someone’s had to drink, why they didn’t quit toxic jobs or report creepy teachers, or why they didn’t rearrange their lives to escape the pattern they managed to get themselves into.
We remind the masses that “boys will be boys,” or worse: that real boys and men aren’t victims of harassment, abuse and assault themselves, pressured into silence at the hands of toxic masculinity that uses dangerous sexual norms to measure one’s worth. Rape culture doesn’t discriminate. It thrives on what we decide is “normal,” reminding anyone who’s suffered at the hands of it that they did something wrong.
Donahue said she hopes those who have experienced workplace sexual harassment feel less alone when reading through the replies to her original tweet, as well as others that have sprung up under #MyHarveyWeinstein.
“It can feel very isolating when something’s happening to you,” she said. “I just lit the match. It’s everyone who responded who added to the fire.”