opinion

When Ashley Judd pulled on a thread, she unravelled Hollywood's most tightly-bound secret.

At the 2017 Women’s March in Tennessee, Ashley Judd stood at the front of a crowd of thousands, her fist high, her voice booming, her hair in a no-fuss low plait snaking its way around her neck.

The Ashley Judd that stood in front of the crowds at the 2017 Tennessee Women’s March wasn’t Ashley Judd the performer but Ashley Judd the human: fiery, open, ready.

She read a poem written by a 19-year-old named Nina Donovan. “I am a nasty woman,” she said. She touched on Trump’s election, LGBT rights, the wage gap. She stood at the front of that crowd and pledged her allegiance to women. The nasty women, the fiery women, the unsettled women.

“Our pussies,” she spectacularly declared, “ain’t for grabbing.”

Self-explanatory, of course, if it wasn’t for the fact it had been an occasional pastime of the leader of the free world.

Business Insider labelled her the “breakout star” of the Women’s March. Over the course of 2017, it wouldn’t be the first time her voice lent itself to the feminist cause with far-reaching implications for the rest of the world.

In fact, it wouldn’t stand close to the most important thing Ashley Judd would do this year.

On October 5, 2017, The New York Times ran its now-famous exposé into the allegations of sexual misconduct levelled at Harvey Weinstein. For Jodi Kantor, one of two key journalists involved in the story, it wasn’t an easy story to report nor break. In an interview with Slate earlier last month, she said as much.

Image: Getty.

"The Weinstein story was intimidating. It was clear that a lot of people had tried it over the years. It was so shrouded in rumour. It was very odd because on the one hand it was kind of an open secret, but on the other hand, almost nothing had been documented," she said.

Rebecca Traister, a journalist for New York Magazine, wrote for The Cut last month the power of Weinstein was so omnipotent, those who attempted the story never made it to print.

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"For decades, the reporters who tried to tell the story of Harvey Weinstein butted up against the same wall of sheer force and immovable power that was leveraged against those ambitious actors, the vulnerable assistants, the executives whose careers, salaries, and reputations were in his hands."

In her interview with Slate, Kantor acknowledged she needed two things to break the story: On-the-record accounts from women and settlement information or a financial trail of the money that was paid out.

It's no coincidence that in putting together their story on Weinstein, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey had Ashley Judd's name, on the record, in the first ten words. Ashley Judd - famed actress, respected activist - brings a certain amount of gravitas to a story that was under threat of being buried, shrouded in sources who refused to go on the record.

They opened their piece like so:

Two decades ago, the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein invited Ashley Judd to the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel for what the young actress expected to be a business breakfast meeting. Instead, he had her sent up to his room, where he appeared in a bathrobe and asked if he could give her a massage or she could watch him shower, she recalled in an interview.

Judd's admission on the record would give the New York Times the opportunity to do what no other journalist could do: potentially find other sources to speak on the record in solidarity with Judd, and publish their accusations with the name of someone who could not be accused of seeking fame or attention.

Image: Getty.

Though she has money, fame, influence and a career fully-fledged, there can be no underestimating the power of Ashley Judd's accusations, nor the risk she took by going on the record.

The story may have been largely well-received and the consequences for Weinstein swift and severe, but it could very well have gone the other way. And for that, Judd could have paid quite a price. After all, we know now, Wesintein has a history of discrediting the women who dare to expose his alleged transgressions.

This story, the story of how Weinstein "groomed" her and "lured" her and "propositioned" her and "harassed" her, has been the story Ashley Judd has been trying to tell for 20 years.

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In that time, she's gone viral for her accounts of everyday sexism, given a TED talk about sexism in the tech industry and was named a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador on Child Marriage. In 2015, she penned an impassioned op-ed for Mic, writing, "I am a survivor of sexual assault, rape and incest", delving into the experiences - those that include being raped and molested in the summer of 1984 - that have shaped her activism for feminism.

In the context of her experience, Judd's decision to go public is extraordinary. She risked a scenario that had the potential to be triggering, she risked her reputation and she risked being called a liar. But in risking all of that, she gave voice to a story that's rippled far and wide, and had far-reaching and monumental effects on women and men who feel strong enough to come forward.

In the four weeks since the Weinstein story broke, sexual harassment has made headlines. Director James Toback was called out for sexual misconduct by Rachel McAdams and Selma Blair. The likes of Olivia Munn have challenged the alleged transgressions of filmmaker Brett Ratner. Young men have entered the fray, pointing fingers at Kevin Spacey. Dustin Hoffman has been forced to apologise for sexually harassing a 17-year-old intern in 1985. Ben Affleck issued a similar apology after video emerged of him groping actress Hilarie Burton.

Listen: The Mamamia Out Loud team break down the Harvey Weinstein scandal. 

In the media, NBC and MSNBC sacked journalist Mark Halperin over his own harassment allegations.

In the fashion industry, Condé Nast committed to never hiring Terry Richardson again as a photographer. Model Cameron Russell has single-handedly launched a campaign to tell the stories of sexual harassment and assault in the fashion industry.

In the UK, British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon resigned on Thursday after he, too, was accused of harassment. GQ journalist Rupert Myers was also sacked from his post at the magazine after women went public with their assault allegations. British Labour activist Bex Bailey spoke of being raped at a party event, exposing a deeper issue with harassment and assault in UK Politics.

Back home, Tracey Spicer committed to revealing the names of Australian men accused of sexual harassment and assault, claiming she had over 400 women approach her with their stories. High-profile barrister Charles Waterstreet is now facing his own allegations of sexual harassment.

It's not an easy feat for victims of sexual harassment and assault to come forward, but it's less daunting feat when the mood is strong, female solidarity overpowering and the path before forged with brazen courage.

Ashley Judd, in having her name in the first ten words of the Weinstein story, opened a door for thousands of women to tell their own stories. She opened that door, held onto the handle, ushered them through and held onto them tight.

Of course, that's not to say there's anything less courageous for the women that went with her and after her. It's just to say, there's something special about the woman who chose to go first.

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