From Slackers To Silence Breakers

Frances MacKinnon
4 min readDec 18, 2017

How Generation X Women Stood Up to Hollywood’s Sexual Harassment Problem

When we rang the New Year bells to kick off 2017 a short 11-and-a-half months ago, no female in Hollywood or elsewhere could have imagined that a cultural earthquake led by reluctant women was about to crack wide open, exposing systemic cancer and ousting a long list of abusive men.

And, who’d have predicted it would be led by a few dozen bad-ass women in their forties?

A little refresher - there are some things you need to know about Hollywood.

As Bruce Feinstein summed up nicely here in a 2007 Vanity Fair column that still holds up, there are unspoken rules of engagement in Tinseltown. For example,

  1. All relationships are transactional.
  2. Always establish blame.

And, a third well documented rule -

3. If you’re a woman north of 35, your career is all but over.

That last one is interesting to note, as we hail the the year of the Silence Breakers because there is an important detail has been overlooked.

The leaders of this revolution are women in their forties.

Stranger Things

I’m not sure if you’ve ever pissed off a full realized, busy, peri-menopausal woman with a job/kids/spin class to get to. But know this: forty-year old women are fierce af.

In 2016, Gretchen Carlson, then a 49-year-old star of Fox News did something unprecedented. Knowing full well the risk she was taking, she made a decision: she would sue her boss, Roger Ailes, arguably the most powerful man in the American media landscape, for sexual harassment. Ailes was fired (he died a short time later), Carlson was awarded 20 million dollars.

There had been others who’d accused powerful men of assault, she wasn’t the first. But, there was something bold and groundbreaking this time. She was believed.

Another Fox News alum, 46-year-old Megyn Kelley spoke out too, adding her name to the official list of women accusing Ailes and Bill O’Reilly of inappropriate behaviour towards her and other women at the network.

It didn’t stop there.

Voice Of A Generation

There are a few “official” lists of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers floating around, and while names continue to be added, so far approximately 60–65 women have come forward with horrific accounts of his aggressive sexual behaviour.

Of those women on the record, alleging decades of egregious sexual harassment and assault by Weinstein, a full 60% fall between the ages of 37 and 52. 43% are in ages 40–49. That is a statistic not to be dismissed.

They are Generation X-ers.

Take a deeper look and you may see a pattern jump out.

All of the women who spoke publicly of Louis C.K.’s offensive and abusive behaviour — all in their forties — Generation X;

Brett Ratners accusers? — Natasha Henstridge, Olivia Munn, Jamie Ray Newman, Catherine Towne: all Gen X.

This reckoning, that now includes too many men to mention, has continued to gain momentum that would not have happened without these fortysomething women.

Not to be overlooked is that one of the two New York Times investigative reporters who broke the Harvey Weinstein story is Jodi Kantor, and you guessed it she’s a Gen Xer.

This is not mere coincidence. It’s part of an uprising that’s sending a wrecking ball through the halls that have allowed systemic sexual harassment of women.

So, why does it matter?

A Dangerous Weapon

We Gen Xers, with our ’80s music and pre-internet stories, are mostly forgotten in the frenzy of 24/7 Millennial hype and online hand-wringing about everything from Tinder to retirement.

Today, if you can find an article about us, we’re referred to as “forgotten”, “sandwiched” and “depleted”. Uh, thanks?

The fact that no one is really pointing out that it’s Gen X women at the head of this tidal swell of white male reckoning is notable by it’s absence. Imagine if it were Millennials.

In Feb 2017, the University of Edinburgh concluded a one year interactive study called ‘The Dangerous Woman Project’ which examined how women who use their voices to speak out are dubbed ‘dangerous’ by media.

Psychologist Yvonne Skipper who contributed to the Dangerous Women Project, noted

“It appears that across the ages, a woman’s voice has been seen as her most dangerous weapon.”

The Language of Forty

Most women will tell you that there is an empowerment that comes with turning forty. The paradox is in the trade-off; self-actualization and assertiveness come along at the exact time when society — some would say, the patriarchy, tells females they are no longer relevant. Or, in Hollywood terms, f-ckable.

Remember Amy Schumer’s subversive sketch with Tina Fey,Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Patricia Arquette called Last F-ckable Day? “Believe me no one was more surprised than me that they let me stay f-ckable throughout my forties,” delivered by JLD is just one of the brilliant lines.

You see what they did there? The same men creating the cultural bias in the forms of mass entertainment and advertising, also enforce it, and benefit from it’s effects. If you can’t see women over forty, you won’t value them.

This year, the world saw the power of Gen X women whether they knew it or not.

After Weinstein, Ratner and Louis C.K., many more women of all ages, and equally as courageous, stepped forward and continue to name names and not just in Hollywood. But, would they have done it if these fortysomething women had not thrown the first punches?

Is this what happens when a generation of women stand up and raise their voices to stop a common enemy? It is when they do it together, and when they are believed.

If history is kind, being Silence Breakers, not Slackers, will be the lasting legacy of Generation X women.



Frances MacKinnon

Podcast producer | Storyteller | Founder, Lightscope Creative, Inc.