I already updated my original post about the Harvey Weinstein sex-abuse revelations once today after I read Ronan Farrow’s New Yorker story about Weinstein, which included three allegations of rape. But I’ve got more to say, so it’s time for a fresh post.
There has been a reassuring amount of support for Weinstein’s victims. At the same time, there’s been an aggravating amount of criticism, including blame being assigned to the women for not coming forward sooner. I even saw some folks on Twitter say that any victim who accepted a settlement from Harvey thereby enabled him to continue his predatory ways to such an extent that “she was worse than him.” I’m not kidding. People were literally saying that a woman who was harassed or physically attacked was a bigger criminal than the man who attacked her.
On CNN, Chris Cillizza criticized Hillary Clinton for not making a statement about Democratic donor Weinstein sooner, as if she were somehow responsible for his decades of abusive behavior. Other MAGA trolls were equally vocal about a Democratic donor being a sex offender, forgetting the fact that they voted their own senile, racist sex offender into the highest office in the land. They keep posting photos of Clinton and Weinstein together as if that proves something more than this photo.
I’m also, as I said in my earlier post, bothered by the idea that “everyone knew,” especially when gossip columns are cited. There’s a perception that the gossip sites nobly shone a bright light on Weinstein’s bad behavior through their blind items. But, as George Clooney said in an interview with the Daily Beast, the majority of that kind of gossip wasn’t about Harvey forcing himself on women (here’s one exception). The blind items were much more likely to present the women as connivers willing to prostitute themselves for a good movie role. Here’s one such “quid pro quo” blind-item “reveal” from 2014 that doesn’t identify the woman. This “reveal” of a 2016 blind item is worse because it names a woman and bluntly says, “Apparently she wants a career in movies and he is going to make it happen.” I — like Clooney, it seems — found these constant takedowns of talented women to be so hateful that I dismissed all of it as misogyny. In that sense, the gossip distracted from reality more than it revealed it.
The most notorious of the “woman as a consenting participant” Harvey Weinstein blind items dates back to 2009, when Lainey Gossip described the almost-an-It-girl actress as offering her “sexual services for his professional services” because she was “so desperate” for a good role and “willing to engage in further depravity” just for an advance look at a script. Not exactly on the side of the woman here, eh? Moreover, “everyone knew” that this item was about actress Gretchen Mol, so I was relieved that she finally got to have her say in The Hollywood Reporter today. “For 10 years or so, I’ve been aware of rumors that I had some kind of transactional relationship with Harvey Weinstein,” Mol wrote in an essay. “I’ve watched how these rumors about me have become ‘well-known facts’ in some comment sections, shoddy blogs, and on Twitter. I’ve been challenged, as one of the silent victims, to summon the courage to speak out.”
Mol continued, calling out the disdain for women that is so apparent in these stories, and the way the lies about some women cast doubt on the true stories:
“I did not exchange sexual favors with Harvey Weinstein, or anyone, for advancement in my career. I was never paid any settlement. The truth is that I have never been alone in a room with Harvey Weinstein. The extent of my interactions with him has been a handful of polite hellos at various premieres and award shows. This is in no way a defense of this person, it is merely a statement of fact.
I had heard similar rumors about other actresses and Harvey Weinstein for years, even before I heard them about myself. I knew that it was not true in my case, so I naively assumed it was equally false in general. The consistent implication was that actresses were eager for the bargain, that we wanted fame and fortune so desperately that we would make this kind of nauseating concession. This is another kind of misogyny, and blame-shifting.”
For an illustration of how such anti-woman rumor-mongering effectively provided cover for a much uglier reality, I give you a bit of gossip that has persisted since the 1990s. “Everyone knew” that the first item here was about Gwyneth Paltrow, Winona Ryder, Weinstein, and the Oscar-winning 1998 movie Shakespeare in Love (the fucked-up wording is straight from the website):
“One of the more famous incidents of an actress stealing a role was documented on the site about 7 or 8 years ago. It got the at the time A+ list actress who stole the role an Academy Award. What is never mentioned about that role stealing is that the actress who was A list back in the day the role was stolen from had already slept with Harvey a handful of times to land the role. Hey, at least she has that hit almost television show and a gif that will last forever.”
You like how that writer threw in the thing about the television show and the gif to make sure we all “knew” it was Winona?
Well, today, Gwyneth Paltrow spoke to the New York Times. The truth was that when she was 22 and got her first starring role in Emma, Weinstein made advances on her in his hotel room after a “work meeting,” touching her and requesting a massage — his usual M.O. Although “petrified,” she refused him and later confided to her then-boyfriend Brad Pitt. Pitt, who confirmed the story to the Times, confronted Weinstein and told him to never touch Paltrow again. Soon after, Weinstein called Paltrow to berate her for sharing the story. “He screamed at me for a long time,” she told the Times, as she feared she would be fired. “It was brutal.” She managed to insist on a professional relationship, and wound up winning an Oscar for Shakespeare in Love. As the “first lady” of Weinstein’s first company, Miramax, “she praised Mr. Weinstein publicly, posed for pictures with him and played the glowing star to his powerful producer,” keeping his ugly secret even after they grew apart professionally, right up till now.
The Times story also has interviews with Angelina Jolie, Rosanna Arquette, and other women that all match Paltrow’s. But possibly the most heartbreaking of all the heartbreaking stories is, so far, Asia Argento’s, told to Ronan Farrow for the New Yorker. The actress says she was 21 in 1997, when Weinstein lured her to his hotel room in the French Riviera. She was expecting to attend a party but, she said, Weinstein was alone and forced himself upon her. She told Farrow that “she stopped saying no and feigned enjoyment, because she thought it was the only way the assault would end” and still struggles with feeling responsible because of that. Moreover, as Farrow wrote:
“What complicates the story, Argento readily allowed, is that she eventually yielded to Weinstein’s further advances and even grew close to him. Weinstein dined with her, and introduced her to his mother. Argento told me, ‘He made it sound like he was my friend and he really appreciated me.’ She said that she had consensual sexual relations with him multiple times over the course of the next five years, though she described the encounters as one-sided and ‘onanistic.’ The first occasion, several months after the alleged assault, came before the release of ‘B. Monkey.’ ‘I felt I had to,’ she said. ‘Because I had the movie coming out and I didn’t want to anger him.’She believed that Weinstein would ruin her career if she didn’t comply. Years later, when she was a single mother dealing with childcare, Weinstein offered to pay for a nanny. She said that she felt ‘obliged’ to submit to his sexual advances.”
I can understand how both Paltrow and Argento continued dealing with Weinstein in their different ways, because I behaved similarly in a much less threatening professional situation that I wrote about last year. Like Gretchen Mol, I had to cope with rumors that I’d slept with someone in return for a job. This happened in 1992, just a year after Anita Hill made national news by accusing Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of harassing her when she worked for him.
A senior editor “joked” that I’d slept with another editor — the one who did the hiring — to get my job. He made this remark right in front of me and other new employees, during drinks following an orientation program. I was taken aback but laughed it off because it seemed so obviously ridiculous. It took me a year to find out that the ridiculousness hadn’t been obvious to everyone else. Luckily, I had the critiques of Anita Hill to learn from. People had questioned why she waited so long to tell her story, and why she hadn’t dealt with it herself right then. So I tried to do what Hill “should” have done. I went to a manager (a woman, who said about the offender, “Again?”), and with the help of her and another manager confronted the guy. I was told I could seek his dismissal. It was up to me if I wanted to escalate it. I chose not to, figuring he was a respected journalist who was an important part of the newsroom, while I was 25, and having trouble fitting in at work — no surprise, considering there were people who thought I’d slept my way into that mediocre job. I was sure I would be ruined at work if I pursued that kind of punishment so I settled for an apology, his promise to clarify to others that I was qualified, and his agreement to stay away from certain after-work social settings.
He looked really scared when he thought he could be fired and, to be honest, it made me feel sorry for him. After all the negotiations were over, he was nothing but nice to me. And I was still working with him, so I decided to let bygones be bygones. We became friendly. We even went, with a group of other people, to a concert once. The story seemed to have a happy ending, until once again I was surprised to find out that I was still on the losing side. Because I’d been so discreet — like Anita Hill “should” have been — and hadn’t demanded any public action towards him, the original story remained truth to those who knew it. What’s more, I was friendly with him, and who would be friends with someone who lied about her? A couple of years later, it was still affecting me on the job. That’s when I wrote this account of the experience in a response to a 1995 performance review. This is photo of the original document, which I’ve kept for 22 years even though the editor in question died long ago.
The way people are complaining that women don't expose harassment on the spot reminds me of my own fears. This paragraph is from a report I wrote in 1995 about my job situation at the time. The harassment had begun when I started the job three years earlier. This is the first time I've shared this publicly. #sexualharassment #trump
That’s how I know that women (and men!) often try to handle harassment by powerful people in the “right” way in order to hold onto a job, only to find out that there is no “right” way. I also know that even in the same office space — let alone an entire industry — at the very same time that “everyone knows,” there is a large group that doesn’t have any of the facts. What they have is malignant, victim-blaming gossip. It’s like the children’s game of “telephone.” The further you get from the few people who really do know what happened, the more distorted the message becomes, until it is enshrined in blind items and bad performance reviews as your new “truth.” I, for one, was harmed, not helped, by that.