At the gym this week, half-listening to a throwback workout playlist, it struck me how casually misogynist—or at the very least, patronizing—the lyrics I grew up on are. The song that stuck me was BTO’s “Taking Care of Business” which heralds the working man, while dismissing “the girls,” who were “just trying to look pretty.” Other hits, all anti-female anthems: “Some Girls” (Rolling Stones, who also gave us “Stupid Girl”), “California Girls” (Beach Boys) and “Fat Bottomed Girls” (Queen). By contrast, “American Woman” (The Who), lets the “girl” grow up only to turn her away with:
“Don’t come hangin’ around my door I don’t wanna see your face no more I got more important things to do Than spend my time growin’ old with you.”
And there’s everybody’s favorite date-rape Christmas Carol, “Baby It’s Cold Out There,” just a tale of a girl trying to leave, only to get roofied by a guy who wonders, Weinstein-like, “What’s the sense of hurtin’ my pride?” while she wonders, woozily, “say what’s in that drink?”
It’s the Seventies in Iowa City and my sisters and friends, Mindy and Jocie, and I are putting on a variety show in the basement, which concludes with “You Are Sixteen…”—basically an Aryan youth mansplaining life to a girl just a year younger than he is. The big finish:
“You need someone, older and wiser, telling you what to do-ooooo (sing it out). I am seventeen, going on eighteen, I-I-I-ll, take caaaaaare of you-oooooo!“
In the past year—and at no point before this—I realized that women and money is an abiding interest of mine. I won’t go into my history of money: growing up with enough, but not feeling that way, my Dad’s (I now see) reckless relationship with money, especially paying taxes, and my prior attitude of money as a somehow distasteful topic. I won’t go into because I believe we have to forge our own adult attitudes about money, not blaming—or at the very least rely on—inherited feelings on the subject.
So I read with interest Stacy London’s essay on “going broke”—after having taken a year off from employment due to back surgery, time spent mostly online shopping. It made me remember an editor in chief for whom I worked at Self, Alexandra Penney, talking about her bag lady complex. Years later she would lose the money she had invested with Bernie Madoff and write a memoir about it, “The Bag Lady Papers: The Priceless Experience of Losing it All.” The reviews of her book were infused with the impatience I felt reading London’s article, a litany of bags and shoes purchased and a lengthy trip to Europe, for which she bought a new wardrobe, so as to take better selfies. From Booklist on Penney: “When the bags are emblazoned with gilt-edged logos from Prada and Gucci, it’s hard to muster up much sympathy for Penney’s woebegone tale of having to sell the Palm Beach and Long Island vacation homes, sleep on reduced thread-count sheets, and downsize her Starbucks order from venti to grande.”
Indeed, an interview with Penney had her answering questions about putting up for sale houses in Florida and the Hamptons, but keeping her Manhattan apartment, which is still cleaned by a maid, three hours every day. So I guess losing “it all” is relative. I will read on.
When I first saw this hashtag on Facebook, I bristled a bit. I don’t know why but it struck me as self-consciously “brave” and “honest” — and even a little coy. What women hasn’t been sexual harassed at some point in her life? What man hasn’t been bullied? What employee hasn’t been disrespected? What child has been unfairly treated? Humans can be hurtful and unthinking and selfish, putting their own pleasures and profits over others. And, I guess, #metoo.
I didn’t voice this. I didn’t want to sound like an apologist. But a New York Times column called “Publicly We Say #MeToo, Privately We Have Misgivings” by Daphne Merkin gets it right, in my view:
“The fact that such unwelcome advances persist, and often in the office, is, yes, evidence of sexism and the abusive power of the patriarchy. But I don’t believe that scattershot, life-destroying denunciations are the way to upend it. In our current climate, to be accused is to be convicted. Due process is nowhere to be found.”
She raises the issue of “Therese Dreaming,” a circa-1938 Balthus painting that two young Metropolitan Museum of Art staffers petitioned to have removed, based on its “blatant objectification and sexualization of a child,” per one of them. Says Merkin: “This is the kind of censorship practiced by religious zealots.”
Convictions without due process, censorship, “witch hunts.” Something has run amok. Again, Merkin says it better:
“These are scary times, for women as well as men. There is an inquisitorial whiff in the air, and my particular fear is that in true American fashion, all subtlety and reflection is being lost. Next we’ll be torching people for the content of their fantasies.”
Rereading “Portrait of a Lady” because I want to read “Mrs. Osmond,” its sequel of sorts, written some 150 years later by John Banville. How I quickly fell under the spell of James and his formal, precise language. There’s nothing loose or modern or elliptical about his prose in “Lady.” It’s as if James was tasked with telling the story as accurately and as plainly as possible and he does so in the unaccented voice of a vicar.
Here’s a lovely turn of phrase from the preface, about James’ experience of writing “Lady” when he found himself “ … in the fruitless fidget of composition, as if to see whether, out in the blue channel, the ship of some right suggestion, of some better phrase, of the next happy twist of my canvas, mightn’t come into sight.”
He goes on to lament the city he chose for his “composition,” Venice, as too rich with romantic and historical sites that are also too steeped in their own specific significance. Switching to the third person, he feels wrong in “yearning toward them in his difficulty, as if he were asking an army of glorious veterans to help him arrest a peddler who has given him the wrong change.”
And that’s just the preface! My reading and viewing this season has been backward-looking, to a more civil place and time: “The Crown,” “Alias Grace,” “Emma Brown” “(picking up, again a century or so later, on a half-finished Charlotte Bronte novel), “Bleak House” (produced by the BBC, streaming on Netflix) and “Death Comes to Pemberly” (P.D. James’ continuance of the story of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy). Come to think of it, all of these are about strong but economically disadvantaged women. Except for “The Crown’s” Queen Elizabeth who has so many other crosses to bear (including that horrible husband of hers).
I wrote this as a caption to a Harvey Weinstein post, thinking he’d surely be the year’s most egregious abuser. But no, women are speaking out about their #metoo experiences, outing screenwriter James Toback, who has had 38 women accuse him of abuse, and the already disgraced Bill O’Reilly, who agreed in January to pay $32 million to legal analyst Lis Wiehl, bringing the total to $45 million paid to the five women the anchor is known to have abused, after which time Fox (forced to oust abuser Roger Ailes) signed O’Reilly’s $25 million a year contract.
There’s just so, so much packed into that last sentence, so I will simplify: Men with money and power abuse women and get away with it until the women band together* to speak out. Now with floodgates open and a defiance reminiscent of “…and yet she persisted,” do we expect to hear more and more and more stories about serial abusers? I think so. Just this past week, related reports include:
In the wake of Weinstein’s expulsion from the Academy, there’s a movement to do the same to Roman Polanski, who won a 2003 Best Director Oscar even after having pled guilty to having sex with a 16-year-old girl. Polanski’s words, per his accuser: “If you’re not a big enough girl to have sex with me, you’re big enough to do the screen test.” He also, famously, drugged and raped a 13-year-old actress at a French Vogue photo shoot.
Bill Cosby, still a member in good standing, even while he stands accused of sexual assault (drugging, rape) by more than 50 women, is also named in a petition to the Academy.
Ditto Woody Allen, who married his stepdaughter.
Roy Price, chief of Amazon Studios, was fired after an accusation.
Lockhart Steele of Vox Media, for whom my daughter worked, sharing a long communal table with him, was dismissed from this role of editorial director after an accuser called him out on unspecified “misconduct.”
Chris Savino of Nickelodeon was dismissed after several women leveled accusations.
*Another reason for protection: Men buy it with non-disclosure clauses in the settlements they pay. Women, it must be said, sell their silence.
“Don’t have a fight with me in the hallway. Come in, one minute.”
“Please, I’m sorry, come in, sit here please.”
“Don’t embarrass me, you’re embarrassing me.”
“Don’t ruin your friendship with me. Please you’re making a big scene, come in, five minutes.”
Recorded without Harvey Weinstein’s knowledge thanks to the NYPD and the Italian model who returned with a recording device the day after he groped for the first time, the two-minute recording is chilling. The movie mogul is a kitchen-sink-style predator, throwing down threats, promises and accusations while the model, Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, pleaded with him to let her go. “I’m uncomfortable,” she said, “you touched my breast.”
“It’s what I do,” Weinstein replied.
A Refinery29 essay reminds us of the Margaret Atwood quote—decades old but like everything else she writes, all too true: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”
With the man outted as a serial pig and sexual predator, raping and assaulting a dozen women (at current count), people in high places are now speaking out about their experiences and also in support of the victims. Emphasis on “now” as this has been going on for decades. A 22-year-old Gwyenth Paltrow was summoned to his hotel suite and asked to perform a massage on the bathrobed Weinstein in 1994. Angelina Jolie and Roseanne Arquette have similar stories. A news anchor was cornered in a hotel corridor and forced to watch him “jerk off into a potted palm,” says George Clooney, one of the few men who have publicly condemned Weinstein’s behavior as “indefensible.”
“A lot of people are doing the ‘you had to know’ thing right now, and yes, if you’re asking if I knew that someone who was very powerful had a tendency to hit on young, beautiful women, sure. But I had no idea that it had gone to the level of having to pay off eight women for their silence, and that these women were threatened and victimized,” says Clooney. “I’ve been talking with a lot of people about this, and I don’t know many people who knew of that.”
This prevarication sums it up: It’s not that people looked the other way, it’s just that they didn’t look at it at all, Clooney says. That Weinstein was a “dog,” was well enough known that it made it into a 2013 Academy Award bit. When Seth MacFarlane announced a list of five female nominees he said, per the bombshell New York Times exposé, “congratulations, you five ladies no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein.”
There’s an ambivalence expressed in that laugh line—and the audience laughed, per the Times—that has people prevaricating all over the place. Donna Karan says she knows the “wonderful” Weinsteins (Harvey’s wife is leaving him) and denounces his accusers with the age-old question: “…are we asking for it?” And then she retracted it with an apology.
Lindsay Lohan was another of Weinstein’s supporters, offering up the narcissistic defense that he never touched her—in a whack video in which she seemed to be speaking in an English accent (shades of the Annie twin from Parent Trap?) shot in a bathroom. She took the Instagram post down, although it’s widely posted (‘cause that’s the way the Internet works, crazypants Lindsay).
And even my husband, upon listening to the tape I found chilling, minimized the incident: “She was wearing a wire. She was baiting him,” he said, along with, “what he said was not illegal.”
Yes, but it was wrong. And for too long that wrongness has ruled Hollywood. Will it ever end?
From Quartz, an article that promises to reveal “the real reason women drink too much wine.” The writer, who is now sober, points to the literal wash of alcohol all over the media, her office, the birthday card rack and even billboards: “Driving home from work, I pass billboard ads for Fluffed Marshmallow Smirnoff and Iced Cake Smirnoff and not just Cinnamon, but Cinnamon Churros Smirnoff.” The birthday card thing is something I’ve noticed too — with their jokey invitations to “rose all day” and also:
But, no, the real reason she’s an alcoholic is that she is an alcoholic, as it turns out, and it’s really damn hard to be a women in this world.
In an opinion piece called “The Men Who Never Grow Up,” Jennifer Weiner observes that “Americans have a soft spot for our troublemakers and scamps,” excusing the bad behavior on the part of one particular “honest kid” with a dismissive “that’s politics”—even when that kid is 39 years old and his scampishness appears to have included colluding with the Russians to interfere with the presidential election.
“Women and nonwhite men don’t have it quite as easy,” Weiner writes, trenchantly: “If boys will be boys, then girls must be grown-ups, whose job it is to protect men from their worst impulses.” Or serve as post-indiscretion apologists: “like boys in the locker room,” appeased Melania Trump about her husband bragging about his pussy-grabbing prowess. Also implicated in that incident was Billy Bush, who excused his own poor judgment with “I was younger, less mature, and acted foolishly in playing along.” He was 33 at the time.
When Anderson Cooper pressed Melania, she stayed on point: “It’s kinda like two teenage boys — actually they should behave better, right?” she said.
Cooper: “He was 59.”
Compare all that with condemnation heaped upon female celebrities behaving badly. Lindsay Lohan, while not one of my very favorite people (except for her star turn in “The Parent Trap” 10 years ago, when she was adorbs), is a pariah. Confusing, yes, so here’s the bottom line: men who behave badly are forgiven, women are not and, salt to the wound, must clean up the messes made by males.
Starring as Belle in Beauty & the Beast, Emma Watson appears on the cover of Vanity Fair in a nude top-and-cape number, to much criticism. Gloria Steinem was asked whether a real feminist would ever wear such a thing. “Feminists can wear anything they fucking want,” she said to TMZ.