Category Archives: sexual abuse

In the company of men

Even while men are looking backwards, fearful that past workplace behavior will be mis/construed as harassment (or assault), women I know are reconsidering their acceptance of office-inappropriate words and deeds.

I thought about this while reading “Can Hollywood Change?The New Yorker article by Dana Goodyear, who takes on the same topic. A Friends assistant was fired, she suspects, for not being “game” about writer-room banter. Along the same vein, another source, a script writer who was “game,” now feels ashamed of her complicity, a “betrayer of my feminist values.”

With 30+ years in the workplace, I’ve seen and accepted behavior I now cringe to recall. I wrote about the most egregious incident in an essay called “The Boss of Me,” about my first magazine job (and boss) for TueNight. That was harassment. But what of the years of intra-staff hookups, locker-room banter and, overall, iffy (and icky) stuff I wrote off as part of the landscape of working at Time Inc., a company led by men? Here, a short list of the iffiest, ickiest stuff, some of it as recent as, say, last week. All colleagues referenced, unless otherwise noted, are male.

  • “Snatch canyon” is what a colleague called his office view over a passageway between two buildings, populated, in his opinion, by attractive women.
  • “So should I just take my dick out and slap it on the desk?” Fumed a colleague after sharing an emasculating comment he received from another male colleague.
  • “Is she hot?” Asked a colleague about an intern I was interviewing.
  • “I’d leave my wife on Christmas morning for her,” declared a colleague about a female colleague we had in common.
  • “People are totally banging in that room,” snickered a colleague about a “wellness/nap” room.
  • “Assfuckery,” “Assfucked,” “Fuck me up the ass:” A colleague’s casual profanities about workplace annoyances.

 

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#MeToo

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Therese Dreaming

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.”

 

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Every Dog Has His Day

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.

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This is what sexual harassment sounds like

Harvey Weinstein

Every Dog Has His Day

“I won’t do a thing… I swear on my children.”

“One minute, I swear.”

“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).

Apologist Lindsay Lohan

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?

 

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