#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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To state the obvious

These days, Facebook seems to be mostly a collection of our obvious observations and rhetorical questions, repeated over and over and over again.

“I can’t believe how much she’s grown!” (said of any/all children who have grown up) and “Where does time go?” (answer: it doesn’t “go” anywhere it just disappears, only to be replaced by more time). These days, there are photos of snowdrifts with obvious captions (“brrrr…” and “so cold!”) and of our president (“such an idiot”). I agree that it is, indeed, cold outside and that Donald Trump is the worst kind of asshole. But that doesn’t mean I need near constant reminders of these facts.

All of this is better and more humorously said in The New Yorker essay, “Oh, Look, Some Time Has Passed!” by Kathryn Kvas. You almost don’t need more after the headline and this purposefully stock-y looking Getty photo of an ethnically diverse trio of women laughing their heads off over lattes.

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For every woman who loves laughing over lattes with friends.

Even so, I’ll quote this paragraph, so perfect: “But, really, I had so much fun hanging out this time! Maybe once some more time passes we’ll do something fun like this again. What do you say? I bet some stuff will happen by the time we get around to doing that fun thing, and then we can reminisce about how much time has passed since we talked about doing that thing that we’ll do! And then I bet that even more time will pass after we do that fun thing, and then some more time after that. And then we’ll keep talking about the passage of time over and over again until so much time has passed that we’ll stop existing as physical beings altogether!”

 

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Enough

Love this

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I’ll start with the keychain then get the tattoo please

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New Year’s Resolutions For Other People, 2018

Hey, it’s me again with my annual list of helpful suggestions. You’re welcome!

Grand Central Station: Get more clocks. There should be clocks everyone because the only two things you need to know when you’re there is your track number and what time it is. Currently there’s that yee olde clocke on the info kiosk (charming but analog and when you’re running late you need to know the time down to the second), and a few digital clocks near the platforms. Clocks, clocks, clocks.

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Does anybody really know what time it is?

MTA: So, so many objections but let’s lean into* signage. As a subway user for 30 years, I was flummoxed by an N train headed to Stillwell Avenue. My other choice was Mermaid Avenue. I guessed that Mermaid was Coney Island bound (downtown), which meant that Stillwell would take me to the Bronx (uptown). I was right! But is guessing the best way to ensure we get on the right train?

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Which way to the Bronx?

*Lean into: Stop saying this. Sheryl Sandberg coined the phrase with her bestselling book advising women in the workplace. It’s been bastardized by Corporate America, where it’s used as a directive by bosses (mine, anyway), as in “I’d love for you to lean into that task.”41luF9kOo6L._SX301_BO1,204,203,200_

Made-up words for “weather events:” BombCyclone is not a word, New York Times. Neither is bombogenesis, even though CNN says it is. And even if they are (I now think maybe they are), why is everybody snubbing “blizzard” or “snowstorm” for these wonky weather terms? Also, what’s with “Grayson” as the official storm name?

Bondage as a Fashion Statement: This is not me being prudish. This is me objecting to modern-day women being restrained by their clothing. Did we not suffer enough from Chinese foot-binding and Colonial-era bustles? More on this rant here.

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Don’t even dream of raising your arms

Women Everywhere: Persist, resist, and otherwise do as you like, as suggested by this keychain.

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Portraits of the Ladies

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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).

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Merry Christmas

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The most striking images over yet another politically contentious weekend came from Pensacola, Florida, where Trump was campaigning for Roy Moore, an accused pedophile and candidate for a Senate seat in Alabama, some 30 miles away. (Why the coy choice of an out-of-state rally? No idea, but so much doesn’t make sense these days that I didn’t bother to try to understand it.)

“Merry Christmas” read the signs hoisted by Trump’s supporters, who were also clad in Christmas garb. Trump took the stage with that same emphatic greeting, congratulating himself and the sanctimonious souls in attendance for their “making it safe” to say Merry Christmas. He—and they—believe it’s overly PC to say “Happy Holidays” and/or assume everyone they’d ever meet, or care to meet, would Christian.

To put such a fine, fine point on “Christmas” and to use it to insult non-Christians and, more to the point, the kinds of liberals who tend toward “holiday” greetings struck me as aggressive—a sarcastic, bigoted perversion of both Christmas and Christian principles.

Aggression in America, then, as a follow up to my thoughts on “anger in America.”

On Sunday, I bought narcissus bulbs at a garden shop owned by a man from Lebanon. “Merry Christmas,” he said, as did the cashier and the salesperson in the aisle. Sorting out matters of religious identity can’t be easy for a Lebanese Christian. But after the Trump rally, I felt suspicious of their well wishes.

“Happy Holidays,” I replied. A little bit aggressively.

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Just don’t 

There has always been fashion designed to slow women down, trip them up. Heavy bustles and hoop skirts. Binding of the feet in China, cloaking of the entire body among some followers of Islam. Whatever the stated intent — beautification, modesty — the result turns us into decor at best, captives at worst. I’ve been noticing a trend toward restrictive garments that say “don’t” in some way. A partial list:

Mules: don’t run

Kitten heels: don’t even walk

Pointy toe stillettos: don’t mind that these are, practically speaking, bunion-producing machines.

Off the shoulder tops: don’t raise your arms

Bustiers: don’t dance, better yet don’t move

Clutch purse: don’t do anything that requires two hands

Mini skirt: don’t sit

Pencil skirt: don’t eat

Body suit, jump suit: don’t even think about going to the bathroom

I’m not a feminist but…

A thoughtful essay in the New York Times takes to task women — specifically Megyn Kelly, in Lindy West’s piece —  who identify as non-feminists. Why? To seem nice and non-threatening? To be perceived as approachable, as not having needs? Whatever the reason the “but…” at the end of the avowal negates it. Writes West: you are partipating in feminism simply by benefitting from the women’s movement of the past. You vote, you have a bank account, you can own property and divorce your husband. All of this was won by proto-feminists (by any other name); all of this protected by today’s feminists. “Sorry but you’re a feminist,” she concludes. “We are here for you when you are ready.”

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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