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Harvey Weinstein: The Straw That Broke The Camel's Back

Culture

As the stories continued to trickle out about movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment history, many of us were not in the least bit surprised. But as someone who worked as a waitress in a restaurant he frequented, the headlines not only were unsurprising, but echoed the slimy behavior I'd been privy to.


Having just moved to the city from Dublin in September of last year, I was certainly not used to the caliber of celebrities one is deigned to serve in its posher parts, and Weinstein ended up being one of the Hollywood elite I would see on a regular basis.

A lunch/dinner regular, as my former colleague explains, Weinstein was easily the grisliest of the celebrity set, boasting the table manners of a four year-old and a temper the likes of which I hadn’t seen since middle school. It was, however, the well-known producer's evening exploits that really caught my attention.

In a tale as old as time - it’s inevitable that man will abuse the gross power with which he is betrothed. Julius Caesar, Benito Mussolini, King Henry, Bill Cosby, Jimmy Savile, Bill O’Reilly, when you’re at the top - you decide who lives or dies; you’re in charge of people’s successes.

Weinstein was in charge of the Hollywood hopefuls, the dreams of too many, and therein lay his opportunity for miscreance: power. So when he came in and sat at the back of a restaurant at night time, with a girl forty years his junior - bright eyed and bushy tailed, there was only one reason I could safely assume for the interaction.

Harvey Weinstein and Rose McGowan. Photo Courtesy of Jeff Vespa/WireImage

I would witness these girls filter in, I cringed at their youth, knowing the sequence of events that was sure to ruin their evening, knowing the inevitable trip upstairs was about to take place. Were they meant to speak up or was I? If Weinstein and Co. had it their way, everyone would have remained silent, forever.

Naturally though, when a story of this magnitude breaks, with a man of such consequence, history infers that it was the woman’s fault in some way, shape or form.

Much of my final year studying English Literature was dictated by this idea - that when women in history, literature, society are in situations of distress, they are poised as one of two characters: the weak, pathetic, damsel in distress, and the life-sucking vampiric seductress: two of the oldest female tropes in storytelling. In fact as far back as Greek mythology, there are even allusions to rape.

“The seductress and damsel in distress archetypes are as old as greek mythology," comments Cheri Ellefson, Gender Studies expert. "Though the term rape culture was coined in the 1970s, we know that both the rape of women and the justification and normalization of such violence were commons themes of Greek and Roman myths. In the story of Zeus and Leda, Zeus transforms into a swan and rapes Leda; Zeus simply could not help himself.”

“The assumption that men cannot 'help themselves' when faced with 'temptation' is just as harmful as the 'damsel in distress' and 'seductress' stereotype placed on women."

-Cheri Ellefson

Not only does this labelling place genders in restrictive boxes, but it also perpetuates violence. "Men rape because they 'can't help it' and women either need men's protection - or are blamed for their own rape. This is why girls are told to 'cover themselves up' at school (again, this myth that men are somehow biologically unable to resist sexual urges) and why sexual harassment inquiries still demand to know: 'What were you wearing?'”

Similarly, in perhaps one of the most respected war novels, Erich Remarque’s All Quiet On The Western Front: women mostly fell into two categories - the flailing damsel or the seductress - women innocent of war, free of the burden of death, of savagery - the untouched ones. These portrayals negate the idea that women are actual human beings with feelings and agency; that they have a brain. You can imagine my surprise and horror to find comments under the many articles written about Weinstein - from the New York Times exposé; to the New Yorker audio recording; to the personal victim statements issued in Variety, that feed right back into this archaic notion.

“How do we display ourselves? How do we present ourselves as women? What are we asking? Are we asking for it by presenting all the sensuality and all the sexuality?”

- Donna Karan

What use is it placing women into these thoroughly useless buckets? What does society gain from stripping away our humanity? Why can’t men like Weinstein realize these girls - the Judds, Mcgowans, Argentas - the nameless models and aspiring actresses just be humans, rather than fictional characters conspiring to throw him out of a job?

While it may be easy to say: “well if she hadn’t been in the hotel room,” or "if she hadn't worn such a short skirt," how infuriating the implication that any action a woman makes warrants the assault of another. If a Hollywood producer asks you somewhere - whether it’s the middle of the desert or Azerbajan, you go, not because you desperately want to see his saggy balls and aging body under a robe, but because he’s HARVEY WEINSTEIN and he makes stars.

Why is there the insinuation that these girls wanted this encounter - how naive, how ruthless the assumption. These girls wanted a handshake, a promise. Not a tug and a pat down

What, in all sincerity, is the benefit to calling these women ‘ladder climbers’ or poor infantile, helpless girls?

Gwyneth Paltrow and Harvey Weinstein. Photo Courtesy of PEOPLE

Men, and the Donna Karans of the world place women in the driver's seat of their own abuse, in order to detract from their heinous behavior, but also - because the can. When you have the aid of internet trolls everywhere proclaiming the incorrigible question on all of their lips: why didn't they say something, you have pause to create reasonable doubt and cast a shadow over the accusations and allegations spanning over decades. And people will still ask - through all this - why they didn't come forward sooner.

The reason is simple. No woman wanted to be the woman who cried "Wolf: Weinstein."

No woman wanted to be the promising young actress whose career went up in flames because she had the audacity to call out Hollywood heavyweight Harvey over a cringey session in a hotel room. And can you blame them? As he said, in his own words, "you don't want to make an enemy of me," and who in their right mind wants to find out what that might means?

Woody Allen and Harvey Weinstein. Photo Courtesy of Kevin Winter/Getty Images

What really would have happened if Paltrow or Jolie had came forward at the time - too young to know better - too young for their names to be established? Would they now be a relic of a time when women’s voices were literally just that, a voice? When theirs was merely a pretty face to add to the 'real talent' of Ewan McGregor, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon - would we even know them today?

And is this the very reason 71 per cent of women say they wouldn't come forward if they were sexually harassed? At least according to some experts it is.

"As a woman, if you speak out about an uncomfortable situation with a male, you are putting yourself out there to be judged and attacked." remarks Holly Caplan, author of Surviving the D**k Clique: A Girl's Guide to Surviving the Male Dominated Corporate World. "The vultures are waiting. It is safer and easier to not say anything at all. If you consider Angelina Jolie’s recent remarks on Harvey Weinstein, she says she faced his inappropriate behavior years ago and made the decision not to work with him again and to warn other women. This was safe, and plenty of women probably handled it the very same way. This doesn’t stop the monster though. The downside is if you stand up and talk about it, you are putting yourself on trial to be judged, and your own credibility will come into play. Women are afraid to step into this zone, which is why it has taken so many years for all of this to come out. To do so, you have to be brave and bullet proof.”

If we stop placing women in buckets - enclosing them in these structures, we can finally begin talking about them as humans, as we would any man in their situation.

It happened, these actresses were too afraid to talk about it, and now, finally, they're able to share, thanks to the support welling up around them. As crusader Gretchen Carlson says, "I think that women collectively, especially millennial women, need to take the bull by the horns on this issue." Not only does Carlson advocate for bringing sexual harassment to the forefront of the conversation, she also wants men involved. "Collectively we need to have each other’s backs on this issue."

"Our culture makes it okay to do this the same way at one point in time it was acceptable for children to be hit by parents and teachers," says Heather Monahan, women’s empowerment and business expert. "We are a species that is constantly evolving and growing, therefore hopefully becoming more educated. To lean on the excuse that we come from an age where this was initially tolerated is exactly like lighting up a cigarette on an airplane today. I suggest Harvey Weinstein tries this idea in the spirit of his excuse and sees how that works out for him."

In 2017, power is shown through business, money, connections. Power is who you are, the people you know, and above all else - who knows your name.

Weinstein was a Hollywood hero - countless actors and actresses have attributed their successes to the man - Hillary Clinton has enjoyed many a Harvey-hosted party during election times, Meryl Streep got up in front of the world and called him ‘God’. Everyone in the industry knew Weinstein’s name - even if you didn’t. He was the man.

And as the bells knell on another long day for him in the news, one can’t help but envision a future where Harvey has become a cautionary tale, and he plays both the seductress and the damsel - a warning to all the other sexual miscreants out there wielding any kind of power - that this abuse is a thing of the past, as it has ruthlessly, and unabashedly ruined Weinstein’s future in the film industry.

The question now remains to be seen over the coming months and years: is the Weinstein saga, as disgusting as it was, potentially the harbinger for change?

This post was first published 10/17

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Politics

Michael Bloomberg Can’t Handle A Woman With A Voice (aka Elizabeth Warren)

Elizabeth Warren majorly called out "arrogant billionaire" Michael Bloomberg for his history of silencing women through NDAs and closed-door settlement negotiations. Sound familiar? Probably because we already have a president like that. At this point, Bloomberg may just spend the remainder of his (hopefully) ill-fated presidential campaign roasting on a spit over a fire sparked by the righteous anger of women. A lesser punishment than he deserves, if you ask me.


At last night's Democratic debate, Michael Bloomberg could barely stammer out an answer to a question on whether or not he would release any of his former accusers from their nondisclosure agreements. His unsatisfactory response was basically a halting list of what he has done for certain nondescript women in his time at City Hall and within his own company.

But that certainly wasn't enough for Elizabeth Warren, nor should it be, who perfectly rephrased his defense as, "I've been nice to some women." Michael Bloomberg is basically that weird, problematic Uncle that claims he can't be racist, "Because I have a Black friend." In a society where power is almost always in the hands of straight, white, cisgendered, men being "nice" to a lucky few is in no way a defense for benefiting from and building upon the systematic silencing of all marginalized communities, let alone women. Stop and frisk, anybody?

Here is a brief clip of the Warren v. Bloomberg exchange, which I highly recommend. It is absolutely (and hilariously) savage.

But let's talk about the deeper issues at hand here (other than Warren being an eloquent badass).

Michael Bloomberg has been sued multiple times, yet each time he was able to snake his way out of the problem with the help of his greatest and only superpower: cold, hard cash. Each time these allegations have come up, in Warren's words, he throws "a chunk of money at the table" and "forces the woman to wear a muzzle for the rest of her life."

As reported by Claire Lampen of The Cut, here are just a few of his prior indiscretions.

  • Pregnancy discrimination—Bloomberg reportedly told a former employee of his to "kill it," in reference to her developing fetus.
  • Sexual harassment—You could literally write a book on this subject (someone did), but for the sake of brevity...
"I'd like to do that piece of meat" - Michael Bloomberg in reference to various women at his company.
  • Undermining #MeToo—Not only did he defend the accused, but he went on the disparage accusers every step of the way.
  • Defaming transgender people—Though he claims to support trans rights, he has also been qupted multiple times as referring to trans women as "some guy wearing a dress."
Yeah... That's not a winning formula for me, Mike.

Furthermore, Warren points out the simple fact that if, as Bloomberg claims, these instances were simply big misunderstandings (He was just joking around!) then why go to all the trouble to cover them up? Does Michael Bloomberg think women can't take a joke? Or can we only surmise that the truth of these events are far darker and dirtier than we could even imagine?

Certain commentators have called Elizabeth Warren's debate presence "agressive," especially in regards to this instance but also continually throughout her entire campaign. If asking poignant questions to known abusers who are seeking to further their own political power is considered "aggressive," then I am here for it. Bring on the aggressive women, please and thank you.

Calling a woman aggressive for being confidant and direct is a gendered complaint. You don't see anyone whining that Bernie is "aggressive" when he goes off on a screaming tangent. Also, have you seen our president? He's basically the poster boy for political temper tantrums. But still, it's Warren that is deemed "aggressive," for honing in on the exact issues that need to be considered in this upcoming election.

This type of derisory label is another aspect of how our society silences women—much like Bloomberg and his NDAs. Because "silencing" is more than just putting a "muzzle" on someone. It's refusing to listen to a person's cries for help. It's disregarding what a woman has to say, because she's too "aggressive." It's taking away someone's power by refusing to truly hear their side of the story. Because if you aren't listening, responding, or even just respecting someone's words, they may well have said nothing at all.

"Silence is the ocean of the unsaid, the unspeakable, the repressed, the erased, the unheard." - Renecca Solnit

Nondiscolusure agreements are a legal gag for people who have experienced harassment and abuse at the hands of those above them.

Gretchen Carlson, possibly the most famous person subject to an NDA, is one of these people. Her story is so well-known that it has even been immortalized on film, in 2019's Bombshell. Yet she is still forced to maintain her silence. She cannot tell her side of the story even when Hollywood can. She was cajoled into her current position after facing harassment in her workplace. She didn't have the power then to do more than accept her fate. And now, she doesn't have the power to tell her story.

She was, and still is being, silenced.

After her experiences, Carlson was moved to fight for all women to have the power over their truths. In a recent op-ed for the New York Times she declared: "I want my voice back. I want it back for me, and for all those silenced by forced arbitration and NDAs."

Carlson may still be tied to her NDA, but there are those who go a different route. Celeste Headlee, who wrote an op-ed on SWAAY about her experience, chose to break her nondisclosure agreement. Though doing so undoubtedly opened her up to numerous legal ramifications, she knew that she could no longer "sign away [her] right to justice."

Because that is what an NDA is all about, signing away a person's right to justice. Their story is their justice. Their NDA is a lock and key. Headlee may have broken through that lock, but she must face the consequences.

Neither Carlson nor Headlee are any less brave for how they have handled their journeys. They are both actively working to shift the cultural and political norms that led them here, and their work will, with hope and time, lead to real change. But they are just two drops in an ocean of women who are held hostage by their nondisclosure agreements, by men like Michael Bloomberg, and by a society that would rather silence them than let truth and justice be had.