Terry Richardson Responds to Sexual Harassment Accusations, Defends His "Provocative Work"
Over the past four years, accusations of fashion photographer Terry Richardson’s creepy sexual behavior toward his models—including claims that he gets naked, requests sexual favors, and in some cases, ejaculates onto young female subjects when they're not entirely jazzed about that situation—have mounted, without comment from Richardson himself. Today, he finally responded to what he calls “rumors” in a blog post published on the Huffington Post. Richardson’s response is half denial, half defense. He called the accusations a “witch hunt” that’s been “enabled and protected by the freewheeling and often times anonymous nature of the Internet,” then intensified by “sloppy journalists” beholden to “the on-going quest for controversy-generated page views.” But he also argued that the situations models have reported don’t constitute sexual harassment—they’re just the natural product of an artist at work.
A quick primer on the numerous complaints against Richardson: First, there was the 19-year-old model who said Richardson took off all his clothes, asked to make tea from her tampon, requested a hand job, and left her feeling like she “needed to take two showers.” And there was the other 19-year-old model to who says he took out his penis, licked her ass, and ejaculated into her eye. She says that the implicit power imbalance of the shoot (unknown teenage model vs. famous photog) made her uncomfortable bowing out as Richardson’s behavior escalated. “Even just talking about it makes me start to feel the way I felt then, which was just completely paralyzed and freaked out,” she said recently. “I was a rapist’s dream, completely naive and trusting, but passive and shy on top of that.” (She says she later contacted police about the encounter, but was told she had no case because she never said “no”). Model Liskula Cohen says she did walk off a Richardson shoot for an “upscale magazine” after he asked her to strip completely naked and simulate a blow job on one of Richardson’s friends, but not before Richardson got a couple of uncomfortable shots that she later vainly attempted to hide from public view by buying up all the magazine’s copies at her local newsstands. (She says Richardson later replaced her with a porn star who was willing to perform the real deal, and she “quit modeling for a year after that shoot”). Model Coco Rocha has vowed to never work with him again. And according to model Rie Rasmussen, Richardson "takes girls who are young, manipulates them to take their clothes off and takes pictures of them they will be ashamed of ... They are too afraid to say no because their agency booked them on the job and are too young to stand up for themselves.”
Richardson sees things differently. “When I moved to New York in 1990 to take pictures, a lot of my work was a documentation of my life in the East Village; it was gritty, transgressive, and the aesthetic broke with the well-lit, polished fashion images of the time,” he wrote. “Like Robert Mapplethorpe, Helmut Newton, and so many others before me, sexual imagery has always been a part of my photography.” Richardson says his images have always “depicted sexual situations and explored the beauty, rawness, and humor that sexuality entails” and are created “with consenting adult women who were fully aware of the nature of the work.” To suggest otherwise belittles “the spirit of artistic endeavor” and also “the real victims of exploitation and abuse.” He codes any complaints as the “discourse” that naturally arises from “provocative work.” Here’s one statement that Richardson has previously contributed to this “discourse,” in a 2007 interview published before his models started speaking out: “It’s not who you know, it’s who you blow. I don’t have a hole in my jeans for nothing.”
How useful is “transgressive” art when the artist is transgressing against his own subjects? Richardson’s not the first high-profile artist to use his career as a cover for alleged sexual offenses. The women who have accused Bill Cosby of sexually assaulting them say he lured them in by taking an interest in furthering their careers as actors and models. And Roman Polanski used his camera as a tool to gain access to his 13-year-old subject-turned-victim, Samantha Geimer. Years later, his supporters used his impressive body of work to argue that he should be free of legal scrutiny. Richardson takes the tactic one step further by arguing that harassment itself is the art. In Richard’s “gritty” autobiographical documentary, anything goes, as long as the camera’s there to justify the expression.
New Study Reveals Secret to Romantic Success, and It Doesn’t Sound So Hard to Achieve
Julie Beck at the Atlantic reports on a new study, published in Social Science Research, that tracked who was likeliest out of a group of teenagers to be married or cohabitating in early adulthood. Researchers followed 9,000 young people in middle and high school for 15 years, ending the study when the participants were ages ranging from 24 to 34. Researchers were asked to rate the participants on a 1-to-5 scale on three separate traits: looks, personality, and grooming. (As Beck notes, "personality" is maddeningly vague, but seems to be a measure of likeability.) What they found was that being a rock star on one trait doesn't necessarily help you, but having a good combo is the way to go. Beck explains:
“If They Saw Me as a Specialty Act, I’d Take It”: Talking to Carol Leifer, Woman in Comedy
Carol Leifer first hit the standup stage as a college student in the 1970s, at a time when a female comedian was a novelty act on par with ventriloquists and animal tricks. Over the next several decades, she became a writer on Seinfeld and Saturday Night Live, an opening act for Frank Sinatra, the star of her own sitcom, a 25-time Late Night with David Letterman guest, and a co-executive producer of a modern soap (Lifetime's Devious Maids). Now, she's written a career guide to following in her footsteps—How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying: Lessons From a Life in Comedy—which hits shelves next month. I talked to Leifer about the modern state of women in comedy, writing for Elaine Benes, and turning the coming out process into a joke.
Slate: Three decades after you launched your standup career, you note in the book that women are still underrepresented and underpaid in comedy. Why do you think that is?
Move Over Glossy Magazines. Now Social Media Makes Young Girls Hate Themselves.
In case you were starting to feel OK about this newfangled Facebook thing, two recent studies show that the blue-and-white behemoth is ruining young girls’ self-esteem. Do you want to hear about the disordered eating first, or the increase in plastic surgery rates?
The American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery recently surveyed a group of its 2,700 members and discovered that one in three doctors saw an uptick in procedure requests for 2013. The researchers attributed the rise in part to “patients being more self-aware of looks in social media.” They write that 13 percent of plastic surgeons mentioned patients who wanted procedures specifically because they didn’t like their appearance on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or Selfie.im. Not surprisingly, many of these patients were teenage girls. The composite face of plastic surgery is getting younger, the researchers say, noting that 58 percent of the surveyed AAFPRS members reported an increase “in cosmetic surgery or injectables in those under 30.”
Sadistic Girls Bully Autistic Boy. Boy Still Considers Them His Friends.
Any parent of an autistic kid will recognize this as their worst nightmare. Two Maryland teenage girls were charged this week with manipulating a teenage autistic boy to do unspeakable things. They allegedly asked him to masturbate and have sex with a family pet, and then recorded it on their cell phones. They allegedly sometimes held a knife to his throat. They kicked him in the groin and pulled his hair. They got him to walk on a frozen lake knowing the ice was thin, and when he fell through a couple of times they didn’t help him get out. His mom got home that night and asked why his clothes were wet and he told her he’d fallen in the pond, but also told her the girls didn’t force him to go in. And here’s the heartbreaker, from his mother, who was contacted by the Washington Post (the boy’s name is being withheld by the papers because he is only 16): “He doesn’t appear to be traumatized. He thinks these girls are his friends and is surprised the police are involved.”
Princeton Mom's One Saving Grace
This Week in Brave Souls: Maureen O’Connor has infiltrated the tiger’s den to speak with Susan Patton, aka Princeton Mom, the spirit animal for professionally accomplished women who wish they had married young. The profile is rich in delicious details, like Patton’s “ringleted bouffant updo,” her dachshund Lucille (with “naturally orange fur,” because Princeton), and the fact that she wishes to remarry in the campus chapel, surrounded by orange roses.
The PM urges 29-year-old Princeton alum O’Connor to decide immediately whether she wants a husband and children, and it sounds a lot like momsplaining to O’Connor that she definitely wants a husband and children. When O’Connor floats waiting until the divorce wave and then “[marrying] into stepmotherhood,” PM is chagrined. “Is that what you want?” she asks. “You want to raise another woman’s kids? Terrible, Maureen. Terrible, terrible, terrible.”
The Online Journalism “Revolution” Will Produce More Powerful White Men
At the Guardian on Wednesday, Emily Bell asked why a new fleet of marquee online journalism startups—including Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, Ezra Klein’s Vox, and First Look Media, which recruited Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi, and John Cook (husband of DoubleX editor Allison Benedikt) to lead their own digital magazines—“have been spattered with words that denote transformation,” like “revolutionary” and “innovative,” and yet are staffed with a very traditional slate of mostly white and male journalists. “Remaking journalism in its own image, only with better hair and tighter clothes, is not a revolution, or even an evolution,” Bell writes. “A revolution calls for a regime change of more significant depth.”
Bell is correct. But I wonder why there was ever any expectation that these new platforms would be more diverse than the stodgy magazines and newspapers they’re positioning themselves against. These online platforms represent the merging of journalism (which is a traditionally white and male-dominated field) with technology (which is even more so!). If anything, their marriage should only produce more powerful white men. In the launch video for Vox, Trei Brundrett, Vox Media’s chief product officer, says Klein came to the company because: “We’re not just a media company, we’re also a technology company.” Of the 17 members of Vox Media’s “leadership team,” two are women.
Diversity has never been a serious metric for a company’s “innovation” status, in either journalism or tech. Steve Jobs may have thought different, but he looked the same. It's the product that's new, not the inventor. (And sometimes, women are the product: Investors gave Bleacher Report's deeply male Bryan Goldberg $6.5 million to start a website for women.) In 2012, the Columbia Journalism Review heralded Klein's fresh perspective in political reporting because he’s a “California kid” who did not earn his “fame at The New Republic.” Instead, he interned at the Washington Monthly and joined the American Prospect at the age of 23. These are incredibly fine distinctions to draw. Why even pretend that the demographics are shifting? What really made Klein different was that he was an early master of an emerging technological tool. That’s not to dismiss Klein’s personal accomplishments, which are well-earned; it’s just that his background is not particularly surprising. (Even if he did—gasp!—graduate from UCLA.) Journalism and technology won’t just magically diversify when they shift over to a new platform.
Judge Rules That a Mother’s Rights Trump the Father’s in the Delivery Room
Should a father be allowed in the delivery room for the birth of his child, over the mother’s objections? A New Jersey judge said no last November, in a ruling that was released in writing earlier this week. “Any interest a father has before the child’s birth is subordinate to the mother’s interest,” Judge Sohail Mohammed wrote. That has to be the right call. At the same time, I can understand why father’s rights groups see the ruling as discrimination: It privileges motherhood over fatherhood.
Rebecca DeLuccia and Steven Plotnick agree that they started a relationship in late 2012 and that DeLuccia learned she was pregnant in February 2013. Plotnick proposed and they got engaged. By September, they had broken up. Plotnick wanted to be involved with the pregnancy and with the child. Which is good, right? It’s what we want fathers to do. But in this case, for whatever reason, Plotnick lawyered up. In October, Plotnick’s lawyer wrote to DeLuccia, and then she got a lawyer too, and over the next month letters went back and forth about who would sign the birth certificate, who would be at the hospital for the birth, and, as Judge Mohammed delicately puts it, whether there would be “litigation to resolve the matter if it could not be resolved amicably.”
The Sexual Assault Case Against Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair Would Be Just as Messy in Civilian Court
A high-profile sexual assault case that has been a touchstone in the debate over how to handle military sexual assault "came apart on Monday," according to a lengthy report from the New York Times. The case has received a huge amount of national media attention both because of the high rank of the accused, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair, and because the process of prosecuting him has been combed over by everyone with a stake in the debate over whether or not to strip commanders of their power to determine how sexual assault accusations are handled. It was recently revealed, in fact, that the lawyer for the accuser appealed to Lt. Gen. James Anderson, who is overseeing the case, to reject a plea deal from Sinclair on the grounds that it would weaken the Army's case to the public about why it should retain control over sexual assault prosecutions. He did, in fact, end up rejecting the plea deal.
In the end, however, the case against Sinclair appears to be falling apart for reasons that have little to do with all the complex political machinations around it. Since the beginning, Sinclair's lawyers have been using the "woman scorned" defense, arguing that the accuser, a captain who worked under Sinclair, made up the allegations that Sinclair forced her to perform oral sex because she was angry at him for not leaving his wife for her. Also, they argue, she floated the allegations after she was threatened with a charge of adultery, which is illegal in the military, suggesting that she saw a rape accusation as an easy way out. The accuser and Sinclair had been conducting a three year affair, which the defense emphasizes was consensual, with diary entries from the accuser testifying to her great love for Sinclair and her fear he was still emotionally involved with his wife as evidence. The prosecution contends that the two incidents of forced oral sex, which are alleged to have happened in Afghanistan, were part of an abusive and controlling pattern of behavior from Sinclair toward the accuser.
“I Don't Believe in the Word Pimp”: Sex-Work Bosses Attempt to Rebrand
In major American cities like Seattle, Miami, and Atlanta, the local underground sex economy can rake in upward of $100 million a year. But the business leaders running these lucrative local industries are often obscured from view, publicly represented only by crude cultural stereotypes. So who are they? “I’m not a pimp,” one 27-year-old man imprisoned for pimping and pandering-related offenses told researchers at the Urban Institute when they interviewed him for a new sweeping report on the criminalized portion of the American sex economy. “I don’t believe in the word pimp. Pimp is like the tooth fairy, from the old '70s movies with big hats and big ol’ chains. That’s not me.”