Why the NYT Piece About Moms Whose Sons Were Accused of Campus Rape Felt So Unsatisfying
Almost no one is satisfied with the way college administrations deal with campus rape. Accusers and activists see sickening failures of justice on all sides, as institutions set up to provide education are increasingly tasked with adjudicating potentially criminal claims. This week, the New York Times reported on an unusual group of women who are coming together to address these failures: the mothers of the accused.
The story centers on an advocacy group called Families Advocating for Campus Equality, which was founded in 2013 by several women whose sons had been accused of sexual assault as undergraduates. The group now includes hundreds of families. The women lobby Congress, follow lawsuits filed by men who say they have been falsely accused, and hold meetings twice a year. They believe that they can be effective defenders precisely because they are women. “We recognized that power,” one of the mothers tells the Times. On the surface, the story has it all: A hot-button issue, a scrappy band of activist moms, and the eternally fascinating phenomenon of women defending troubled men. Why, then, is this piece so unsatisfying to read?
Why the #MeToo Moment Is Liberating, Dispiriting, and Uncomfortable All at Once
The hashtag campaign #MeToo has served as an indelible reminder this week that feeling uncomfortable and unsafe because of a man is part of almost every woman’s life. The movement started on Sunday when actress Alyssa Milano tweeted about it, urging women to share their stories. (Ebony pointed out that a black activist named Tarana Burke started using “Me Too” to unify sexual assault victims a decade ago.) Milano’s tweet included language that made its way into the first wave of posts: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”
The avalanche of responses has proved a powerful testament to the sheer scope of women’s negative experiences at the hands of men. Participants raged, commiserated, and mourned. Celebrities including Lady Gaga and Evan Rachel Wood joined in, but most of the tens of thousands of response came from regular women, of all ages and all over the world. Scrolling through the list of “Me, too” posts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram was, in its own small way, a breathtaking experience, both liberating and dispiriting at once.
But there were other aspects of the #MeToo movement that seemed slightly uncomfortable as the posts piled up. The conflation of women who have been “sexually harassed or assaulted” in Milano’s post was meant as a way to capture the wide spectrum of harm perpetrated by men against women, everything from creepiness to criminality. But “harassment” in the colloquial sense encompasses a vast range of misbehavior, and some of it is extremely far removed from the “assault” that the #MeToo prompt lumped it in with. Is it really fair to talk about them in the same breath?
Like every woman on Earth, I’ve experienced a range of gross grabs and come-ons that would qualify me to join the #MeToo movement. The stranger who pressed up against me in the sleeper car of a train. The guy who yelled and begged when I declined a second date. Countless acts of street harassment, from jovial to menacing. The teenager who exposed himself to me in a Washington Metro station. And so on.
It’s not that I don’t think these moments “count.” They happened, and they shouldn’t have. But the truth is none of these incidents made a significant impact on me. They didn’t hurt my career, my body, or my mental health. I have been extraordinarily lucky. To me, publicly announcing my kinship with people who have suffered rape, assault, or sustained harassment doesn’t feel right, even under the capacious umbrella of solidarity.
There was a similar problem with the “Shitty Media Men” spreadsheet that circulated recently among female journalists. The open Google document was meant to serve as a sharable version of the kinds of informal whisper networks that women use to warn one another about particular men. The document, which for awhile could be updated anonymously by anyone who had access to the right link, included the names of men accused of everything from nonconsensual anal sex to “weird lunch ‘dates.’ ” As Slate’s Christina Cauterucci pointed out, the spreadsheet effectively collapsed the distinctions between those acts. “After closing the document, all but the most vile deeds became irrelevant,” she wrote. “Only the names remained in my head.”
The #MeToo movement doesn’t ask women to name the men who have harmed them. It is a show of hands, not a pointing of fingers. As the hashtag has evolved and spread, some men have begun participating themselves, by confessing their own misbehavior as aggressors and creeps. (Some are hopping onto the original hashtag, and others are using #IWill or #HowIWillChange.) That’s an encouraging trend, in part because it removes some of the burden from women who have long carried on these conversations almost exclusively among themselves. But even those who don’t feel ready or called to participate in #MeToo can benefit from it. Sometimes the best thing to do is listen.
This Week, It Was Particularly Rough to Be a Woman
It is always strange to evolve into the knowledge that something is pervasive. Not just that it exists—although sometimes that’s a shock too. But realizing, bit by bit, that the fabric of your experience is soaked in a solvent odorless and colorless yet nonetheless real is its own category of coming of age. It can be lovely or it can suck.
Over the past few years, one thing that many of us, the ones lucky enough to be relatively sheltered, have come to perceive as pervasive is sexual harassment. As of last Thursday film executive Harvey Weinstein joined Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and president Donald Trump in the ranks of powerful men recently exposed as serial abusers. Weinstein’s predations were described as an “open secret” – the phrasecaptures our country’s confused relationship to sexual assault in general. But something about the impunity with which this latest dirtbag dominated and threatened dozens of women, licensed by a culture of enabling, misogyny, shame, and silence, turned subtext into text. When victims’ testimonies appeared in the New Yorker and the New York Times, and then literally everywhere you could look, it felt like the kind of watershed moment we lived through after the release of Trump’s Access Hollywood tape, in which the now-president bragged about using his celebrity to get away with groping women. The ubiquitous responses from female actors, writers, anyone with an internet connection – all blazing with recognition, all saying me too – amalgamated into a radioactive hunk of evidence too hot to ignore.
Then a group of anonymous journalists made a spreadsheet naming “shitty media men.” For women in the industry who saw the list, replete with allegations of rape and assault tacked onto our friends, acquaintances, heroes, and colleagues, the soup of sexual misbehavior we seemed to move through only grew thicker. The document likely mixed truths with untruths, which just made the whole dismal murk of the soup situation worse—these crimes (crimes?) were everywhere and nowhere, always slipping from our grasp.
Sexual harassment and abuse “cuts across every demographic line,” says Samantha Manewitz, a licensed sex therapist who specializes in trauma. “Socio-economic, religious, political, gender … it really can happen to anyone.” In the dream logic of this moment, does it follow that harassment happens to everyone? On the phone with Manewitz, I couldn’t formulate the questions I wanted to ask. I sought a diagnosis for this condition: The victim is never someone you know until, suddenly, she feels like the sum of all the women you know.
We can barely define our terms. This fever tormenting us—is it assault, harassment, creepiness, objectification, contempt? Where does it come from? It feels like atmosphere, internal and external, those phantom toxins you supposedly inhale and have to flush out of your system with green juice. In October of last year, writing about Trump’s “unique and sickening ability to resurface memories of abuse,” Michelle Goldberg observed: “It’s as if [he has] shaken a psychic snow globe, and now flickers of half-remembered horror are floating through the atmosphere all around us.” Those of us fortunate enough not to have experienced sexual assault are currently bearing witness to the struggles of our friends who weren’t so lucky. I’ve had conversations with female colleagues about their harassment and conversations with other female colleagues about miraculously avoiding harassment and what does that mean and is something wrong with them and what a fucked up question that is.
There are numberless ways to respond to trauma. Choose your own adventure! There’s fight (what aspiring model Ambra Gutierrez bravely did by going to the police after Weinstein fondled her), flight (how a journalist at the Ringer says she reacted to a drunk man trailing her around her neighborhood), freeze (what 90 percent of victims of sexual harassment do, according to experts), and fawn (some survivors, Manewitz told me, try desperately to please their abusers, because a gratified predator is less likely to hurt them). Some responses fit uneasily between categories. After Roman Polanski raped her, Samantha Geimer publicly forgave the director, asserting “I’m not going to carry a bunch of resentment. Much worse things have happened to people.” Women who enter into relationships with monsters may wish to protect themselves from the knowledge that they were harmed or exploited against their will. The most important ingredient in healing, says Manewitz, is the ability to control what your recovery looks like.
But how should we process each other’s pain? The news cycle “can activate stuff” for survivors, confirms Manewitz. “They are inundated with vicarious trauma on top of their own recovery.” The rest of us may feel “slowly eroded.” When a beautiful, respected, influential actor like Rose McGowan is booted from Twitter for discussing her rape, it is hard not to feel as though our own cascading feelings have nowhere to go. Together we are using our hands to explore the outline of something we can’t see, protesting at its jagged edges. This week it was rough to be a woman.
Why It’s Reasonable to Feel a Queasy Mix of Emotions About the “Shitty Media Men” Spreadsheet
In the wee hours of Thursday morning, BuzzFeed reported the existence of a Google spreadsheet full of alleged sexual misdeeds. Titled “SHITTY MEDIA MEN,” the document contains a list of a few dozen men in the media industry, each of whom was paired with a description of the accusations against him.
As of Thursday morning, some of the men on the list were labeled as stalkers or persistent harassers. There were detailed accounts of violence and rape—men on the list have allegedly forced nonconsensual anal sex, choked a woman “until she lost consciousness,” and taken off condoms without consent. Some, though, were named for misdeeds as murky as “weird lunch ‘dates’” and “creepy AF in the DMs.” The spreadsheet is anonymous, so no one can see who wrote what. It begins with a disclaimer: “This document is only
The Devastating Sadness of Harvey Weinstein Purchasing His Alleged Victims’ Stories
It took two comprehensive and chilling news reports, one from the New York Times and another from the New Yorker, to expose the truth about Harvey Weinstein. Before last Thursday, the film titan’s alleged sexual predations were an open secret to some, a flash in the peripheral vision of others. Now accusations are pouring out from Hollywood stars and aspiring actresses and those who worked for Weinstein’s production company. This is the sound of a decades-long silence broken, of a raft of confidentiality clauses being torn apart.
As Ronan Farrow explained in the New Yorker, “Weinstein and his associates used nondisclosure agreements, monetary payoffs, and legal threats to suppress [his accusers’] myriad stories.” Farrow’s piece quoted one female Weinstein Company employee anonymously, as “her lawyer advised her that she could be exposed to hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawsuits for violating the nondisclosure agreement attached to her employment contract.” The Times reported that Weinstein himself also reached at least eight settlement agreements, with his accusers typically getting between $80,000 and $150,000 in return for their silence. Rose McGowan received a $100,000 payment in 1997, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey wrote in the Times, “after an episode in a hotel room during the Sundance Film Festival. The $100,000 settlement was ‘not to be construed as an admission’ by Mr. Weinstein, but intended to ‘avoid litigation and buy peace,’ according to the legal document.”
Weinstein succeeded in purchasing “peace” with confidentiality agreements, at least for a time. There is a case to be made that such deals are beneficial to victims. As Vox writes, “a ban on confidentiality clauses in settlement agreements [could] reduce the size of payouts,” as defendants are likely willing to part with more money to settle claims on the sly. But in the case of Weinstein and other powerful alleged abusers, these contracts become yet another tool to exploit those who’ve already been exploited. “It felt like David versus Goliath,” one former employee told the New Yorker about Weinstein’s legal maneuvers in the 1990s. “The guy with all the money and the power flexing his muscle and quashing the allegations and getting rid of them.”
In deciding whether to accept a settlement with a prominent alleged harasser or abuser, women must choose between surrendering their stories (perhaps thereby perpetuating a cycle of abuse) and receiving no compensation for their suffering (and perhaps augmenting that suffering as the abuser retaliates). There is something devastatingly sad about this binary. What’s moral about a pact that predicates receiving justice on stifling your ability to describe the crime?
Literature is loud with ghoulish stories about women whose voices get stolen: Echo helplessly repeating others’ words; the princess Philomela, raped by the king of Thrace, who then cuts out her tongue to ensure her silence. There’s also Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of a sea hag ripping out a mermaid’s voice, an exchange that allows the maiden to walk on land and dance with the prince. This transaction makes the heroine look complicit in her own silencing, even though the power dynamics were always in the villain’s favor.
For men like Weinstein, R. Kelly, Bill O’Reilly, and Bill Cosby—just to name a few of the high-profile figures who’ve profited from nondisclosure agreements—gag orders brush a layer of volition over what is essentially intimidation. They create a self-serving tableau in which victims, rather than simply receiving restitution, are forced to barter for it.
That appearance of cooperation, of a contract that unites two unequal parties against the prying eyes of the world, diminishes the women while absolving the men. In signing a settlement agreement, a victim is coerced into a pose that compromises the public perception of her victimhood even as she cedes control of her narrative to unfriendly hands. It is as if, with their money and influence, Weinstein and his ilk have managed to buy shares in the ownership of reality itself. Meanwhile, the women they target must weigh the value of tending to their own lives against what is to be gained from protecting each other.
Should Celebrities Be Obligated to Disavow Harvey Weinstein?
Since the New York Times published a piece on the decades of sexual-harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein on Thursday, the entertainment industry has been quick to respond. New accusations surfaced from a TV journalist, a model, and an actress who was just 18 when Weinstein allegedly had her audition for him while he was wearing nothing but a dressing gown. Weinstein’s lawyer, Lisa Bloom, quit her post, and the board of directors of his own company terminated his employment.
But for several news outlets, some industry bigwigs aren’t moving fast enough. “Only One Of Hollywood's 25 Highest-Earning Stars Has Commented on Harvey Weinstein,” LAist claimed in a Monday piece. (That one was Mark Ruffalo, who declined to comment beyond a tweet about Weinstein’s “disgusting abuse of power.”) Both LAist and the Guardian contacted press representatives for several big-name actors and directors to see if they’d renounce Weinstein on the record. Few responded.
This angle mirrors a piece BuzzFeed published after the most recent sexual-abuse allegations against R. Kelly. The article was a simple list of 43 artists who’d worked with Kelly in the past and who BuzzFeed asked for comment about his alleged history of sexual manipulation. Unsurprisingly, none obliged. Celebrities are loath to comment on controversial topics that don’t directly concern them, especially when given just a day or two to respond.
Still, some people believe people in positions of power have a responsibility to make public statements against contemporaries who’ve done bad things. “Why are they being silent? What do they have to hide?” Zoe Brock, one of Weinstein’s accusers, asked the Guardian of entertainment-industry men who haven’t tweeted or spoken on the record about the explosive stories. The news outlet name-checks Michael Moore, Quentin Tarantino, and David O. Russell as men who’ve worked with Weinstein and have yet to say that his alleged abuses are wrong. (Russell, for what it’s worth, has admitted to groping his teenage niece.) As the public becomes more attuned to—and likely to believe—allegations of sexual assault against wealthy, powerful men, should other wealthy, powerful men and women be obliged to speak up, and face public condemnation if they don’t?
It’s hard to come up with a universally applicable rule about how industry compatriots should treat accused sexual harassers. On one hand, it’s far easier for a star to whitewash his image if other widely beloved stars lend their names to his creative projects. If a major celebrity like Pharrell, for instance, were to publicly disavow former collaborator Kelly, fans would no longer be able to cast doubt on Kelly’s alleged crimes by virtue of his wholesome-seeming professional connections. On the other hand, asking every famous person to immediately affirm that yes, sexual abuse is wrong, every time a creep is exposed feels rather pointless, especially now that Weinstein has been fired and it seems clear that his star in Hollywood has dimmed. If the goal is to change the culture of Hollywood, forcing celebrities to avoid public censure by shooting off hastily composed tweets is not going to do much good. Letting them process the news and examine their own roles in enabling or ignoring the alleged abuse before responding—especially when the stories are rapidly unfolding, as Weinstein’s is—could yield a far more meaningful engagement with the allegations.
For some celebrities, the New York Times piece and the New Yorker article, which dropped on Tuesday, might have been the first they’d heard of specific allegations against Weinstein. All instances of sexual harassment and abuse are wrong and should constitute fireable offenses, but some people in Hollywood may have remained silent up until this point because there is, of course, a spectrum of misbehavior between “has a reputation for being a lecherous creep” and “is a known sex criminal.” Television writer Angelina Burnett made a good point in a recent Twitter thread in which she noted that some older, more experienced actresses may have been insulated from Weinstein’s abuses by their own power in the industry. As an example, Burnett invoked Meryl Streep, who claimed in a statement that though “not everybody knew” about Weinstein’s alleged actions, “the behavior is inexcusable, but the abuse of power familiar.”
The Daily Beast’s Justin Miller called Streep’s statement “a self-serving exoneration of Hollywood,” criticizing her for releasing her statement only after Weinstein was fired. “Let’s see if the YAS KWEEN army sees through it,” an apparent reference to Streep’s female fans that sounds like it could have been delivered by a Breitbart writer. If this is the first Streep is hearing of the allegations against Weinstein, what else might she have said? And if Streep had heard stories—as Kate Winslet, Jessica Chastain, and many others say they had—what might she have done? When Chastain said stories about Weinstein “were everywhere” in the industry, Twitter users chastised her for neglecting to make those stories public. It took decades for the best-connected news outlets in the business to put together two stories about Weinstein that were tight and well-documented enough to withstand potential legal challenges. How could an actress with her own career to consider possibly gather enough information to launch her own investigation and anti-Weinstein publicity campaign? Should she have shared the stories of survivors of sexual assault and harassment without their consent, or pressured them to go public? Of course not—but a public eager to understand a decadeslong pattern of manipulation needs to blame someone who will listen, and Weinstein is not that person.
There are people other than Weinstein who deserve some share of the blame for this well-secreted scourge on Hollywood, and they aren’t random actresses who have heard rumors about Weinstein or been victimized by his harassment. Matt Damon and Russell Crowe allegedly pressured a former New York Times reporter to kill a 2004 story about one of the men reportedly charged with procuring vulnerable young women for Weinstein. Agents and managers arranged meetings between Weinstein and their young clients when some likely knew that the women would be pressured into sex in exchange for career advancement. Miramax and Weinstein Company executives—many of them women—allegedly went along with Weinstein’s favorite scheme, wherein he lured a mark to a meeting with the assurance that a woman would be there, only to have that woman leave Weinstein and his potential victim alone. Bloom used her reputation as a feminist lawyer to help launder Weinstein’s stained reputation. The Weinstein Company’s board of directors knew about the repeated allegations against the guy and did nothing to keep their employees safe.
These are the people who should be made to answer for their complicity in Weinstein’s alleged crimes. They should bear the responsibility of funding a system through which people in the entertainment industry can anonymously report harassment and find others who’ve been abused by the same perpetrator. They traded their silence for money at the expense of women Weinstein targeted for their youth and relative lack of power. Their response to Weinstein’s long-deserved comeuppance matters far more than Meryl Streep’s.
Harvey Weinstein Confessed to Groping Model in Grotesque Audio Recording Acquired by the New Yorker
The New Yorker published a blockbuster report on Tuesday further detailing years of alleged sexual harassment and adding new accusations of outright sexual assault by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.
Ronan Farrow wrote that, over the course of a 10-month investigation, he “was told by thirteen women that, between the nineteen-nineties and 2015, Weinstein sexually harassed or assaulted them…”
More from Farrow:
Three women—among them [Italian actor and director Asia] Argento and a former aspiring actress named Lucia Evans—told me that Weinstein raped them, allegations that include Weinstein forcibly performing or receiving oral sex and forcing vaginal sex. Four women said that they experienced unwanted touching that could be classified as an assault. In an audio recording captured during a New York Police Department sting operation in 2015 and made public here for the first time, Weinstein admits to groping a Filipina-Italian model named Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, describing it as behavior he is “used to.” Four of the women I interviewed cited encounters in which Weinstein exposed himself or masturbated in front of them.
In the audio recording, Gutierrez asks Weinstein “why yesterday you touch[ed] my breast,” and he responds “Oh, please, sorry, just come on in, I’m used to that.” When Gutierrez questions the fact that he’s “used to that,” Weinstein responds “yes,” and continues to encourage her to join him in going to his hotel room.
Here is that audio:
Listen to this Harvey Weinstein tape & ask yourself how so many powerful people remained silent for so long. pic.twitter.com/FhgOfINbBv— Robby Starbuck (@robbystarbuck) October 10, 2017
The new report follows on the publication of a piece by the New York Times that describes Weinstein’s history of alleged misconduct, but does not detail the reports of sexual assault or the audio recording of the NYPD’s sting operation on Weinstein.
Farrow also detailed how the case against Weinstein eventually was quashed following an apparent smear campaign against Gutierrez in the press. A source close to the matter told Farrow that, in exchange for a settlement, Gutierrez signed a highly restrictive nondisclosure agreement once the case was dropped and now will not discuss the case. The details of the incident and the other allegations against Weinstein are all covered in the article, which is worth reading in full.
In Praise of Morgan Hurd, Glasses-Wearing Gymnastics World Champion
On Friday night in Montreal, an American won the women’s all-around title at the World Gymnastics Championships. While the nationality of the winner wasn’t a surprise—U.S. women have now won the last seven all-around titles at the Olympics and world championships—the identity of the champion definitely was. As Dvora Meyers explained in a characteristically great post for Deadspin, 16-year-old Morgan Hurd wasn’t supposed to be the United States’ top contender; in this year’s U.S. championships, she finished in sixth place. And yet, thanks to injuries to other top gymnasts and her own breakthrough performance, the teenager from Delaware finished on top in Canada. The woman who, as Meyers pointed out, had no “career highlights” listed in her official USA Gymnastics biography is now the world champion.
As I am not a gymnastics expert, I can’t provide much insight into this floor routine. It was fun, though!
What I can tell you is that Hurd is wearing glasses, and that is cool.
Harvey Weinstein’s Success Amid Harassment Allegations Is Hollywood Business as Usual
On Thursday afternoon, the New York Times published a damning piece about A-list film and television producer Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior for nearly three decades. The Times found at least eight settlements Weinstein reached with women who have brought suits against him, including actress Rose McGowan and young employees of his company.
For years, both women and men told the Times, Weinstein has promised women help with their careers in exchange for sexual favors, naked massages, or their agreement to watch him bathe. They allege that he groped them, scheduled work meetings with them only to bring them to his hotel room and repeatedly proposition them for sex, and forced young female employees to wake him up in his bedroom or do “turndown duty” at night. Even female executives allegedly felt so uncomfortable around him that they wouldn’t be in a room with him alone.
Why the Internet Is Full of Feminist Quotes Falsely Attributed to Gloria Steinem
In the wake of unfathomable tragedy, it’s natural to turn to the wisdom of great thinkers—to put horror in context, to score political points, to soothe, or do all of the above. And so, in the days following the deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas this week, a quote comparing gun control to abortion has gone viral on Twitter and Instagram. One version of it reads:
I want any young men who buy a gun to be treated like young women who seek an abortion. Think about it: a mandatory 48-hours waiting period, written permission from a parent or a judge, a note from a doctor proving that he understands what he is about to do, time spent watching a video on individual and mass murders, traveling hundreds of miles at his own expense to the nearest gun shop, and walking through protestors [sic] holding photos of loved ones killed by guns, protestor [sic] who call him a murderer.
Most versions of the quote, including those circulated by high-profile users like Karlie Kloss, attribute it to Gloria Steinem. The venerable activist, however, didn’t come up with it herself. As Gabriella Paiella of The Cut observed this week, the most Steinem did was post it to her Facebook page in 2015 as part of a list of “Top Ten Things I Want For Christmas.” “This riff is not mine,” she added, “It’s on the Internet.” Just where “on the Internet” the righteous tirade originated isn’t clear; the trail goes dry before Steinem’s Christmas list.