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What we talk about when we talk about Harvey Weinstein

Posted in Life & Love, and Women's issues

I composed this post while running, the deep-seated rage fueling my uphill strides more powerfully than an engine.

If you are a woman in America, right now, especially when gathering with other women, the conversation always veers towards Harvey Weinstein. With a cascade of women coming forward, every day, from all walks of life, the pundits are calling this a “watershed moment”.

At one such female get together, a young woman in her mid-thirties I had never met before marvelled at women’s silence. “I can’t understand why they didn’t scream or run away” she mused from under her blond bangs.

I thought of the generational gap between us and that, perhaps, things are really changing.
“It’s not so black and white as you make it out to be” I said “I am culpable, like many women my age, of aiding and abetting such behavior through my silence.”

There are four instances I can think of when I was physically molested over the course of my work duties. For fifteen years I worked in the music business, an intensely male dominated industry, a boys club par excellence. When I first started, there were a couple of women in management’s positions, and neither of them was at the top of the heap. Everyone else was a secretary (a term now embellished to assistant) or worked in promotion. Like everybody else, I worked, climbed and elbowed my way up. Always with dignity but very aware that being accepted in the boys’ club was paramount.

I was never raped but in all the four instances when a man (three artists and one actor to be precise) put his hands on me, chasing me around a room (or the back of a limo) I was working. One of them was so aggressive I had to call the reception at the hotel where we were staying to extricate myself. Each time, the men were either drunk or high, which made their behavior easier to reason away.

In the case of the more aggressive musician, the following day I complained to the leader of the band and their manager. “Oh, you know how he gets when he is drunk”, the singer said. The same singer who thought nothing of receiving me into his room naked to discuss business. The same (talented, beautiful, smart, highly successful) singer who, ten years later, sent the same musician into rehab under threat of kicking him out of the band. I imagine the drinking had interfered with his marvelous playing and had nothing to do with sexual assault. And I did not feel an ounce of vindication.

I never spoke up because I instinctively knew that I would have been labelled a nag, a complainer, one who can’t take a joke, who didn’t belong and I would have been marginalized. When the balance of power is so heavily tilted in one direction, you protect yourself and shut up.

So I sat through countless lewd comments aimed at me or other women; through the recounting of countless sexual exploits that objectified women with nothing more than a passing comment, uttered with a smile “Oh you are such assholes”, as if I were sweetly scalding a four-year old. Because, more than anything, I wanted to belong.

I sat through verbal abuse from more than one artists’ manager – tirades they wouldn’t have directed to my male boss. In one instance, the manager’s assistant called me to say “you know how he gets – it’s not about you”. It might not have been about me but I spent one weekend crying in frustration, mostly because I felt there was nothing to be done. He was a prestigious artist, a feather in my resume but, most importantly, a project that was tied to my end of year bonus, to my raises. Complaining would have meant losing him and the financial rewards that went with him.

Do I regret it now? Of course I do. Would I behave the same now? Most definitely not. But I also know, without a shadow of a doubt, that if I had voiced my complaints on a regular basis, my career would have suffered.

All this happened in the three different countries where I worked but a special mention goes to Italy, a country where being desirable is still part of one’s resume: there, I didn’t stand a chance. Talking to an Italian friend a few days ago, she said that it was par for the course, that growing up in Italy you can’t escape the comments, the catcalls, the harassment. It’s just the way it is. Well, yes but it’s the way it is because we, as women, have validated such behavior through silence and justification. Especially in Italy, we never really banded together but were too busy elbowing each other out of the picture instead of presenting a unified front. And, that, I do regret. No amount of mentoring of women I ever did – and still do – will erase the fact that my complicit silence made it harder for all those who came after me.

When I left the music industry, the artist’s manager who screamed at me more times I can recall, sent me a pair of earrings and a bracelet from Tiffany. To this day, they still sit in their robin egg blue box in a drawer, never worn. On the other hand, the Versace shoes another artist gifted me as a thank you – someone who was always courteous, respectful, a gentleman – have been worn to death.

 

 

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15 Comments

  1. Bravo for your voice and of all those who can no longer remain silent in the face of abject and abusive power. I pray this is a watershed moment and abusers learn this is no longer accepted or will be tolerated. Whatever their gender.

    November 4, 2017
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    • I wonder if it’s the time men (certain men) learn their lesson and we can all move on.

      November 5, 2017
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  2. Ellie
    Ellie

    Oh dear I know I’m going to go over the top commenting on this subject !!! So glad you wrote about it.
    A gay friend of mine who’s an actor, has many stories to tell about how he could have had a more successful career.
    A male colleague of mine also told me how a very powerful woman in publishing made it quite clear what his tasks would be if he wanted to make a career for himself.These two examples come from Italy – and don’t have women on the receiving end. My point is everyone is involved to a greater or lesser degree, regardless of gender or country.
    Having worked in the same industry as you Claudia, I totally understand what you’re saying.
    No one should be forced into a difficult situation, under any circumstances – it’s about respect of course.
    I handed in my resignation after my boss made a (non-physical) pass at me at the end of an evening out with an artist. It wasn’t a question of him forcing himself upon me, because he didn’t, it was a question of the ensuing loss of trust and respect in the work relationship.
    When I told a trustworthy colleague the reason I was leaving – she said “Oh he’s done that to all of us!!”
    So, I should have brushed it aside, as they had done, since this man could have been beneficial to my career.
    Some time later that same ex boss made a point of apologizing to me. I considered it a late and great personal success, but in terms of the rest of the world, success is quite a different matter. The truth is I would be laughed at for this – what !?! and he didn’t even touch you !!!
    But in the much harsher examples you give, if you’d voiced your complaints your career would not have just suffered, it would have been well and truly over.
    People need to keep their jobs safe and if you have allegations to make you need to be very very sure you can prove them.
    So would anyone have been able to press charges against Harvey Weinstein in his heyday?
    The answer to the young woman with the blond bangs you spoke to is that screaming and running away is what would happen in high school – the circumstances in a power-driven work situation are very different, as you quite rightly explained here.
    The ‘boys club’ stretches far and wide and beyond – often you have to wait for the time to be ripe, for conventions to become wise and wisdom to become conventional. It is therefore very important, as Leonor says, what happens after the floodgates open – and hope that it won’t only last until the next new story…….

    October 31, 2017
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    • Having worked in three countries, I would venture to say that Italy is much worse than the UK and the States. Maybe because sex is so pervasive (or the idea of it) Italians are apt to condone more. Wrongly. We have all been there, you included.

      November 1, 2017
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      • Ellie
        Ellie

        I agree with you – and about Italy. My point was that in general it’s all about power, which gets mixed up with sex, and if women join other sex victims a united stand can be taken, which can be more effective.
        In fact in the US gay men are speaking out as well. It takes time as well as effort to make changes.
        Can I share two thoughts with you ? In the UK when I was 18 and uncertain about who to vote for my very first time, the lady who lived nextdoor said to me very smartly, “What! Make up your mind and go out and vote, other women died so you could have that right”. It wasn’t just a history lesson at school! – it was a message from one generation of women to another, I’ve never ever forgotten her words and I have always passed them on. Lest we forget,
        In Italy, religion and all its connotations is also a culprit – I shall spare you my comments on that!!! – but it is interesting to note when women’s suffrage was achieved – in Italy it was 1947, compared to New Zealand and Australia (which get my vote!!!) where women were voting from the 1890s!!! (in Europe while Finland and Sweden come top, Switzerland takes an atrocious last place – in the last canton it was 1991!!!!!).

        November 3, 2017
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  3. Like women the world over, I too have been gripped by the tsunami of women who have now come out to say that Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed or raped them. Of course being a woman who is now in her late 60s, I can clearly recall the inappropriate sexual behaviour of senior colleagues when I was working in the 1970s. It should be different now, but is it?

    I arrived in London from South Africa in 1972, I thought I knew about life, but in fact was fairly naive. I needed a job and found one that seemed ideal. Library Assistant for a famous architectural publishing house that produces (to this day) two internationally respected magazines and several books on aspects of architecture each year.

    On my 2nd day on the job, my boss, the Librarian – a delightful woman who was 8-10years older than me, said “By the way, try not to be on your own with Pxxxx Bxxxxx the Buildings Editor as he can be rather touchy-feely”. I nodded wisely. Mid-morning one week later I was sitting typing up cards for the library catalogue (remember them?!) when the said PB entered the library. My boss was not in the library so I was on my own. PB mooched around the library taking books off the shelves whilst humming to himself. Suddenly he came up behind me in my chair, thrust his hands over my shoulders and into my dress (a summer cotton shift with a scoop neck) under my bra and grabbed both my breasts saying “dear little titties I want to squeeze them” … despite the ‘forewarning’ I was aghast. I shot to my feet, squeaked something and bolted from the room.

    An hour or two later after I had calmed down a bit, I became angry and decided to put a formal complaint to the overall Editor – the top man. I had to make an appointment to see him, and as I did so, his secretary (gatekeeper) asked what it was about. When I told her she said “my dear, are you really sure you want to do this? PB is a valued member of the editorial team, you on the other-hand are a very young and very new employee – who do you think will lose their job?”.

    So I slunk off with my tail between my legs and chalked it up to ‘life experience’. Some years later, after I had move on to other things, i discovered that virtually every young woman who worked in the company, both before, during and after me, had suffered from the same or worse behaviour from PB. He was a predator.
    He is now retired having been showered with honours for ‘services to architecture’.

    Yes, in a perfect world I should have raised a stink, pushed the complaint, BUT I needed that job, I had to pay my rent.

    And I am fairly sure that this will keep on happening for similar reasons. The only difference might be that nowadays females in positions of power may importune young male employees.

    Its not just in Hollywood, not just on Wall Street, not just in the House of Commons – its something ALL women deal with on a daily basis in every walk of life.

    October 31, 2017
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    • What gives me pause is that women in low paid jobs, in factories, fast food places etc are even more at the mercy of predators and with far fewer resources to do something about it. Your story is pretty dire – that someone could feel entitled to reach out and touch a body part. Especially then, men knew there wouldn’t be consequences (they couldn’t really think they were welcome, could they?).

      November 1, 2017
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  4. winstonmoreton
    winstonmoreton

    Hard to reply as one reading from a male perspective. Reaching back to the 1980’s I certainly saw males taking advantage of their positions and punished for it. A senior private lawyer, who attempted to justify his actions from a sense of entitlement defrocked, a society dentist made to pay secret compensation and the Deputy Mayor of Christchurch, who had worked as an airline doctor assessing young female crew applicants, jailed. John Key our charming former PM was publicly shamed 18 or so months ago for tugging a waitress’s ponytail. So I guess I can only reinforce your story and applaud the relatively recent media support for those who speak up.

    October 31, 2017
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  5. Well said. Have you thought about doing something like selling those unused Tiffany items and donating the proceeds to a group like RAINN or to a women’s shelter?

    October 31, 2017
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  6. I don’t just like this, I love it.

    October 31, 2017
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  7. I’ve been waiting to read your words on this issue. It’s very disturbing to imagine how most women around us (me included) could use the trending hashtag MeToo and talk about their experiences with male dominance and sexual abuse. We don’t prepare our future generations enough for this, and we certainly forget that, more than teaching girls to be wary, we need to teach boys it’s never ok to negate consent.
    As I write this, today’s Evening Standard (one of the free newspapers one reads on the tube) has this headline: “Kevin Spacey abused a 14-year-old boy.” I think we’ve opened the floodgates and new stories are pouring out, but this will only last until the next new story comes along and this is all forgotten… To paraphrase a certain bully we know: “so sad.”

    October 31, 2017
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    • I agree with you – educating boys is key (wait, the Evening Standard is free??).

      November 1, 2017
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