Trigger Warning: abuse (emotional, sexual, verbal); anger issues; bullying (blackmailing); manipulation; misogyny; narcissistic personality disorder; rape (sexual assault, sexual harassment); sexism (misogynistic language); trauma (PTSD)
I think it’s weird that, with sexual harassment and assault being my biggest fear, I can read stories centered around this violent crime.
I last read and wrote about this topic when I reviewed Chanel Miller’s Know My Name.
Reading and writing about it never get easier.
Just like experiencing it never gets easier.
If memory serves, the first time I experienced sexual harassment, I was 11 years old, a skinny 6th grader, already embarrassed to have to wear a training bra. My mom assured me no one would even notice. But, I think she overestimated the male bullies’ character in my class who followed me around all week, taunting “TRAINER! TRAINER! TRAINER!” at the top of their lungs.
I remember crying at least once a day.
For a long while, I wrote this off as “dumb guy behavior.” As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that not all men behave this way. Many are complicit in it, however. I also knew that certain men don’t outgrow this behavior.
Since I was 11 (I’m now 33), sexual harassment and assault have dotted my life experiences like plots on a graph.
Most of the guys I know, the ones who are my friends and family members, don’t act like that.
So, to me, it’s a complete myth that there is some uncontrollable trait in males specifically that excuses bad behavior.
It’s not okay. Nor has it ever been okay.
It’s just that now, people are finally speaking up about it.
“The gender debate in the United States already seemed saturated with feeling: opinion columns, memoirs, expressions of outrage or sisterhood on social media. It needed more exposure of hidden facts. Especially about the workplace. Workers, from the most elite to the lowliest, were often afraid to question their employers. Reporters were not . . . . gender was not just a topic, but a kind of investigative entry point. Because women were still outsiders of many organizations, documenting what they experience meant seeing how power functioned”Kantor & Twohey 10
“In each industry, harassment had its own particular sociology. In restaurants, liquor was omnipresent at the workplace, eroding judgment and loosening inhibitions, and managers were often loath to confront customers who got out of line. Silicon Valley was filled with young men who got rich over night and felt accountable to no one. In shipyards, construction sites, and other traditionally male workplaces, men sometimes tried to drive women out by putting them in physical danger”Kantor & Twohey 51
That’s what New York Times investigative reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey illuminate in their book, She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story that Helped Ignite a Movement.
Kantor and Twohey broke the story on Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault and abuse of his female employees and stars in his films.
Chances are, you’ve seen a movie produced by Weinstein’s company. Chances are, you love one of those movies. The film Emma (1996), starring Gwyneth Paltrow, is one of my favorites. I saw it when I was ten, and it is the film that got me excited about Jane Austen novels.
Listen. It’s still a good movie. I can like the film but hate the producer for what he’s done to countless actresses and female employees, including Paltrow.
Kantor and Twohey write She Said much in the same way Woodward and Bernstein wrote All the President’s Men. It’s a story about a story. They recount how they came to be the reporters on this beat, how they investigated allegations about Weinstein, and how they verified those allegations through sources.
“This is also a story about investigative journalism, beginning with the first uncertain days of our reporting, when we know very little and almost no one would speak to us”Kantor & Twohey 2
Paltrow ultimately became one of their on-the-record sources, confirming Weinstein’s attempted abuse of her as well as others, despite threats and harassment from Weinstein himself.
“‘I didn’t know if I was going to be dragged through the mud . . . .That’s usually what happens to women if you look, historically”Paltrow in Kantor & Twohey 41
Rose McGowan and Ashley Judd, also prominent actresses, ultimately went on the record with the reporters. In fact, McGowan was the first to speak up about her assault to the press. Along with elite actresses, women who worked for his company experienced the brunt of his lewd behavior. So did women who came to work for the company or star in its movies and whose careers were demolished because they put off his unsolicited advances.
“now she and Jodi were glimpsing an entirely new category of possible victims: employees of Weinstein’s companies. The woman who had stood next to Megan in the kitchen — perhaps the Patient Zero of the Weinstein investigation — wasn’t famous at all. And she had been young and vulnerable when she worked at Miramax. Could the producer have abused women more systemically than she or Jodi had ever contemplated? How many women had he victimized since, and would things have been different if the former assistant had been able to speak freely?”Kantor & Twohey 58
Nearly every source did not want to go on the record with the authors for fear of losing their reputations, jobs, status, privacy, or sense of peace. Nevertheless, with a balance of compassion and respect for Logos, Kantor and Twohey published an accurate story that ultimately helped hold Weinstein accountable and keep him from further harming women in the workplace.
“Later, people would say that two women had broken the Weinstein story, but it had really been there . . . . Even if the reporters did manage to persuade one or two women, that could lead to the old ‘he said, she said’ problem. The Weinstein story would have to be broken with evidence: on the record accounts, ideally, but also the overwhelming force of written, legal, and financial proof”Twohey & Kantor 47-8
Kantor and Twohey expertly describe what it was like for a female source to speak out against a powerful man like Weinstein. They hit the nail on the head of what it feels like for women to choose between peace of mind and speaking out against their abuser.
“‘He counted on my shame to keep me silent’”Israel in Kantor & Twohey 61
“The harsh truth about confidentiality clauses: They served perpetrators of sexual misconduct too”Kantor & Twohey 78
“‘Sexual harassment was often rumored, rarely revealed. Sadly, shamefully, very few of us had the courage or wherewithal to confront it’”Weinstein employee in Kantor & Twohey 147
Weinstein denied everything and tried to steer the narrative, of course, through abusive tactics. But, when his brother and business partner went on the record, confirming the allegations, it became difficult for Weinstein to keep control of that narrative.
“The Weinstein Company board had in fact been aware of claims of sexual misconduct against Weinstein and aside from a written code of conduct, had basically looked the other way”Kantor & Twohey 143
“Exerting pressure like that might have worked elsewhere, but it would prove worthless at the Times”Kantor & Twohey 91
Despite his steering, Kantor and Twohey’s story and other reporting launched the #TimesUp Movement in Hollywood and boosted the #MeToo movement.
“If the reporters failed to publish their findings, he might go on to hurt someone else”Kantor & Twohey 137
Just as a handful of my students finished this book for their nonfiction book clubs last year, a jury found Weinstein guilty of two charges of rape. More than 80 allegations are still on the record. For me, this was the first time I actually felt like we made progress as a society towards holding rapists accountable for their actions.
“An emerging consensus that speaking up about sexual harassment and abuse was admirable, not shame or disloyal. A cautionary tale about how that kind of behavior could become a grave risk for employers. Most of all, it marked an emerging agreement that Weinstein-like conduct was unequivocally wrong and should not be tolerated”Kantor & Twohey 181
“The key to change was a new sense of accountability: As women gained confidence that telling their stories would lead to action, more of them opened up”Kantor & Twohey 182
The second half of Kantor and Twohey’s book focuses on their reporting on Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford when she testified that then-Supreme Court Justice nominee Bret Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were in high school.
Despite all the strides society made in the wake of the Weinstein scandal, the animosity Dr. Blasey-Ford faced shows just how much further we have to go until survivors get justice and we hold assailants accountable.
“But something larger at stake is Ford’s odyssey too: the continued question of what drives and impedes progress. The #MeToo movement is an example of social change in our time but is also a test of it: In this fractured environment, will all of us be able to forge a new set of mutually fair rules and protections?”Kantor & Twohey 5
“The wheel of progress could slow, or even spin in the opposite direction”Kantor & Twohey 206
“The ambivalence she had originally felt about going public seemed like it might last a very long time”Kantor & Twohey 244
Even though the Weinstein case brought more promise than ever that rapists and perpetrators of sexual harassment and misconduct will face accountability, the disregard shown for Dr. Blasey-Ford’s testimony tells me that we still have a long way to go before this systemic problem no longer disproportionately plagues our sisters, mothers, daughters, and friends.
“Problems that are not seen cannot be addressed. In our world of journalism, the story was the end, the result, the final product. But in the world at large, the emergence of new information was just the beginning — of conversation, action, change”Kantor & Twohey 261
Reading, writing, and talking about this topic still hurts.
But the allowance of harmful and violent sexual behavior needs to end in total.
So . . . let’s keep talking.