Like many women, I have my own Harvey Weinstein-like stories.
Although the story of Harvey Weinstein misusing his power and influence to sexually harass and abuse women is shocking to many, the pattern of his obnoxious and unconscionable behavior is nothing new to our culture. Indeed, most women can name more than one time in their life when someone like Weinstein tried to pressure them with unwanted sexual talk, physical contact or advances, including me.
One incident that comes to mind is when I worked for the Hearst-owned San Antonio-Express News and was a very green and inexperienced reporter who was eager to learn and please. A managing editor from a Midland Hearst-owned paper came around the newsroom to meet everyone and see what the San Antonio paper was doing. He kept coming by my desk to chat throughout the day, and finally asked if I would go for a drink with him after work. I was a single mom, it was not my night with the kids, I thought I might learn something from him, so I said yes.
We got together and soon he began touching and trying to kiss me. I refused. We were having dinner in a restaurant and luckily I saw another reporter and her husband walk in, and I begged them to come sit with us. He continued his obnoxious and unwanted pursuit right in front of them. I was terrified to be too mean to him because in essence, he was a boss.
As soon as I took him back to his hotel I called my managing editor and told him what happened. Human Resources was brought in the next morning, the man completely admitted it, and what his punishment was going to be was all that needed to be decided. The paper begged me not to encourage his firing, as he was beloved by his staff in Midland. They promised they would demote him and see to it that he did not advance in his career, so I agreed.
A few years ago I checked to see what he was doing. Yep, he was editor of the newspaper — a huge promotion. So much for justice. I was told back then that I could sue the paper for all of this and expect to get about $40,000, but I would never be allowed to work in the newspaper business again.
I was labeled a troublemaker — shame on me for wanting a better world.
So you might understand why I had a reaction when reading that NBC quashed correspondent Ronan Farrow’s reporting on the Harvey Weinstein scandal. By all accounts, Farrow had women ready and willing to tell their stories, and also had the damning secret recordings of Weinstein doing his ugly sexual bullying. At one point NBC told Farrow to stop pursuing the story altogether. Finally they released him to report it elsewhere, and the rest is history — like the Berlin Wall, Weinstein came tumbling down, and deservedly so.
Reading all of this caused me to remember numerous incidents in my own life like the one above, and still another one while reporting as a features writer and columnist at the Express-News in the late 1990’s. For two years as I was chief reporter for Fiesta, a 10-day long party fest and festival with numerous events and parades from morning til night. I knew almost everyone involved in every aspect of events.
There is a Fiesta King each year, crowned by a group of men known as the Texas Cavaliers. The Cavaliers is a by-invitation-only organization and at that time consisted of mainly privileged white men who were conservative old rich, though I know they have since sprinkled in some men of color. They wear outfits that are bright sky blue with red trim, that look eerily similar to Nazi uniforms, and organize a River Parade during Fiesta that is world-renowned.
A huge Fiesta tradition is collecting Fiesta medals, and King Antonio has medals he or his assistants pin on the public he encounters.
This particular year I was getting a lot of voice mails and emails (mainly anonymous) claiming that old King Antonio was using pinning medals as an excuse to stick his hands in women’s bras and cop a feel or a pinch. The more I looked into it, I found women who said it happened to them, and that their boyfriend or husband saw it and was furious and it was all they could do to keep their partner from throwing King Antonio a purple shiner to go with his fancy red plume. One woman who talked to me was a local news anchor.
I took it to the editor of the paper, and each time he told me to gather more information. Whatever I had was never enough. Finally, a man called me who was a Cavalier insider, and he told me that the King had commanded that all flat-chested women be pinned by his assistants, and big-bosomed women reserved for him. Another woman called and told me that the Party Pix guy, who roamed many of the events, had snapped a photograph of her with King Antonio pinning a medal on her, and in it you could see The King’s hand far inside her dress, which was a tank-like garden dress. I went to the Party Pix store, and after roaming through several hundred photographs, found the one she told me about and a few others.
I bought those photographs and the editor said it wasn’t enough. The story never ran, and I was pretty disgusted and disillusioned about it. This sort of editorial omission has been going on forever. Every reporter has seen it. If the editor rubs elbows with the people you have found some unpleasant truths about, the chances of the story running can be small.
I hope we are entering a new era where women can courageously speak out against any sort of violation perpetrated on them by men, and especially the ones who abuse their power and position, and find a media with the equal amount of courage to report it. How else will we ever change this dark piece of our culture?
In the end, I had gotten to know many Cavaliers because of my reporting of their many Fiesta events and participation, and we had an extremely cordial relationship. When word spread that I was working on a story about their King that wasn’t so positive, many criticized me to my face, and I was shunned by the organization and the men in it. So the person doing the investigating risks isolation or personal and professional damage. Something all whistleblower types know a lot about. This is why so many women don’t speak out. The finger gets pointed at us. We become trouble-makers and lose friends and goodwill in the community and workplace.
As for me, I am grateful that this may be coming to an end. We all have to have to have the courage to fight for what is right, and men need to learn to treat us with respect, without exception.