My Ugly Weinstein Story
Mayim Bialik, who entered showbusiness aged 11, has never looked like the other Hollywood girls. She “felt like a troll compared to many of my contemporaries” according to her op-ed published in The New York Times this weekend. Women in Hollywood who, like her, don’t “represent an impossible standard of beauty have the ‘luxury’ of being overlooked” she writes, recommending that future ingenues dress “modestly”, like her, so as to not become prey to men like Harvey Weinstein. Of course, of course, she stipulates, men like him have got to change, but, it won’t happen “overnight” -boys will be boys for the foreseeable. And seeing as women are already so used to moulding themselves around men’s foibles, they probably won’t mind shapeshifting once more, to take flight and recuse themselves from the lustful gaze of smarmy predators. The advice is tired and worn: nothing can scrub away the assailant’s wrongness, so we instead set about dismantling the victim’s rightness.
We do it for self-loathing and we do it for self-preservation. When we hear of a 17-year-old, sexually assaulted three times by five men within an hour, just down the road, just round the corner from where we live, (please, if you recognise those men, tell the police),we agree that yeah, we never normally go down that road. As if it couldn’t be any other road. We say we never walk alone, when “alone” simply means “not on hands-free getting a pep talk from a friend you’ve woken up at 2am because you need an aural escort home”. We say we’re never going to be 17 again, as if youth isn’t just only one tiny tile of the mosaics of vulnerability that the worst men collect. We’re never going to be pretty, we say, not that pretty, we think. As if ugly is invisible.
Like an oleaginous fatberg, Weinstein has consumed so much of women’s bodies and minds that it’s going to take a collective effort to break him and his enablers down. I respect men enough to know they’re not born to rape, to know that when Weinstein attacked, he didn’t necessarily, as Léa Seydoux wrote in her stark account of his attempted assault on her just“lose control” of his rotten urgers. He enacted his control over others. When he sequestered these dozens of women, he was taking control. When he appeared naked in front of them, or demanded they kiss another woman, he was taking control. When he pinned down their wrists, he was taking control. When he strong-armed them into signing NDAs, he was taking control. When he gave out hush money disguised as book deals, he was taking control. All that power, until brave women had the strength to speak up.
I’ve been brave before and it’s not always worked. Shouting about my worst #MeToo did so little then, what’s it going to do now? But I’ve got a lot of #MeToos, so here goes again; maybe it’s so — literally — piddling more people will believe me this time. In December 2012, I was at a London screening of Django Unchained, as a guest of a friend. As soon as we arrived to the event’s location, The Soho Hotel, we rushed to the toilets. It was an industry event, so she wanted to look good, and I just wanted to look passably ok. The bathroom was full of women fussing over their make-up and hair, so once I made amends with my slovenliness, I offered to take my friend’s bag and wait for her in the corridor while she frantically pampered herself.
So I was here, back against the wall, facing the women’s toilets, perpendicular to the men’s.
A couple of men had gone in past me to use the toilet, and that was that. But after Weinstein (marked X) squeezed past me to get to the toilet, he went to Y in the diagram, as in “Why are you pissing there, right there in front of me?”. At one point, the door was open for ages. I didn’t know why then, I still don’t know why. But I do know no other man had been pissing in full view like that. And Weinstein knew I was there, he had just sidled past me, and by the time he came back past, he made a point of giving me a wide grin.
Up until a week ago, all I thought of Weinstein was: what a doddery old dinosaur. But now I know how he has snatched women’s bodies and minds, and how indecent exposure was part of his M.O. and I feel extra sick.
Because I smiled back, of course I smiled back. Here’s Harvey fucking Weinstein, a powerful man who has made some of my favourite films, acknowledging little schlubby me with the frizzy ginger hair, the smudgy glasses and the boys’ clothes. But what did he want from me? Blushes, maybe? We’ve now heard reports he told women working at London’s Savoy Hotel they were “ugly”, and flung his dirty underwear at them. Hadley Freeman, a Guardian journalist who dared write her criticisms after attending one of his BAFTA parties, saw this side of Weinstein too. He called up the paper to insist it publish his retort, something Freeman last week described as “the behaviour of a man who always has to show a woman he’s boss and, ideally, humiliate her, because he can”.
Maybe Weinstein thought I’d brag about getting to see this big powerful man take a suspiciously long wee. Turns out I kind of did.
I know you might think I’m lying, because, I know women who allege anything creepy of men will be judged. As well as being asked why they don’t change their behaviour (I was waiting for my friend where we’d agreed I’d wait) — either they’re too attractive to not be up for it (shoutout Donna Karan), or too unattractive to not be into it. You might suspect I just wanted a story to tell. But I was about to see Django Unchained two months before most of the world, in an elegant screening room full of people who dress up to go to screenings. If we’re talking bragging rights, that definitely beats seeing a man my dad’s age and my height’s diameter take a piss. You might regard me and suspect a man like Weinstein, who assaulted women with the equilibrian proportions of Greek goddesses, wouldn’t want anything sexual from me.
But that’s to presume he wanted sex from, and not control over, the women he harassed, assaulted and raped.
And power isn’t only in saying a woman is worth fucking, it’s in saying she’s not worth fucking. Both categories are cells in the same prison block: either your body is worth fucking with, or your mind might be worth fucking with. Never mind that the two are connected.
I’m a 29-year-old queer woman in London living like a 29-year-old queer woman in London. I’ve had monthly experiences that have upset me way more than a bloated studio exec pissing in my eyeline.
But Weinstein’s behaviour with me is the tail end of a pattern of him taking space from women’s bodies and minds. And I wonder, now, what about those small things some men do, those tiny symptoms of a wider problem that we don’t call out, that authorities, friends, relatives tell us to shrug off, because actual assault must be our priority? Doesn’t overlooking even the tiniest creepiness, the minutest of impositions, allow these guys to practice and get braver? Doesn’t the little stuff desensitise us to the worst stuff? It’s so easy to forget that minds, as well as the bodies connected to those minds, are being eroded day by day as well.
Before news of Weinstein’s abuses officially broke, the biggest story of gender inequity to come out of Hollywood was the gender pay gap. Women are valued less, money-wise, and it’s just awful. But now, with dozens of them casting light on the “casting couch”, showing what happened to them on the way up to — or what stopped them from reaching — Hollywood’s astral echelons, it’s clearer than ever that the pay gap is a symptom of Hollywood’s larger toxicity. And so long as women are being harassed, assaulted, and raped, in this institution and all the many, many others, issues like the gender pay gap tumble down the list of priorities. Yet we’re meant to think that the assaults on our bodies and minds aren’t all part of the same monster. We’re meant to think that chipping away at our psyche won’t make our bodies more pliable, that prodding our bodies won’t exhaust us.
Believing victims is, shamefully, still so qualified. Some of the women are still not believed, but if they are, it’s in part thanks to him being so unattractive; why would they ever say yes? But what of the women who tried to say no to the more telegenic of producers, the handsomer investors, the slick-looking professors, CEOS, line-managers, colleagues, clients?
And what of the women who said “yes” to Weinstein, and might need us to understand why. Because when women, even Weinstein’s victims, are turned into pariahs by sleazy press for being alone in a room with him, for feeling unable to escape or fight back, for not reporting him earlier, or subsequently attending events he hosted, how can the public begin to understand the “yes”es he was told? These “yes”es that were really “no”s, crushed under the pressure of sexual and physical intimidation, financial threats and the heaving weight of expectation.
Call me a radical idealist, but I want each brave person who’s survived sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape to feel emboldened and encouraged, especially by one another, to sink this behemoth and all the others like him. But to do this, we have to think harder about the parameters of acceptability.
I see no end to sexual violence until we teach young boys and young girls to feel equally entitled to emotional and physical space, until robust and up-to-date sex education is on all curriculae, until victims are believed and assailants caught. But I don’t want “Well, be grateful he didn’t rape you” to be the retort, spoken or thought, when we kvetch over men stealing women’s ideas, men’s mediocre output favoured over women’s good work, men being paid more than women, and men’s downfalls rendered far less steeper than women’s.
How can men respect our decisions over our bodies when they’re so happy to squat in our minds? And how can men stop preying on our minds and our purses when they still think our bodies are fair game? And how the fuck are we going to get some more female directors already? Dividing women into beauty and brains so as to render their purposefulness is exactly why there are more male directors rumoured to be abusive than there are female Oscar-winning directors.
Too many women are told their sexuality is their sole value, but this only works if there’s a flip-side of the coin where too many women are devalued because of their apparent lack of sexuality. And it’s high time we all recognise that pushing a woman away and calling her “that” grew in the exact same cesspool of misogyny that pulls her in and calls her “this”. Because “That bitch” is “this whore”, and there’s no “luxury” to any of it. The sexist who sneers at us enables the sexist who rapes us. And if you hate women, you hate women. That’s the ugly truth.