Weinstein and his ilk

The whole Harvey Weinstein incident has rattled me. First, I am relieved that after decades of harassment the man was exposed and has been disinvited from various professional organizations (but not criminally charged as of this post). Second, I keep thinking, after decades? Why was this man (among others) able to operate this way, over and over?

Of course I know why, and therefore appreciated Sarah Polley's New York Times essay, "The Men You Meet Making Movies". She calls Weinstein "just one festering pustule in a diseased industry", and also says, "...while I've met quite a few humane, kind, sensitive male directors and producers...sadly they are the exception and not the rule."

I was harassed recently, at, of all places, my brother's wake. Late in the evening, I was talking to Phil, a longtime family friend; his wife, Peggy, stood several paces away, in conversation with someone else. He admired my long scarf, put his hands on the fabric, and slid one underneath: a definite grope. I froze, absolutely aghast at what had happened. He continued chatting amiably, though I had stopped speaking.

I stepped away, sought a niece, and asked her if he had a reputation for touching women. "Oh, Phil, she said dismissively, "Yeah, when he's drinking." Dismayed by her attitude, I next spoke to my sister-in-law, but did not mention the incident initially; I was going to work up to that.

She told me with deep feeling that Phil, who had made a fortune in real estate investment, had many ideas for marketing their farm, and was going to provide valuable assistance to her agent. Since my brother had died mired in financial problems, she saw Phil's help as a godsend.

In that moment, faced with her need, I could not bring it to her. As Polley says, "In your own time, on your own terms is a notion I cling to, when it comes to talking about experiences of powerlessness."

When I said to a friend, "And in a house full of grieving people!", she replied, "He knew he could get away with it precisely because of the situation. A certain kind of man will take any opportunity, and it really does not matter who the target is."

At a usual party, I would have said, "Stop that!" in stentorian tones. And, so that everyone nearby could hear, "Harvey Weinstein clone, Phil?"

But I only glared and stepped away.

I also thought, It just never ends for women. Some say that those harassed by Weinstein "should just have left the room".  In a way, I'my grateful for my experience—less invasive than that of those who encountered Weinstein and certainly Bill Cosby— because I saw with instantaneous clarity what warps the agency we believe we have. The setting, for one, and assumptions about what is appropriate social behaviour.

The main difference between my encounter and a young actor's in Weinstein's suite is that there was no power differential, no promise that going along would bring a role. Phil was, however, as brazenly misogynistic as the creep on the bus who "accidentally" brushes too close.  There are levels;  none is acceptable.

Caught by surprise, I didn't think about alternatives. Why, I asked myself later, didn't I invite him outside and speak to him out of earshot? Even if he were hostile, he'd be on notice. (Even imagining what I wish I'd done, I would not have involved my family.)

Instead, my thoughts were, I can't do anything now, not with everyone shattered. I can't introduce more pain into this house.

I only hope when he tries it again, somebody takes him on. And I promised myself that I will do the same, because when a woman confronts a harasser, she is very likely acting not only for herself, but for any number of women (and sometimes men) who did not.


Kim said…
You should warn your sister-in-law. She is grieving and needs Phil's help. She is ripe for that kind of abuse.
Venasque said…
Kim is right. You need to tell her, and soon. I always wonder what makes these men think that this is appropriate or welcome. I also always wonder why we feel so powerless in these situations. You feel like a deer in the headlights and just freeze. Afterwards you beat yourself up with "I should have" and "why didn't I". But somehow we never do. I can't think there's a woman alive who has not been in a similar situation, even if it's "only" the guy on the bus.
Duchesse said…
Kim and Venasque: You are right. I am talking to my niece, and having her issue the warning. That way his behaviour will be presented as "You know how Phil can be and we want you to be careful", not "Do you know what happened at the memorial?" I am balancing the need to warn her with some family history.
angiemanzi said…
I am reminded of a few noteworthy incidents prior to Weinstein the Pig's outing. Meryl Streep calling him a "God" at the Oscars. The standing ovation for Roman Polanski at the Oscars. The Michael Moore Puritan Parody during the "it's only about sex" Clinton impeachment hearings. The road signs for men in obvious power who are serial sexual abusers have been there for years. Why didn't Brad Pitt, who was involved intimately with two of the women who have spoken out about Weinstein, come forth YEARS AGO? Why didn't that "feminist" Ashley Judd come out about him YEARS AGO?? The stench of hypocrisy is almost too much to bear and fat, revolting, and judging by his general demeanor, vile Harvey is the poster child for it. If it weren't such a pathetic and disgusting saga, it would be almost laughable.
Duchesse said…
angiemanzi: I do not view that Pitt or any other man should share personal information about another person with the press. (He could, however, condemn such behaviour without revealing his partner's private life.) Judd has spoken openly about her mental health issues, which have sidetracked her career. it is a lot to expect her to out Weinstein. Yes, she could have- and now others known and unknown are doing so, along with her.

I do not view sharing personal details in the press as requisite for holding feminist values. And yes, there is hypocrisy. (Polley's article addresses that.)

There will always be professional honours conferred on persons whose personal behaviour is reprehensible, and not just in the arts. Here in Québec, a much-lauded director's name was removed from a film award and at least eight streets and parks that had been named in his honour when a book revealed his history of pedophilia: Claude Jutra. Colleagues said it was"common knowledge in the industry."

Finally, Weinstein's physical attributes are irrelevant. It doesn't matter whether the man is ugly or handsome, abuse is abuse.

Since this whole conversation has started, I've been remembering the various incidents of harassment I've experienced, and I think that being surprised is a big reason that a lot of incidents don't turn out the way I would have wanted them to. If I could go back to some times and places, I'd be a LOT more loud and quite a bit more harmful - but I was young, and naive, and caught off guard.

I'm glad you weren't permanently scarred by this, and that (as is so typical of your generosity) you've used this as an opportunity for the conversation to continue.

Madame Là-bas said…
It is all about misogyny! As women, we are subjected to this abuse from girlhood and we are often too embarrassed to make the loud noise that this behaviour warrants. We're at school or at work...it's a family friend...In retrospect, we could have behaved differently but the predator knows that he is likely going to get away with the grope.

I'm sorry that you encountered this poor behaviour at a memorial for your brother. Thank you for writing about a topic which has personal relevance to all women not just those in the film industry.
Eve said…
Duchesse, I thank you for writing on the subject. Every woman alive has experienced inappropriate attention from predators. Many men will never believe the habitual level of low-key abuse that we are likely to face all though our life.

Yes, this kind of abuse often occurs in unlikely circumstances and women are too surprised and embarrassed to speak up.

Like the time I was visiting my father in his retirement home and that his habitual table companion met me at the salad table to inform me that it was his birthday. As I advanced to shake his hand and wish him well, he grabbed my breast. The man was eighty years old if a day ! I was shocked speechless and I just returned to my father keeping my indignation to myself. I did not want to ruin his day. Later, a lady who saw the scene told me to stay clear of the man as it was a habitual behaviour. Too late........

I was also groped by a woman in a depanneur once ! I was eighteen and innocent but very quickly realized what had happened (and kept silent as she exited the store).

I hope that this sad story of W.'s exposure and condemnation will serve as a waking call to others to stop their behaviour but understand that there are many "enablers" involved in habitual abuse of those hi-level power-trippers who think that they can do everything they want with their victims, get help doing it and get away with it.

Venasque said…
Madame Là-bas - We also think to ourselves "Did I do something that made him think this was OK" or that's it's our fault in some way. I can only think this is socialization to some degree.
Duchesse said…
Venasque and Eve Benoit: Some years ago, I was on a bus when a woman, equipped with a powerful voice (which sounded professionally trained) said, so that everyone could hear, "This hand on my bottom belongs to WHO???" She held it aloft. That was an aha moment for me. If looks could kill, the man, a nondescript guy of about fifty, would have perished on the spot.
Susan said…
You don't need to protect Phil. He's the one who made the rotten choice to grope you, not just in any room full of grieving people, but at *your brother's* wake. His disrespect and false sense of entitlement is his problem, not yours. He doesn't deserve to get away with that.

You could send him an email (put it all in writing) and copy his wife. Also, telling your sister-in-law would be an act of love because it helps to protect her.

Thanks for sharing your writing, I enjoy your blog.
Jean Shaw said…
I'm glad you're going to discuss this all with your niece, as your sister-in-law does need to know what's up.

Glares are good--I've given a couple of them over the years--but "This hand on my bottom" wins the prize. Perfection!
I think you've figured out how to best convey this nasty news.

The bus thing reminded me of a particular bus route in Rome which was infamous both for pickpockets and for gropers. A guy actually rubbed his crotch against my bum. Yecch.

Here we remember Jian Ghomeshi (yes, that one was cute, but just as disgusting a pig as Weinstein) and the journalists Antonia Zerbisias and Sue Montgomery who started Raped not reported. Sadly, macho jerks are still harassing Montgomery, who is running for the mayoralty of the borough/arrondissement of CDN-NDG in central western Montréal. There were many graffiti in that neighbourhood labelling her a "slut" and evocative of sex acts.
Duchesse said…
Susan: I had no urge tp protect Phil! I did not want to introduce rancor and further pain into a gathering where so many were already struggling to maintain composure in a very emotional atmosphere. I think my look said plenty, but in any other setting, even if it embarrassed persons there, I'd be more forthright. I have done so in the past.
Susan said…
As you probably well realize, your sister in law has no need of Phil's real estate expertise to sell her farm. He would use this entrance as an opportunity. I can just see it. I'm glad you are talking to your niece asap.
Duchesse said…
Susan: Believe me, I don't want Phil anywhere near her! However, the farm is a specialized property and (unfortunately) he does have expertise and certain contacts. The agent, a friend, does not have experience and said so. I will make sure the message gets through to her, and am willing to bet she already knows something, as my niece was aware. SIL is a very sharp woman. I really appreciate everyone's concern for her, because following a sudden loss, even a person who has solid judgement can be vulnerable.
Kamchick said…
I'm so sorry that this happened to you in such a difficult circumstance. A lack of respect for women often, it seems to me, goes right back to family of origin. Your niece should understand that the fact that the man is 'drinking' does not give him any excuse for disrespectful behaviour. If this had happened to me, I would be inclined to inform my sister-in-law directly as harsh as that might seem when she is already dealing with loss and grief.
Francie Newcomb said…
I'm sorry you had to go through that, especially at that time. This makes me so angry. Thanks for writing about it so well.
Unknown said…
I wonder in this situation, what ultimately should be done. Unlike many cases of harrasment, this is not between someone very powerful and someone very weak (at least on the surface), but to two members of a family. Do you/should you stop seeing Phil?

Something very similar happened to a friend of mine -- she was groped by a friend. She continued to see him socially, he continued to grope, she asked him to stop, he didn't . . . but she continued to see him (and his wife) with her husband. It confused many of us, who had difficulty in understanding why she just didn't end the "friendship".

But I might be missing something . . .
Duchesse said…
Toni Dosik: He is not a member of the family. He and his wife were close friends of my brother and his wife. If it were a family member I would have handled it totally differently especially since, other than my SIL I am now the oldest one.

Kamchik: Yes, my niece should not cut anyone slack because they are drinking. At some point I will discuss this with her directly (we live very far apart) but first I want her in a little better shape. She has a lot to deal with.

FranciNewcomb: Thanks, it seemed what with the Weinstein case important to me to write this. And also, women my age may think they are "too old to be bothered by a creep"- but we are not.

Beth said…
I'm sorry and angry that happened to you. There's no excuse.

I wrote about endemic harassment, abuse, and the #MeToo phenomenon on my blog. Like many other women, it's been painful to revisit these experiences from the past, but I'm deeply touched and also encouraged by what so many women have been sharing, and their willingness to speak out. It's our only hope to end this behavior.
Jill said…
I am glad we are having this discussion. So many of us, me included, have suffered the disrespectful treatment of our bodies as if we were objects to be handled at will for a man's gratification. Some males seem to consider it a perk of their success-witness the US president who, sadly, stands among other presidents and politicians who have shown disgraceful behavior towards women. This attitude starts young, I believe. In my area there is a private, prestigious high school which apparently has a tradition called the "senior salute" where male seniors are encouraged to bed younger female students. One senior was accused of rape and the outcry of many parents seemed to defend the male being tried. The young victim has been very brave in speaking out, but it is still a question as to whether the school knew of this 'tradition' and just turned a blind eye. Educating both male and female children as to the respectful treatment of others has to be part of their upbringing. It is great we women are talking about this, but a productive discussion has to also includes males, and the locker room attitudes that seem to perpetuate this abusive behavior. Everyone deserves the dignity of choice when it comes to the treatment of their bodies.
Duchesse said…
Unknown: You are describing what is called "rape culture", and it is pervasive in certain institutions. Your example posits economic and social status as an enabler of that culture. Rape and sexual assault are also found in other social strata, and in situations like war, where systematic rape is a deliberate "weapon." I agree strongly that education needs to include both sexes.
Abigail said…
Apparently such behavior is not a problem to folks in the U.S.A. We elected such a person President.

I still haven't figured this out.
Duchesse said…
Abigail: Some voters said they differentiated between the incumbent's personal behaviour and his "ability to lead". Also, he ran against someone accused of her own offenses, though not of the same type. I am not defending this President whatsoever, just joining you in your puzzlement. The US is not the only country where a leader who boasts of assaulting women is elected- Berlusconi being a stellar example of that.
Anonymous said…
I would call what Phil did assault, not just harassment.
Duchesse said…
dameeleanorhull: Some states consider groping a form of sexual assault but others do not. That state considers it a form of sexual abuse, but not assault unless the act included threat, force or violence. Your comment raises an important point: it is useful to know the legal protections and how various acts are defined for your jurisdiction.

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