Louder than whispers: Women are taking names in the wake of Weinstein

Photo via Aaron Amat (Licensed)

Women are tweeting, posting, circulating documents about alleged creeps. They are done being silent.

I remember standing in a conference room taking lunch orders and dropping off documents, while one of my boss’s more prominent clients openly appraised my body. He snuck in small comments about my figure at every turn, things like, “What lunch order can I place to get a figure like yours?” and “No pastries for me, thanks, I want to have your figure.”

To me, it seemed that the harder I worked to blunt or dodge his comments, the more he wanted to make sure I’d heard him. Pointing at me, though, he made the whole thing uncomfortably hard to ignore. Unless his wife was around. On those days, he didn’t seem to see me.

I remember storming over to my work friend’s desk and fuming to her as discreetly as I could without anyone overhearing. I remember ragefully whispering that no woman standing at the head of a conference room should ever have to wonder whether a man at the table is missing her words because he was too busy talking about her height, her hips, her waist, her breasts, to listen. I remember doing a silent scream into my sweater because, of course, so many women do. And I remember hating myself for standing in that room and smiling, forcing my face into a grin so as not to scream a scream of bottomless frustration.

Granted, it’s not an old-guard movie mogul coercing me up to his hotel room for a co-shower or a naked massage or some forced sex, but as Silvia Killingsworth wrote in her very good commentary for the Awl, all this shit is “of a kind.” And it’s not uncommon. But since a decades-long string of sexual harassment, assault, and rape allegations against Harvey Weinstein officially came to light—in back-to-back exposés from the New York Times and the New Yorker, no less—women have been speaking up, and at an unprecedented volume.

While each new high-profile creep toppled signals women to share their own experiences, the Weinstein allegations feel different. The pace has been faster; the outpouring started almost immediately. If you’ve been online at all since the Weinstein news broke last Thursday, you will have watched accusations against the disgraced movie mogul snowball as more Hollywood women offered up their own personal horror stories in the press. You may have read Liz Meriwether’s account of her Weinstein-like encounter in the Cut, in which she argues that “silence is as destructive as it is contagious” and encourages everyone sitting on a story like hers to tell it out loud. You may have watched your own phone, or inbox, or Gchat, or side Slacks blow up, or shouted with your best friend in the bathroom line at a bar about the duplicitous nature of so many self-declared “male allies.”

Killingsworth points to the flurry of messages flying back and forth between women in media, covert corroborations of the sleazy things those “small-time motherfuckers” you know try with everyone: “the prominent news editor known for sticking his tongue down your throat when his girlfriend isn’t looking”; “the married guy who tells you over DM that his wife won’t fuck him anymore, and he’s thinking of leaving her”; “the byline you meet at a publishing party, who gets handsier and handsier after each pint.” Swap “prominent news editor” for creative director, or “married guy” for school principal who calls you into his office for unnecessary one-on-ones, or “byline you meet at a publishing party” with app engineer at your corporate happy hour, and the bottom line remains the same. The small-time motherfuckers are everywhere.

In media, women are taking names, keeping meticulous track of every latest offender and exactly what he’s done. Jezebel has issued a call for tips on all men great and small, who have so far gotten away with sexual harassment or assault and “who are now looking over their shoulders, hoping no one will be brave enough to tell the truth about them.” On Facebook, women across industries are making it their business to tell those truths. And like Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and Donald Trump before him, the Weinstein outing got its very own Twitter hashtag.

Late on the morning of Oct. 5, the same day the Times published its Weinstein bombshell, Canadian writer Anne T. Donahue asked her followers a question: “When did you meet YOUR Harvey Weinstein?”

“I’ll go first,” she wrote. “I was a 17-yr-old co-op student and he insisted on massaging my shoulders as I typed.” She went on to explain that this dude was her boss at a radio station and would ask her “why ‘girls my age’ liked giving blowjobs and not having sex.”

Inspired by Donahue’s examples, women across Twitter started sharing their stories as #MyHarveyWeinstein went viral.

“In college working on an indie film,” Francesca Hogi wrote. “I was walking by a producer and he said ‘I can’t take it anymore’ and shoved his hand down my pants.”

“#myharveyweinstein was Director at federal agency who demanded female employees accept his ‘greeting kiss,’” another woman said. “I was 21 and horrified.”

“Fifteen years old working at a box store, boss in his late 50s would call me into the back room to touch my breasts,” went another account. “I told HR and the next day he confronted me about it. Scared out of my mind. Never went into the back room again without a buddy.”

“#MyHarveyWeinstein was a former boss,” another woman recalled. “He told me I had the body of a Cuban woman and asked me to his place because ‘his wife was out.’”

And so on and so forth for thousands of tweets. When one woman publicly accuses a man of sexual misconduct, it’s not uncommon to see other women quickly emerge with similar reports. While skeptics and men’s rights advocates will often call these women opportunists, wondering aloud why it took them so long to come forward if indeed they’re telling the truth, we already have the answer to that question: Only very recently have reports of sexual harassment, reports of sexual assault, reports of rape been taken somewhat seriously, and even now victims are often disbelieved. Women have everything to lose by telling the truth. Coming forward, whether it’s at a press conference or in HR’s office, often begets retaliation of some kind, watching your whole life derailed when all you wanted was to work without a man finding moments to grab your waist, or Slack you for sex, or corner you in a supply closet.

But the cliché that safety exists in numbers is proved with every new Weinstein outed in public. We keep that lesson in mind for the next one—and the next one invariably comes up faster than the last because those who’ve suffered one-grope-too-many might finally be believed now.

With all these stories shared, we’re chipping away at the fear that keeps women silent, and maybe together those chips rip a chunk from the male power monolith. Weinstein isn’t the tipping point, but his undoing sets the structure wobbling, making it easier to envision a future when the whole thing could come crashing down.

 

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