Even within the unseemly realm of sexual harassment and assault, Harvey Weinstein’s alleged behavior is particularly disgusting and egregious. The consistency of the stories. The entitlement that drips off his tongue on the NYPD tape published by the New Yorker. The way he toys with his victim — You’re crazy, his tone implies. You’re ridiculous. You’re dead. This is a man with well-honed techniques. A seasoned and serial predator.
But for me and so many other women I know who have been groped and propositioned by powerful men in the workplace, this latest scandal is not just about Weinstein. It’s about what this moment means — whether we decide that the time has come to shine a light on the widespread mistreatment of women, men’s feelings of sexual entitlement, and their pervasive abuses of power. Ashley Judd was right when she said, “It’s simply beyond time to have the conversation publicly.”
In countless phone calls and text messages the last 48 hours, I’ve asked my girlfriends, “Is it time? Should we, too, share our stories?”
There are so many reasons not to.
Years ago, while at a bar for a work function, a man senior to me groped my breasts and grabbed my crotch. Stunned, I didn’t confront him; I just moved away. And then I shared a cab with him — and others — afterward. For days after, I questioned myself — why didn’t I avoid the situation in the first place? Respond more forcefully? Why did I act like nothing happened when I saw him the next day and on many other occasions after that?
A close friend, while in law school, was propositioned by the dean of her school. After the incident, she walked him home. He was old, she explained. He used a cane.
We discredit ourselves before anyone else has the chance to do so. How vulnerable was I, really? Was it as bad as I remembered it to be? Is it truly possible for my friend to feel threatened by a man so physically weak? We all know women who have experienced harassment and assault far worse than our own. We feel lucky that our experience wasn’t theirs. It’s as though anything short of horrific is somehow not that bad.
I’ve struggled with complicated feelings toward men who harass and demean women. Do I still admire the brilliant man — a social justice champion — who, while drunk, stuck his tongue down the throat of my friend who worked for him? I gave him a heartfelt toast at his retirement party because I respected his work and chose to overlook his missteps. I’ve maintained professional relationships with men who get “handsy” when they drink, guys with “reputations,” because it’s easier than not doing so. And because too much — my career, my family’s financial security — is on the line.
I’ve fielded so much unwanted touch over the years that I’ve become detached from my own body. I’m not even sure how violated I feel anymore. Years ago, I was slipped something in a drink while out with friends. The night is a blur from that point on. I have a hazy memory of being surrounded by a group of men pawing me, hands up my shirt, down my pants — until my friend dragged me out. I cursed and raged on the cab ride home. And then went to bed and put it behind me.
I’ve wondered over the years what was worse — being groped by someone I knew professionally or being assaulted by random guys at a bar? Is it more humiliating to be forced to interact with someone who behaved inappropriately toward you or to know that you could pass someone who assaulted you on the street and have no idea who they are?
My public silence is a form of self-preservation. Not only do I dread the ramifications of going public, I don’t want my professional identity to be defined by my victimhood. It is embarrassing and reductive. I am so much more than their objectification suggests.
“Is it time?” I ask my girlfriends.
We have lived through this moment before — a year ago, to be exact. The supposed turning point for our nation, after which the kind of guy who grabs women by their p—— and brags about it would be deemed inviable for the highest office of the land.
But that didn’t happen.
This moment seems different. There are consequences for Harvey Weinstein. His career is over.
It is time for women to start talking publicly — in the ways that they choose to, in the ways that they feel comfortable doing. This is my first step into the unchartered territory of public conversation.
But it’s not just up to us. For this moment to really be different, it must also be time for men to step up, reflect upon and check their own behavior; to challenge other men; to stop giggling, Billy Bush style, at “locker room talk.”
We all have a role in this public conversation. And for us to own up to that — to claim our space, our responsibility, and our power — it’s simply beyond time.