I’m guessing that most women who were once “pretty, young things,” single, self-supporting and new to the world of work, have a file in their memory vault labeled something along the lines of “Harvey Stories.” That is to say, true stories from a time when they, too, were treated by a powerful older man – far higher up the ladder than they — the way, as we’ve seen in the news this week, Harvey Weinstein behaved toward his many sexual abuse and harassment (and in some cases, rape) accusers. These are stories we’ve never told anyone, not even our best friends. Until now.
This past Wednesday, a few days after the Weinstein scandal broke in the New York Times and the New Yorker, some friends and I met for Happy Hour at a local rooftop bar here in San Miguel, to enjoy their two-for-one special. After catching up on our respective personal news, the Harvey Weinstein news began to creep into our conversation. Before long, we were telling our own, true “Harvey” stories. I chose this one from my dusty, full file:
Long ago, when I was in my twenties, I had a job I really loved. It was my first job as a writer and editor. I worked in the marketing department of a large company in New Jersey. I was in charge of their employee publication. I did the writing, photography, layout, design, editing, production – everything. This publication was “my baby.” I loved every aspect of it.
Late one Friday afternoon, after interviewing the company’s newly hired Vice President for an upcoming issue, I discovered my car wouldn’t start, so Mr. V.P. offered to give me a ride home. I must have told him that my boyfriend, who was away for the weekend, would attend to my car for me when he returned from his trip on Monday. Mr. V.P. dropped me off at my apartment building. I didn’t invite him in.
Alone in my studio apartment the next night, Saturday night, the buzzer rang demandingly, and I ran to the intercom to ask who was there. It was Mr. V.P. He said he had to see me. Not knowing what else to do, I buzzed him in.
When I opened the door, I could see he was drunk and disheveled. He pushed his way into my apartment and began to remove his jacket and tie. With slurred speech he told me he’d just left the dinner party his wife had arranged (“shoooooo BOR-ing!”) because he “wanted to be with” me. He continued to disrobe. I stood frozen. Staring. Speechless.
When he started to lunge for me, I ducked. He lost his balance and almost fell. I quickly gathered up his shoes and clothes strewn over my floor, ran to my door and threw them all into the hall. Then, without touching him, with strength I didn’t know I had, I threw him out into the hallway, too, dressed in nothing but his white underwear and brown socks. I slammed the door and bolted it. I couldn’t sleep all night. My heart was pounding too hard.
On Monday morning Mr. V.P. phoned me at my office to tell me that the company didn’t need my employee publication anymore. I was out of a job.
I never reported this incident.
One of the criticisms I’ve heard voiced in the Weinstein matter has been: Why didn’t those women speak up at the time? Why has it taken so long for them to report these assaults? My answer, born of my own experience, is that they felt then that they wouldn’t be believed or supported. The prevailing attitude used to be the simple, knee-jerk, blame-the-victim one: You must have provoked him in some way; you must have brought this on yourself. (How? By just being a “pretty, young thing”?)
But attitudes, thank God, are finally beginning to change.
So far, more than thirty women have come forward to report Weinstein’s sexual misconduct toward them. One, Lauren Sivan, who was working as an anchor at a TV station in New York, says that Weinstein cornered her in a vestibule, blocked the exit, exposed himself, and masturbated in front of her (into a potted plant, no less). This incident happened a decade ago, but Sivan felt she could only speak out about it now. “For those asking why I waited?” Sivan wrote in a tweet to the Huffington Post, “YOU try telling that story 10 yrs ago. Only possible now because of women with bigger names far braver than me.”
Another of Weinstein’s accusers, Asia Argento, an Italian film actress and director, said that she did not speak out until now because she feared Weinstein would “crush” her. “I know he has crushed a lot of people before,” Argento was quoted in the New Yorker piece. “That’s why this story—in my case, it’s twenty years old, some of them are older—has never come out.”
In his long, in-depth exposé in the New Yorker’s Oct. 23, 2017, issue, Ronan Farrow stated, “It’s likely that the women who spoke to me have recently felt increasingly emboldened to talk about their experiences because of the way the world has changed regarding issues of sex and power. Their disclosures follow in the wake of stories alleging sexual misconduct by public figures, including Donald Trump, Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, and Bill Cosby.”
Harvey Weinstein is not unique, of course, and his repugnant behavior toward women, especially younger, powerless women, is nothing new. But, as Oprah posted on Facebook, “Thanks to the brave voices we’ve heard this week, many more will now be emboldened to come forward EVERY time this happens. I believe a shift is coming.”
Yes, and thanks to that beastly looking movie mogul’s recent busting and fall from the heights, more of us older women, too, may feel emboldened to pull out our long-buried “Harvey Stories” file and share our truths.
As Cara Delevingne, another of Weinstein’s many accusers, posted boldly on social media this week: “Don’t be ashamed of your story. It will inspire others.”