Cinema, media literacy, trauma

What It’s Like

There are new allegations against Harvey Weinstein, and as I read, I sit here shaking.  More women. so many women. The new piece is devastating, for its indictments of rape culture to its indictments of Hollywood culture.

I think about the culture in the film industry, and I get angry about the lore of the “Hollywood casting couch.” Did any woman ever willingly get on that couch? Even if they gave consent to the encounter, how is it truly consensual when, if you don’t do it, you don’t get the part, the career, or even just the cab fare home? And how can we blame any woman who turns to trading sex for income, work, status when for centuries, it is the only thing we have had that has been deemed a valuable commodity? Certainly our intellect, our art, our words, our contributions to culture have had nowhere near the value of a pair of breasts and a shaved vulva. Living in a world where you have traditionally had so little power or agency means being exploited for the one thing you do have.

I hate that the news is flooded with these stories, but I can’t get away from them. Look at how Hugh Hefner was lauded upon his passing last month. “A pioneer,” a legend,” “an icon.” For selling women. And for selling a vision of sexual freedom, but only for men. He is a huge part of the culture that Weinstein blamed in his initial response to the first round of allegations, the one where he cited that “it was a different time.”

It was a time that Hefner helped to shape – where men were finally free to expect and openly seek out a life of sexual pleasure without consequence or, it seems too often, consent. Make no mistake: this sexual revolution allowed women a new kind of freedom as well – to be sold and consumed and openly make money from it. But consider Hefner’s very first covergirl, Marilyn Monroe. The pictures he published of her were not taken for Hefner; he bought the rights to print them, but Marilyn had no say at all in their publication. In fact, she had to apologize for their publication to save her career, while Hefner’s was made from them.

Equality, right? And now he’s buried next to her.

“It was a different time.” But was it? Every day, it seems like I wake up to some new horror in the new. And in 2017, the news means Twitter, Facebook, Instagram – social media feeds of all types are studded with the hashtag #metoo, and many people – women and men, but a majority being women – are sharing stories of how and when it happened to them.

In the last handful of years, I have been more open about some of the things that have happened to me, though, like so many, I don’t wish to share details or names or relive my traumas more than necessary.

As an anonymous commenter at Jezebel said

Plus, one reason I don’t tell people STILL is that I don’t want them imagining it. I don’t know if that makes sense – but it seems like rape is so often eroticized on TV and in movies.

I also don’t want to be defined by one of the worst things that ever happened to me.

Oh my god, yes. This makes so much sense and I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anyone else articulate it quite like this. I hate talking about what happened to me with most of the men I know because I fear that behind their sympathy or winces is an association of my trauma with sex and the eroticized rape that’s everywhere in media.

I have pressed the point with many of them, many times, that the rape they say is so integral to a plot still depicts the brutalizing and dehumanization of a woman, and that affects us all. “But the plot!” they cry.

This takes me back to Weinstein and rape culture. Hollywood has long been defined by the tastes of those who are in charge. And those who are in charge have long been a certain demographic. Sure there’s the occasional women executive, but pointing toward the whopping 19% of producers who are women and saying that there’s not a gender imbalance, is like saying racism is solved because Obama was elected.  And there are even less female directors than producers.  If there are no women in the room, there is no one to give a woman’s perspective. No one to defend a point of view or to suggest depicting trauma in a way that is more sensitive, less traumatic. Women are 52% of the filmgoing audience. Yet there are very few allies behind the camera.

It’s so painful for me to admit to myself that the art form I love and the industry that creates it, the world I  have spent years and student loans studying, is so imbalanced as to render my gender effectively powerless. (Don’t @ me, okay? There ARE exceptions, and I’m excited about Patty Jenkins’ work, but she is one woman. Also, the reaction to this summer’s Wonder Woman  was not just marketing: women are starved for representation in all genres, and in all levels of the film industry.)

Even more painful is accepting and acknowledging that cinema is absolutely rotten with sexual predation.

Are we at a turning point? It’s incredible to see the numbers of women coming forward with allegations against Weinstein, but there were 50+ women who accused Cosby. It’s heartening to see a very vocal “I believe you” reaction to the numbers of women and men sharing their own harassment and assault stories so publicly. Their courage is catching; it lifts us all up. But will things change, really?

And as a victim/survivor (am I one? both? it’s complex) of abuse, as someone who was preyed upon by members of her own family, who was hurt by men who wouldn’t respect my refusals and honor my right to consent, to live through this unprecedented coming forward we are experiencing in the public arena is rough. It is being raw every. single. day. It is reliving your trauma with each detail of another’s trauma. It’s sitting at your desk in the office and with one tweet, suddenly being shoved in that hot, airless attic to be molested again and again by someone you looked up to and loved and who, in that moment, taught you to never trust anyone who says they will take care of you.

It’s being reminded every single day, multiple times per day, that people in power will always take what they want.

It was bad enough last October, when it was about the then-candidate and now-president, but as frightening and panic-inducing as those revelations were, the air was charged with hope and defiance. NOVEMBER 8 PUSSY GRABS BACK we said, and we meant it.  This scandal would finally bring down a man for whom there was nearly no group of people he would not offend, alienate, demonize, and threaten. This scandal, in which his own voice and words implicated him in unethical, if not illegal, behavior, would finally end this horror show of a campaign and ensure the country’s safety.

But we know what happened. Anne Helen Peterson wrote eloquently about what his win meant to many of us in America, especially women.

Trump’s win is an endorsement of racism, a validation of bigotry, a confirmation that nearly half of Americans would like a man who does not believe in equal rights, and, at least until he won, the sanctity of the democratic process, to lead our country.

And hovering over all of those beliefs is a stark truth: the way Trump  has talked about, allegedly acted toward, and fundamentally conceived of women is the way that the majority of Americans conceive of women. Call it “locker room talk,” call it “just the way it is,” or call it by its true name: misogyny. In electing President Trump, the nation has ratified a backlash that has been gaining slow but terrifying steam just beneath the surface of the recent feminist resurgence.

No matter the endorsements for Hillary from Beyoncé and Rihanna and Katy Perry and Lena Dunham, or the hundreds of thousands of posts in “secret” Hillary support groups, which increasingly feel like tragic melodrama, the underlying fact remains: As a nation, we remain firm in the notion that women should not control their own reproductive health, that men should retain the liberty to judge and touch and control women’s bodies at will, and that the idea of a woman in power neutralizes any concerns over a neo-fascist future of the nation.

And now, here we are. This isn’t a new horror – it started with the Eve myth and has manifested for centuries, hitting a zenith with Hefner, taking monstrous form with Weinstein, and landing us a President with the same face . Our culture said that sexual predation wasn’t a disqualifier for the White House. And it’s not a disqualifier for an oscar, nor long-term respect in Hollywood, nor to be  an olympic gymnastic team doctor, nor anything.

It’s hard to hope in the face of that.

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