Harvey Weinstein grabbed my ass. It didn’t faze me at the time. It was at a party, it was the 80s, people were drinking a lot and doing coke — a lot. And, at a loud crowded movie party, Harvey just seemed grotesque. I slipped his hand off my ass, grimaced, and disappeared into the crowd. His advance — one of many he made that night I’m certain — didn’t feel like the worst of it. Getting a phone call from Harvey a few days later calling me a “hellish cunt” was worse. What was worse was listening to him rant about what an idiot I was because I dared to champion Ben Stiller and Patricia Arquette as the stars of a little movie that was gasping for breath — Flirting with Disaster. This happened more than once. And more than once I listened, felt sick to my stomach, and wondered what drove this man to such instant insanity. That felt more abusive than the leering and ass-grabbing. Luckily I had no investment in that job at first; I was asked to come in and give it some mouth to mouth, so I had nothing to lose. I continued to champion the cast. Still, those abusive attacks took their toll. And then, when I did get invested in the job, the tirades really hurt. But I separated the ass-grab from the hideousness of the rants of abuse on those phone calls. The first, the ass-grabbing, seemed benign. But it never really is.
There were others, though, men in power positions with massive creative success and celebrity, who were sexually aggressive, wielding their position and power to have their hard-on egos jerked off, because they could… men who, before and during their advances, I respected for their achievements, radical thinking, and sometimes brilliant and revolutionary work. I thought I was a part of creating work that was changing the world. But in the throes of the work, there was more than ass-grabbing. There were leering looks, propositions, tongues down my throat, hands on my breasts, erections against my leg… It was repulsive. But at the same time — sometimes — it made me feel attractive. And important. I realize how terrible this sounds. But there is gray area in all of it. I was clear that nobody should call me a cunt, barrage me with aggressive insults. But when it got into sexuality, it became complicated. Powerful and celebrated artists found me attractive. They paid attention, even in the most hideous way. I didn’t know what to do with that.
Most of the time I ran. I got on a plane and slipped out of town (from a location), or I gave up my seat at the creative table (asking my partner to cover for me for the duration of the job). But there was a sick feeling from which I could not run. It stayed with me for a long, long time. And now, with the outpouring of Harvey sexual assault revelations, those old memories are surfacing, in full force, as if it were just yesterday. Funny how unaddressed abuse works. Well, it’s time for me to address it. It’s time for all of us to dig it up, shine a light on it, stop the sickness from spreading, and heal it. Most of all, it’s time to offer you — at almost 21 — a mantra for what you must do and not to do in order feel worthy, important, beautiful, and sexual. I’ll get to that in a minute…
First I need to explain that coming of age in the 60s/70s/80s was freaking confusing. We were supposed to be sexually free- not promiscuous- but free. In charge of our own bodies, of our sexuality. Although our (limited) tools were fashioned as we clung to Gloria Steinem speeches, a few progressive books, glorified larger-than-life movies (made exclusively by men) and sometimes the nightly news. We were schooled at Studio 54, The Mudd Club, and The Bottom Line (where I waitressed in the early 80s and had more rock stars grope at me than I care to count.) So I, like many of my peers, fended for myself. It was a struggle. And we all made mistakes. We figured it out by bouncing from being “free” to running from older (or not so older) men panting and erectioned.
I had slept with my director mentor in college- while AD’ing his shows- thinking that this was how I might belong and get ahead. It was an initiation, I thought. He was older, pretty famous, and savvy about the theatre, and he was incredibly seductive. I had daddy issues, and no clue what to do with my sexual self. In some ways, this older director seemed safe, caretaking, loving. Until it became clear that he had no interest in my brain or my career. This “thing” we had quickly became grotesque. I broke it off. And I was punished for it.
The punishment… the banishment. That was the power those men had. If you valued your career, they could make or break it. I was punished too many times for not complying… sexually. I never even told Dad about one horrible experience when I had been asked to compromise myself sexually early in our marriage. I realize now that I felt ashamed, and I just wanted to put it behind me. Soldier on. Well there were too many of those. Too many compromises, too many disappearings into the crowd or fleeing from the grasp of a narcissistic man, too much shame, and way too much gray area.
I offer you the black and white. A man (or woman) behaves respectfully or not. Then it’s your choice, your responsibility to yourself to recognize any sexual negotiation being offered, any moral compromise being asked, and any punishing consequences being threatened. You must not run from it. You must confront it (there are all kinds of ways to do that), and you must stop it. You must call it out. You must honor your principles (you’re the most principled person I know). You must cherish your dignity and your integrity. That’s your power. And you must celebrate your sexuality. It’s not a bargaining chip, it’s your birthright. Nobody can ever take your sense of self away from you. And NO job or opportunity is worth trading in your self-respect, sexually or otherwise.
This is a moment. The reality that Harvey Weinstein is being called out, ostracized, and potentially facing time jail time, offers us the opportunity to uncloak his and so many others’ hideous behavior. It offers us the opportunity to halt the pervasive assault on women, often on vulnerable, young women like yourself. This is a moment when we can de-sensationalize the stories and take action. This is a moment when I can offer you my mistakes and my struggles as history with which you can change the reality for yourself and change the narrative for women of your generation, and for generations to come.
I know one day you’ll write a letter to your daughter in which, sure, you’ll reveal tales of heartache and regret. But most of all, I expect it will be filled with inspiring stories of triumph. You are a strong, smart, and magnificent young woman, and while I worry about the soul of our industry and our country, I’m certain that your moral center and your strength of character will always guide you to make courageous decisions in the face of any Harvey-type men (or women) who dare to stand in your way.