There’s been a lot of noise around Harvey Weinstein this past week – and for all the right reasons. Verbally & sexually abusing women he worked with, using his status, influence and position to get women who depended on him to sleep with him, hold them accountable of sexual favours, and at some point, rape Rose McGowan (and I’m sure, many more): Weinstein has under his entire career, used and abused women who relied, trusted and counted on him in more ways than one. What else did he do? Well, he also partook in a Women’s March in Utah January 2017. Publicly identified as a feminist. Offered careers in return of sexual advances. Donated to charity. Gave promotions with and without sexual favours–to mix it up a little.
I don’t usually deep-dive into these type of conversations, especially not here on my blog–or in writing elsewhere for that matter–but in the light of the Weinstein affair, and in support of young women today, I think its about time we start a conversation around it.
A few months back, I was watching Lena Dunham in Girls, season 6, episode ‘American Bitch‘. It’s the third episode, I believe. That same week, I received and sent messages to girlfriends across the world. Had I seen the episode? Yes, yes I did. Oh my god – wasn’t it so on point? Yes, yes indeed it really was. Relatable, infuriating, almost a little scary – all of us had experienced some sort of similar situation.
I graduated in 2013, and had become quite close with a prominent professor of one of my classes. He was more than just my professor–a mentor or a coach, I’d say. I looked up to him. I’d come to his office before or after class a couple of times, to get advice and some contacts that he had promised to introduce me to. In these meetings, somehow, the conversation always ended up being about how many young women were attracted to him, and how many students he had been forced to fend off throughout his years as a professor. It was weird, but I was probably just exaggerating. I graduated, and we kept in touch. I was in charge of an organisation where our work happened to be linked to each other, and for that reason, it made sense to stay connected–I needed all the support I could get. We went for lunch to catch up one day, and he ordered a bottle of champagne, which he kept pouring. I wasn’t sure about drinking with an former professor, but I was probably just being overly sensitive. And he was helping me. We were discussing ways we could work together, collaborate. The conversation kept coming back to how attractive I was though, and how I should watch out for men my age–they must be so sexually attracted to me. By the end of the lunch, he could barely stand. He suggested he’d drop me, but I politely declined. “I have a car waiting for me.” I didn’t.
I left the lunch feeling confused and uncomfortable. Was it a friendship, a professional relationship, or was it straight up outrageous? A few months later, I was invited to dinner. I hesitated making another plan, but told myself to stop with the uncalled for suspicion–he’s a great man, and he’s helping me. He’s old enough to be my father! Everyone I know look up to him. I thought daytime would be better (safer), and suggested lunch instead. He took me out for another feast. “Come on, one drink, we’re meeting after so long and you won’t have a drink with me?” No, sorry, not today. No… Ok, fine. Just one drink then. Okay, okay…
During lunch, I remember just wanting time to pass so I could leave from there. He got drunk, obnoxious, made comments about how sexy I was. How men my age must be all over me. That I should watch myself–who knows what men my age are capable of? He went on about how several women had been extremely attracted to him, to the point where he had been laid off from a previous institution he had worked at. A colleague had ‘wrongfully filed a sexual harassment claim against him, because she was in love with him and he wouldn’t return her feelings’. So many women were crazy about him, they couldn’t help themselves. I was so sexy though–he was convinced men my age would stare at my body all the time. What would men my age tell me at the bar when I go out? Did I get a lot of attention? Did I find these men attractive? He could bet money on the fact that men my age were just all. over. me. I felt terrible after – was I really giving off those kind of vibes to my own mentor? Maybe I was just exaggerating. Did the lunch actually happen the way I remembered it? Was it really that bad? Maybe I was just exaggerating?
This was the last time we met. Next time he contacted me for another meal, I excused myself and said I was busy. Then I used another excuse the time after that. Since then I’ve reached out to him on multiple occasions, for work related matters. I’ve yet to receive a response. I was also never again invited for anything work related since that day.
In my case, luckily, it was just obnoxious words and extreme discomfort. Others get raped. Threatened. Or tricked into something they simply don’t want to do. Humiliation, confusion…a slight glimpse of hope. The point is, it happens – directly and indirectly – and when it does, what do we do about it? I still don’t have an answer. It’s not until three years later that I’ve actually realised how absurd and wrong the situation actually was.
“In contrast, “American Bitch” is that story’s poisoned underside: it’s not about healing but humiliation, and the kinds of messes that can’t be cleaned up. As Hannah and Chuck keep moving together, from the foyer to the living room to the kitchen to the bedroom, they have a clever debate, one that is not merely about sexual assault but about fame, money, literary ethics, and the benefits and dangers of the Internet. (…) Chuck scores some points: it’s the women who throw themselves at him, he argues, because they are seeking stories to tell. Who really has the power, he asks: the zitty older virgin—him—or a beautiful young model?”
Girls, Season 6, Episode American Bitch
You can read the full article about the episode here [click]. Or, you can just watch it online.