I have been watching the scandal about Harvey Weinstein emerge with great interest – in the early ‘90s, I too was one of the young women he preyed upon.
The details of what I have learned was not unique to me are out there now – the office tour that became an occasion to trap me in an empty meeting room, the begging for a massage, his hands on my shoulders as I attempted to beat a retreat… all while not wanting to alienate the most powerful man in Hollywood.
This morning I learned he was fired. His misdeeds are now common knowledge and I don’t see much mileage in adding my name to the list of women he abused, especially since those who were brave enough to come forward in the New York Times article are the ones who had to ride out the inevitable attempts to shame and discredit them in the face of Harvey’s denials, only to emerge vindicated. I salute these women. I would be a footnote to their courage. Thanks to them, this genie will not go back into the bottle.
What is more interesting to me are the issues this story raises. Reading the comments online, I see in black and white the reason I spent a whole weekend wondering if adding my voice would encourage other women to come forward or whether this would just bring a barrage of unwanted attention, forcing me into a defensive position and upsetting my family.
Why is it that women carry the shame of their abusers? We deplore the ‘honor killings’ and Old Testament thinking that blames a woman for getting into a situation where she becomes vulnerable, and yet that is exactly what is happening to the women who have spoken openly about Harvey’s abuse. Read the accounts: Each women is at pains to explain why she was in Harvey’s hotel room, alone in a restaurant corridor, sharing a Miramax rented house. Why? Because a voice in their head is saying, “Why did I let myself get into that situation?” Then there are the Internet trolls who chime in with, “What did you think was going to happen?” and accusing a predator’s victims of “wanting to sleep their way to the top.”
I know, because these are exactly the voices that have been occupying my head since the story broke on Thursday. But also there is the voice of the girlfriend who had introduced me to Harvey and was angry with me after he called her wanting to make sure I wasn’t going to make a complaint about his behavior. He was her ‘silver bullet’ and even though she had not warned me about him, it was somehow my fault I found myself alone with him and he tried to take advantage of me. The industry friend who drove me to meet Harvey has no recollection of the event, even though he took me home, shaken by my encounter. He asks me to keep his name out of it: “I don’t need that kind of publicity.”
No one needs ‘that kind of publicity’, least of all the hundreds of women Harvey must have propositioned over the decades. He will remain rich and powerful, the women will remain unknown, silent, hurting, because to speak up would be even more painful in this climate of victim-blaming.
And let us give a thought to the women who did not manage to escape gracefully from the hotel rooms, or even those who were so desperate for advancement that they paid the price of having sex with the person Meryl Streep calls ‘God’. You must feel sick to your stomach but can never reveal your secret because if this is the shame and blame we encounter for having fought off the predator, how much more would follow you for submitting to a powerful man because he made that your best or only option at the time. And so the predators continue, unaccountable, because society – the comments on the Internet, the friends and families who urge silence, the conditioning of women to be ‘nice’ and excuse men’s behavior or take the blame on themselves – allows the predators to transfer their shame onto their victims.
How is this happening when we know better? In fact, the science behind childhood trauma (adverse childhood experiences – ACES) tells us exactly why many women will have frozen like I did when Harvey appeared naked or put his hands on their shoulders. It is one of the three possible conditioned responses – fight, flight, freeze – stemming from a time when you were powerless to protect yourself from an older, stronger person. As a child, you have very little ability to defend yourself from the abuser who is also your caregiver, or from a predator who assures you no one will believe your stories. And when that situation repeats itself as an adult, your survival brain protects you by dialing up the behavior that kept you alive in the past.
It’s not just physical or sexual trauma that makes people vulnerable to becoming victims again in later life. Harvey also was able to take advantage of those of us who were brought up in an environment of compliance and submission because that’s what our parents and teachers wanted from us, instilled in us, and made us fear the consequences of ‘disobedience’ through their wrath and ridicule. Not only does the ‘obedient child’ become the easily manipulated adult, but also an adult who lives in fear of disclosure because we perceive that we are in the wrong, not the abuser. Why? Because it was always our fault as a child that the parent became angry, which evolves into our adult selves accepting the blame for provoking our partner’s violence, for dressing that way, for entering a hotel suite and have Harvey appear in a dressing gown…
The tragedy of trauma is that it doesn’t end with the person who experiences it. The harshly parented often become harsh parents, the sexually abused frequently go on to abuse, those dominated, ridiculed and made to feel insignificant create huge movie empires, sit crying on the bed because they fear they are ‘fat’, and eventually let down everyone they love. I don’t say this to give Harvey an excuse but to extend understanding to everyone whose lives have been touched by trauma and to say it’s time we brought the conversation around to what really lies beneath sordid sex scandals and what will soon be yesterday’s news. Without an understanding of the role of trauma, it may be that your parenting today, how you treat your partner, or interactions with your employees will produce the next round of news stories and continue this toxic cycle of human beings hurting one another.