Here’s how I was complicit in a society that has normalized inappropriate and abusive behavior by men in power: I spent the early part of my career as a journalist covering the film business out of New York for Variety and the late film magazine Premiere, where I started as a $5-an-hour intern in the research department. Perks were few and far between, so when Harvey Weinstein’s undeniably hip Tribeca-based studio Miramax invited the entire staff — including us lowly interns — to a special screening of the yet-to-be released film “Trainspotting,” it was a big deal.
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At the time, it made us feel special and important that we were given early access to something so cool. Now, after sexual allegations against Weinstein have come to light and more than 40 women have accused the Hollywood movie executive of inappropriate behavior ranging from harassment to rape, it is clear that the film and the screening were nothing more than poppies being fed to us by a bridge troll.
Weinstein played the press like a pan flute; the outfits I worked for — Premiere and Variety — were by my reckoning two of his chief enablers, though they were far from the only ones. It is hard now to think back on those years and the gushing praise we in the press gave movies like “Pulp Fiction” and “The Artist” and not see it as part of the smokescreen that helped allow Weinstein’s multidecade campaign of alleged sexual terror.
But that is only one aspect of my guilt.
After the screening, when it came time to pick a staffer to interview the film’s rising star, Ewan McGregor, I — not one of my equally (or more) qualified female counterparts — got the call. Whatever anger I may have now toward this system of demonic misogyny, there is no doubt that it was rigged entirely in my favor.
So while it may be satisfying to shake a fist at Weinstein and applaud his exile from a community he once cowed into submission, the problem he represents isn’t going anywhere. A better target for that rage is the system that produced him, even — and especially — if it is one from which we, as men, have benefited. This is one of the reasons that the traditional male instinct to try to “fix” the problem by addressing the transgressor and not the society that allows the disease of misogyny to fester in the first place tends to fall so flat. So what do we do?
Recognize That You’re Part of the Problem
Experts say the process begins with looking in the mirror.
“The first and most difficult thing men have to do in becoming an ally is to accept that all men are part of the problem,” says Los Angeles-based marriage and family therapist Alejandro Daniel Pina, who specializes in sexual abuse and anxiety. “Having to accept what being part of the problem means to each man individually seems like a good way to begin to engage in a productive conversation with other men and women toward the steps we can take to remedy a systemic problem.”
Admitting complicity through either silence or overt action in a system that has hurt so many people that we love has not been an easy thing to do. It requires reassessing our relationships, career paths and most treasured memories in order to recognize the misogyny and injustice that ran beneath them like a toxic (though never silent) underground spring. When the process is over, assuming it even has an end point, none of those things will ever be the same, nor should they be.
Listen — Don’t Fix
“It may seem pretty obvious, but the thing that guys struggle with a lot in this area is just listening,” says Tim Norton, a West Los Angeles-based psychotherapist specializing in sex therapy and sexual abuse. “The first step for them is to listen and not try to fix. Be present and hear what these women in your life are trying to say. Some feelings may come up, like ‘I am going to address that guy.’ No. First, just hear their story and stay curious.”
But for curiosity and comfort to muscle past horror and rage is to embrace an idea as unacceptable as it is irrefutable: Yes, as these last few days have made horrifyingly clear, this has happened to every woman that we know. Mother, wife, friend, colleague, teacher — all of them. That this may surprise you is another indicator that you have been part of the problem. For many men, pushing past their initial discomfort with the topic so they can truly listen takes work.
“Your job is to communicate that you are comfortable hearing these things — or if you are not comfortable, to try a little harder,” says Norton. “We have not been having this conversation for a really long time. Communicating about this has yet to be normalized.”
In 1958, my mother gave up a child for adoption. She was 21 years old. That is her story to tell one day if she chooses. At the time, the pregnancy was a secret. To have the baby, she needed to leave the Midwestern university where she was a third-year sociology student. She chose to confide in her adviser the real reason she was dropping out. After hearing she was pregnant, the adviser made a pass at her. It was subtle, as she recalls, but undeniable: This person of authority was attempting to take advantage of her when she was at her most vulnerable.
You could see the pain and the way she carried the memory in her body when she shared the story with me this past Christmas over a few very good California IPAs (my mother prefers ambers). We stayed up talking most of the night. Needless to say, that incident in 1958 was neither the first or last “me too” she had experienced in her life.
Each of them was difficult for her to share and for me to hear, but unlike times in the past, I didn’t change the subject. It was a long night and a good start.
What Do YOU Think?
How have you responded to the women in your life sharing stories about sexual assault? Have you shared a story with the #MeToo hashtag? Have the men in your life responded how you expected? What could have gone better? Share your reaction in the comments below.