Will You Stand by the Women Who Said, 'Yes?'
In the wake of all the allegations of sexual misconduct all over, and with the revelations and empowerment of #MeToo, has anyone been wondering, like I have, why we haven’t heard from the women who said, ‘yes,’ to Harvey Weinstein?
I’ve read countless articles about the respect women should be given when they say, ‘no.’ I’ve read countless articles about how our autonomy as women must finally become sacrosanct, that we must be empowered to choose for ourselves, and that the choices we make about sex must be heeded to the fullest extent by men at all times. I’ve read that we deserve full and complete rights to make our own choices, but I have only heard these arguments when the answer to the proposition of sex is, ‘no.’ The thing is, the same has to be true for women who say, ‘yes.’
I imagine a fair number of women will say that too many of us are coerced into saying, ‘yes,’ and I agree, there is a lot of coercion out there. I am currently bombarded by it because I am a soon to be 49 year-old, single woman with no children who is very sexual. I have been branded a MILF – much as I don’t have any children. The bombardment is overwhelming, and I do not want to downplay how boring, frustrating and intimidating it can be. That doesn’t negate in the least my ability to say, ‘yes,’ when I want to, to own my sexuality, to be sexually empowered and to use that however I want to.
There are so many issues around this, it’s hard to figure out where to start. Because this is a much more dense subject than you might realise, I strongly encourage you to read all of it – and I will do my best not to be tedious about any of it.
We’ve heard from a few of the women who said, ‘no,’ to Harvey Weinstein. Women who were sexualized, victimised and traumatised. Now that we’ve evolved beyond the mildly disappointing #Ibelieveyou campaign, which many men saw as a way of stating their solidarity with #MeToo women, and we have entered into the punitive phase of seeing men who have been serial predators losing their fame, projects and power, there does seem to finally be an acknowledgement that sexual harassment, sexual assault, and sexual misconduct in everyday life are real issues (although I acknowledge there are some who continue to deny this but these are also the people who still believe the world is flat). When in a pessimistic mood, I think, ‘well, that only took 5,000 years, I can’t wait until the year 7017 when we might actually achieve equal pay and tampons will stop being taxed as luxury items,’ but I know better than to hold my breath.
I don’t want to belittle this huge step forward in anyway, but as we move into this brave new world of finally acknowledging that the world is round, let’s not be so narrow minded that we build another paradigm that negates that this round world also revolves around the sun. That we have acknowledged the negative does not automatically mean we have embraced the positive empowerment of human sexuality – all of human sexuality.
My assumption is that we all see those who were raped by him as victims. Our perceptions of rape notwithstanding, rape is illegal. The women he raped said, ‘no,’ and were ignored. I’m not negating the heinousness of those events, they’re merely not the point of this post, much as it must be acknowledged that he went that far.
My assumption is that most of us see those who extricated themselves from Harvey’s hotel rooms as women who defended themselves against the worst that could have happened. If they lost out on work for removing themselves from the degradation of allowing their bodies to be abused, we may even see them as martyrs who sacrificed professional gain for personal sanctity.
That the women we know of are icons, is a double-edged sword. The tipping point for believability seems to have stemmed from the women’s fame and the sheer numbers (something that no one who finally got on board with how systemic sexual abuse/harassment is should be proud of), but that huge, white hot spotlight has to have terrified the ones who did not get away from Weinstein's hotel rooms from sharing their stories.
How do you feel about the ones who succumbed? Especially, if they got ahead because of it? I would bet that many of you see them at best as either complicit casualties or desperate opportunists. Either way, that's probably why we have not heard from them.
I am haunted thinking about the women who succumbed. This becomes very murky terrain because succumbing to sexual coercion is soul destroying. It is nothing less than agreeing to be raped. If that is a hard sentence to read and a hard idea to swallow, it is even harder to experience. Reading about it and imagining it can’t come close to the ramifications of living with it on a daily, hourly or eternal basis.
People (both men and women) who think they’ve gained something by coercing a partner into sexual acts are as bad, if not worse, than rapists because they have made their victims complicit in their own violation. Self-disgust is an experience many do not recover from, and I would bet there are more than a few women in Harvey’s past that are at the bottom of some very deep wells right now, if they are alive at all. Don’t the women who succumbed deserve our support, too? Or is our support only available to those who said, ‘no’ and preserved their moral authority as well as their purity?
Continuing down this path, what about the women who said, ‘yes,’ without reservations? There are women who might have been flattered by his advances, what of them?
My instincts tell me that all the women who succumbed or said, ‘yes,’ are keeping quiet because we champion chastity for women above all else – even, and sometimes especially, feminists. We fetishize purity and that fetish plays into misogyny more than anything else we do as women. It might be incredibly naïve of me, but at times like these, I imagine that if women championed the bold, messy, hedonistic power of female sexuality, instead of fetishizing purity, the paradigm of sexual degradation would evaporate. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
If women are truly allowed to have autonomy over our bodies, minds, spirits and emotions, then that autonomy must be championed as much for women who say, ‘yes,’ as it is for women to say, ‘no.’ Otherwise all we are saying is that women have the right to say, ‘no,’ with impunity but have no right to engage in sex without being vehemently judged for wanting and enjoying it - no matter who it’s with, how many it’s with, under any circumstances – and therein lies the crux of the power of sexual assault and sexual degradation.
We need to be clear about one thing. Harvey Weinstein was in the sexual degradation business not the sex business. If Harvey Weinstein had wanted sex, he would have gotten sex – even if he had to pay for it – and he would have gotten tons of it. Instead, he wanted to degrade and humiliate the most beautiful, some of the most talented and often the most culturally powerful women he could. He wanted to sully them and then he probably got off on their shame. A shame and horror I’m absolutely certain he saw in their eyes – because we teach girls and women to be ashamed of our sexuality.
We teach girls and women that our sexuality is a sin – a sin for which we (women) are responsible. We are taught that male lust, the male erection, is caused by us (women) and we are taught to be fully and utterly ashamed and remorseful that we have that power – because we are also taught we cannot, must not, use it. If our bodies cause lust, but our only redemption lies in chastity, we are left utterly powerless. We are at the mercy of those who covet us, and they have the power to completely and utterly diminish us by tarnishing our purity – because we are taught that is our only value. Once our purity is stained or completely destroyed, we are useless and can be discarded. Think of every girl or woman you've called a slut and try to find a value in her that overrides the shame of being easy or promiscuous?
The silence that ensued for 20 years in Harvey Weinstein’s case was due, at least in part, to the shame these women felt for merely attracting his attention - because we are also taught that we are responsible for the attention we attract, that there is a kind of complicity or that we entice that kind of recognition.
But Harvey’s attraction was not lust. His erection was the medium through which he could humiliate women. What I find most discouraging in all this is that it seems none of the women he targeted laughed at him for being the pathetic, misogynistic, manipulator he is. I am not blaming the women. I am blaming our society for revering female virtuousness, prudishness, austerity, and innocence over practical rationality, self-empowerment, self-actualisation and truly empowered sexuality.
I am also not diminishing Weinstein’s power as a movie executive, but if Mae West were still alive, and he had targeted her, this all might have gone another way. Just as Weinstein excused his own behaviour as being from another era, those other era’s women might have eviscerated him publicly because in many ways women were more empowered then than we are today. I certainly don’t think Weinstein would have survived the era of Betty Davis, Joan Crawford or Catherine Hepburn.
I would guess that for every man in the world, their worst fear is being falsely and publicly accused of rape. I would guess for every woman, their worst fear, after rape, is being sexually shamed – be it revenge porn, slut shaming, or sexual degradation of any kind. I would even bet that being heinously murdered is less of a fear for women because living through shame and the utterly hurtful judgments of others can seem worse than death – and this is why suicide from bullying is such a big thing – and the amplification of the internet only makes it worse.
So why do you think we haven’t heard from the women who said, ‘yes’? What would you think if one of your favourite actresses came out and said, “Yes, I had sex with Harvey. It wasn’t the worst of my life, but it wasn’t the best. Thank god his tongue is good for more than just talking because he only had stamina for a three minute deal. Of the hundred or so partners I’ve had, he fell in the middle, below the average but not at the bottom. When we met the following week, I was given X role in that Y movie that got me my third Oscar nomination. He used the only thing he could to get my attention and he wasn’t good enough to keep it beyond that opportunity. At the time, I thought I’d give him a chance to prove himself worthy and he wasn’t.” Cue the sound of PacMan being eaten. Game over.
That there isn’t one woman in the world who could pull this off is a huge problem. That there isn’t a woman who said, ‘yes,’ and can own her decision without our judgments, condemnation or ridicule is a huge problem. That many would judge a woman who said, ‘yes,’ more harshly than they might judge Harvey is a huge problem.
Part of the answer to this problem is to stop fetishizing victims and victimhood and to fully embrace sexual empowerment without a drop of judgement or shame. If women start embracing our sexuality, our sexual appetites and our sexual prowess, the power the Harvey Weinstein’s have in the world would disappear. And I think that starts with standing up for the women who said, ‘yes.’