“If you ever write about me I’ll slit your throat,” he said.
It may be that I’m not brave enough or that every time I sit down to write about the men who have harassed me, I freeze. I’ve rewritten the opening paragraph of this essay almost every day for a month and every time it’s wrong. I’ve been seeing their predator faces across headlines and I’ve so badly wanted to say something, but I’ve been balled up.
Four years ago in the New York Observer, I wrote about a producer who assaulted me, and no one really cared. I even named the producer to my editor who said, “I wish you hadn’t told me that.” But now it seems people want me to identify him and maybe they even care. Over the last two months, reporters have been calling. They had their suspicions Harvey Weinstein was the man in my story. Certain details matched up but I didn’t want to be a part of it. I felt I already had my peace, and it seemed messy. One reporter told me I’d be helping other women if I named him. I said I didn’t want to be “another victim comes out” in the news. I had good things going on, and it wouldn’t even make or break his case. The reporter insisted that corroborating my story would put me on the right side of history.
My body contracted. I both admired the reporter and felt encroached upon. I wondered, if I said nothing then, would I be on the wrong side of history? Would I be letting other women down? I felt if I gave the reporter his name, some measure of control would be taken from me. As long as he was anonymous the narrative was my own. When I thought of naming him, every part of me said no. It would be public and I didn’t want to get hurt all over again. I told the reporter I’d think about it, but I never returned the call.
People want to know why I went into his hotel room. I want to know why too. Of course, intellectually, I know not to blame myself. If a woman visits a man’s hotel room for lunch that doesn’t give him the right to assault her. But the whole set up was overwhelming. I was a 24-year-old actress and he had groomed me after months of “friendship.” I lied and told him I had a boyfriend but he knew better. He sent me scripts for notes because he “valued” my opinion. He introduced me to his casting associate and suggested parts for me in films. He was charming. I was both in awe and terrified of him; everyone was. Then he told me he had “enough of this platonic crap” and shut me out. I still came back, insisting upon a friendship.
I suppose there are people who think I should be ashamed of my own ambition and that somehow I deserved it. Those inevitable comments make me sad because they leave out nuance and lack empathy. How does one judge a young woman who listens to a world that screams money, power and fame will make her better? Then walks in the king of Hollywood, dangling a key. She clumsily reaches for it and boy, does she pay. Now, let’s tear her apart! As I watched him fall, I was almost annoyed by his humanness, as if it was an affront to me. It was a reminder that not only did I experience something wrong and buy into one ugly illusion, but things might have been different if people were outraged sooner.
I didn’t want to name him because it wasn’t just him. It’s so many men on so many levels. I thought back to the hedge fund manager I personal assisted who propositioned me $20K a month and an apartment for sex. It didn’t even occur to me that that was sexual harassment. I thought of the physical therapist who mid-treatment leaned over and tried to kiss me. I didn’t report him because I didn’t want to ruin his life. I even thought of a handsome young guy who kept referring to himself as an “intersectional feminist” but wouldn’t let me leave his apartment until he got off. And then I thought of that awful time in that hotel room and tried to understand why now, over a decade later, I felt absolutely nothing.
I was numb. I tried to feel the breath in body. And then it occurred to me I didn’t want be in my body. My body didn’t feel safe. I told myself, “I want to be in my body.” I repeated that. I breathed in and out and then I sobbed. I was back in that bright hotel room.
(Below excerpt from New York Observer, 2013)
“Tomorrow is my 25th birthday,” I told him.
“Wow, you’re so old,” he joked, moving his chair closer and putting his hand on my thigh.
He guided me to a white couch and sat next to me. His hands found their way to my neck, and, with each squeeze, my muscles got tighter.
“Your skin is so soft.”
“I don’t need a massage, but thank you.” I gently removed his hands.
His thick fingers went back, finding their way to my right breast, landing on my nipple. He pressed it hard.
“Stop it,” I pushed him away with a laugh, because if I had been firm I thought it might upset him. He could get rough with me, and he was so big.
“Now it’s your turn to massage me.”
“I should go.”
“It’s only fair for you to give me one. I gave you one.” He was stern.
“O.K., but real quick, because my friends will get worried.”
It was just a back rub, and it would be over soon. I put my clammy palms on his shoulders.
“Let’s go into the other room so I can lie down.”
He was so assertive, and I was nowhere to be found.
I didn’t use my full hands, only my fingertips, the same fingers that once effortlessly played Debussy’s “Claire de Lune.”
“Hold on.” He took off his shirt, revealing ballooning skin that draped over his belt buckle; it hung lifeless.
His back was white and pock-marked with faded freckles. He started to move his pelvis on the crisp, cream-colored bed, covered with unborn scripts. Several potential Oscar contenders crashed to the floor. I didn’t know where to go, so I found myself on the ceiling.
There was a girl sitting beneath me, moving her fingers like brown worms. She squinted her eyes, and, from my seat upon the slowly turning ceiling fan, she was unrecognizable. Once she was a competitive figure skater who glided on white glass. Now she sat at the bottom of a bed with a moaning old man, moving her zombie hands on his flesh.
Her fingernails were not manicured. She had children’s hands. She wanted her mother and her father.
“O.K. You’re done.” The words were there after all.
“No, don’t stop.” He turned over and secured her into him.
She broke through his barring arms for breath. The girl’s eyes were closed shut to hide her tears.
“I have to go.”
The door to the hallway was closed. Would someone hear her if she called out for help? She stood. Her feet felt like overcooked spaghetti.
“Then let me at least look at you,” he whispered.
She followed him into the adjacent, dark, marble bathroom covered in mirrors.
“I need to get back to my friends.”
“Let me just see your legs.”
He pulled up her prairie dress, and they both stared at her body in the mirror. Her underwear was pink from Victoria’s Secret. Her mother had bought her five pairs for $25. There was a hole in the upper right corner.
He looked. She looked. They looked together.
“You have strong legs.”
They felt like buckling. She had a friendly circular birthmark on the inside of her right knee.
They eyed each other.
“You’re the girl in the mirror. Wake up!”
“Oh.” I snapped out of my spell. My brown spot, the size of a small dot, lit the way out of the haze like a full moon. I skated down the mirror and saw myself. I was standing in front of an old, fat man who held up my dress, looking for something he would never find.
“I have to go!” I pushed my dress down.
“Let me just jack off in front of you. I’ll be real quick.” He unzipped his pants.
I found my feet and pushed through the door to the hallway. A couple walked by, and I loved them for it.
He met me in the packed elevator with his shirt perfectly buttoned and tucked into his belt. He was ready to tackle the day. I gripped the railing for support.
As we stepped out of the elevator, he whispered, “I’m proud of myself for behaving.”
I wondered what misbehaving would have entailed.
I saw my friends at a far-off table, and they stood with relief. He called out to them, “Order whatever you want. It’s on me.”
But before I could escape, he pulled me close, “Promise me you will never write about me.”
The restaurant was crowded, and I could hear the dishes clacking, the low hum of voices and distant laughter. I wanted to disappear.
I didn’t want to name him because I didn’t want an enemy. Not only did I not have the resources to fight back, I’ve always hated confrontation and have a bad habit of just taking myself out of the game entirely. But worse yet, I still wanted to win. I wanted to be so BIG that all the self-respect I threw away at him, I’d take back. I fantasized about running into him at a party. By then maybe I’d have a best selling memoir or I could tell him all about the new TV show I just sold. I would forgive him his indecency, push those bad feelings aside, because I still wanted him to pat me on the back and tell me he was proud. Call it Stockholm Syndrome, but I didn’t want to name him, because I wasn’t ready to give up on him. But as all of the brave actresses stepped forward, I realized I was wrestling my own psychological demons and that no amount of self-respect or recognition could have saved me from him. He did this to almost everyone.
Another Hollywood predator was called out in the news. It was too creepy because I knew him too. I tried to laugh it off and joked, “if you hang out with me, you’ll be sure to meet a molester!” Lest I sound like I’m bragging, it’s not that I’m so great, it’s just these guys were that thorough.
I met this director through film friends in New York about four years ago. He wanted to audition me for a part in his upcoming film. He asked me to meet him at The Crosby Hotel where he was interviewing a race car driver with Bret Ratner for a special. The room was filled with people so I felt safe. When everyone left, he asked if we could stay there for the audition. He had bad knees and was heavy, so I wasn’t so worried about being alone with him. I was also in my early thirties by then and figured I could handle myself.
He told me the character was very sexual and wanted to make sure I was up for the challenge. He asked me to masturbate in front of him in character. He got in my head and I even doubted myself as an actress for not being able to do what he asked. I told him, “No.” I watched as the opportunity fell apart right before me in the most disgusting of ways.
He told me, “I know you wrote about Harvey, but he’s a pussy. If you write about me I will track you down and I will slit your throat.”
I promised I wouldn’t write about him. I never wanted to see his face, hear his name or think about him again.
“I have homicidal tendencies,” he threatened, “and a list of people I’m going to kill.”
He started naming names.
I promised him again, I would never say a thing.
“My knees are real bad,” he said. “I’m not going to want to live much longer like this. At some point, I’m going to go on a killing spree and then I’ll kill myself too.”
When I began writing this piece, I wasn’t going to name these men. I wanted to give a voice to the part of me that wasn’t ready now or maybe ever. I wanted my friend who shuts down every time she’s about to tell her family about her college rape to know that she’s brave. Women have a right to their privacy and for many, naming their harasser or assaulter may not feel empowering. There needs to be space for actress Rebel Wilson to describe her sexual harassment experiences without all the raging comments that her stories don’t count unless she outs the men. While naming men makes them accountable, I don’t believe it’s a woman’s responsibility. It’s a very personal decision and it should be respected.
Time is part of the healing process and everyone has their pace. When the sexual harassment stories first broke, I didn’t even want to think about it, let alone write about it. Friends and family were wondering if and when I’d name these men as if there was only one moment to do so, but it shouldn’t just be a news fad. Sexual oppression and violence against women has been happening for thousands of years and I wanted to tell my stories when it felt right for me. I was grateful when Uma Thurman said, “I’ve been waiting to feel less angry and when I’m ready, I’ll say what I have to say.”
I was also afraid people would accuse me of jumping on the band wagon. But when actress Melissa Schuman was quoted in the Daily Beast, “who the hell wants to be famous for being raped?” it hit me hard that caring about what other people think of me, would be the death of me.
Harvey Weinstein is the producer who told me I was lucky he behaved himself after he sexually harassed me and about whom I wrote four years ago. James Toback is the the director who threatened to slit my throat.